Most of us are eager to live an ethical lifestyle. Yet often, it seems too hard and too costly. But it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re an ethical explorer, enthusiast or extraordinaire, here’s some small, budget-friendly changes you can make today.

IDEAS FOR THE ‘ETHICAL EXPLORER’

Are you just dipping your toes in the ethical waters? If so, your mind is probably racing with fun projects. But right now, they’re only on your Pinterest board, Not IRL. Here are some changes you can make immediately.

Leave bags everywhere

We’ve all been there. You reach the grocery checkout and – bugger – you’ve left your bags at home.

But with supermarkets no longer offering plastic bags (hallelujah!), it’s even more important that you remember. Because each time you forget, it costs you a few more dollars – and our planet so much more.

To avoid this annoying scenario, leave reusable bags in places you’ll pass before leaving the house. This might be beside your fridge or front door.

Reusable bags

Pick up a few bits of rubbish

Groundbreaking? Hardly. Expensive? Not one bit.

Yet for most of us, we walk past pieces of rubbish several times a day – without a second thought.

But can you imagine the difference we could make if every one of us picked up litter when we first saw it? Our streets and oceans would be a whole lot cleaner. And our planet so much healthier.

So make this your mission. Whether you’re walking along the beach or through the city, treat every bit of trash as an easy opportunity to help our earth.

Plant herbs   

When you’re just beginning your ethical journey, the thought of self-sustaining your diet can feel daunting. That’s why it’s great to start with something simple, like herbs.

Herbs are great hors d’ouevres to a full-blown veggie garden. They’re easy to manage, don’t take up a lot of space and are tasty additions to any meal.

Plus, once you master your first batch you can always add more.

Say goodbye to spending $10 at the checkout to complete your pasta primavera. Say hello to sustainable, cost-effective living.

Plant herbs

Join buy, swap and sell groups

Our society loves landfill. From books to bags to bottles, the rate at which we discard perfectly good items is embarrassing.

And this consumerism is costing our earth – big time. But we can stop this vicious spending cycle by buying secondhand and reselling items that are still in good nick.

To begin, join local buy, swap and sell groups on Facebook. Items are listed all the time so keep checking back. You can often also add a request under the ‘wanted to buy’ section if the treasure you seek isn’t popping up.

Shop secondhand

After petroleum, fashion is the largest polluter.

Change how you buy clothes by shopping secondhand. With so many groovy op-shops and markets scattered around the country, you won’t have to sacrifice ethics for fashion.

To get you started, check out some of Australia’s best op shops.

Second hand shopping

Plan your meals

Last minute meals are often the ones we regret. Because when we’re rushed, we take what’s there – and usually it’s not the most ethical option.

By planning your meals, you can reduce waste by only buying what you need. And as a bonus, you’re more likely to eat healthier.

So try setting time aside every weekend to delve into the wonderful world of bulk meals.

Reuse – jars, boxes, ziplock bags, paper bags

Jars, boxes and lidded plastic containers are obvious things to reuse to hold your belongings/ food and treasures before they hit the recycle bin. But you can also rinse and reuse ziplock bags, reuse brown paper bags and other packaging material. Get creative.

Jars

IDEAS FOR THE ‘ETHICAL ENTHUSIAST’

If you’ve just found your ethical groove, you’re an ‘Ethical Enthusiast’. Now, it’s time to go one step further – with bulk grocery shopping, cycling to work and growing your own veggies.

Buy in bulk

Buying your groceries in bulk will save you time and money, while also caring for our precious planet.

While it might seem like a slight inconvenience at first, more and more specialist bulk food stores are now opening. Plus, there’s always your local farmers’ markets. For our fellow Melburnians, some awesome bulk food options are CERES Organic Grocery and Melbourne Farmers Markets.

Buy in bulk

Recycle right

Should you take the lid off? Rinse the jars first? And what about batteries?

When it comes to recycling, it can feel like a minefield. It doesn’t help that every council has slightly different rules.

To get up to speed on how to recycle right at your home or workplace, visit your local council website.

Planet Ark is a fantastic resource to help you recycle correctly.

Recycling cans

Cycle to work

If you’re not already cycling, now’s the time to begin. Starting your morning commute on two wheels is a fantastic way to embrace the day, see your local neighbourhood and stay active.

Plus, it might even save you time as you can bypass all that horrid peak hour traffic… no thank you!

But the best part?

According to the Queensland Government Department of Transport and Main Roads, cycling 10km each way to work saves 1500kg of greenhouse gas emissions each year. As more and more people hop on their bikes, cycling during peak hours will also further cut emissions by reducing congestion and improving traffic flow.

If you’re new or returning to cycling you may be concerned about navigating traffic, worried about punctures or have other concerns keeping your wheels out of action. Answers to these questions and more for new riders can be found on the Bicylce Network Website.

Cycling to work

Look for certifications

Start looking for labels such as B Corps and Fairtrade on your products.

They can be a helpful indicator of how ethical an item is.

But also be aware of greenwashing, the practice of portraying a product or service as more environmentally-friendly than it really is. Words like ‘natural’ and ‘green’ can be a hollow marketing tactic with no real ethical weight.

Compost your food scraps

Worm farms and compost bins are a great way to turn organic wastes into rich fertiliser for your garden. This cuts your rubbish in half – while also reducing your carbon footprint.

Many councils offer discounted worm farms and compost bins. You can find your council discount by joining the Compost Revolution.

However, if you don’t have time to start your own compost bin or worm farm right now, there are thousands of places that want your scraps.

You can find people in your local neighbourhood with compost bins, worm farms, chooks or extra scraps on ShareWaste.

Compost food scraps

Switch your search engine to Ecosia

These days we are ‘googling’ left, right and centre. Directions, news, what to do if the cut on your foot isn’t healing…

Switching to Ecosia means that each time you search, a tree is planted in return. They are just like any other search engine- chrome, safari etc- the only difference is that every search request removes 1kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Grown your own veggies  

It might just be a tomato plant. Or carrots and silverbeet.

Whatever it is, growing your own veggies should be the next step in your ethical adventure. For first timers, start small. Because trying to plant all your salad ingredients in one go can be overwhelming and unrealistic. Easy veggies for beginners include:

Silverbeet, lettuce (pick a leaf or two at a time), jerusalem artichokes (although they take a while, they can handle some tough love), rhubarb and tomatoes.

You also don’t have to plant much to reap real rewards. Did you know that planting just one tomato plant can give you more than 4kg of fruit over the course of a season? Impressive, huh?

So head to your local nursery and make seeds your new best friends.

Grow your own veggies

IDEAS FOR THE ‘ETHICAL EXTRAORDINAIRE’  

As an Ethical Extraordinaire, you spend more time with your KeepCup than you do with your mother. And you can’t remember the last time you bought fresh veg from your local farmers’ markets. Why would you? Your veggie garden is thriving.

Review your service providers

Now that you’re well into the ethical life, it’s time to up your conscious consumer game.

One way to do this is by thinking beyond your immediate, everyday choices. Instead, reflect on how monthly decisions – such as your energy provider – impact our environment.

In Australia, Powershop is leading with 9.7 out of 10 in the latest Green Electricity Guide. This is followed by Diamond Energy, AGL and Origin Energy.

Once you’ve switched energy companies, consider the footprint of other corporations you support, such as your internet provider. Start Broadband offer high-speed broadband, while also changing people’s lives.

Bring your own cutlery

You’ve got your trusty KeepCup. And it accompanies you everywhere

But have you incorporated a stainless-steel straw and set of cutlery into your eating out ritual? If not, this is a savvy way to reduce waste and plastic production.

Countries such as France are already paving the way, with its 2020 law banning plastic plates, cups and utensils. Until Australia catches up, each and every one of us can still play our part.

This easy switch will help reduce the 6.4 billion kgs of plastic dumped into the ocean every year.

Reusable cutlery

Look at your investments

Now it’s time to consider your investments.

Your mortgage is a prime place to start – did you know that over 80% of the home loan market is held by the big 4 banks? Choosing a financial product that aligns with your values is a personal choice which we discuss more here.

Good Green Home Loans is leading the charge with ethical investments and can help you navigate the world of home loans.

Eat less meat

It might seem like a drastic change for some. But the difference between a heavy-meat diet and one built mostly on plants is radical for our planet.

That’s because the livestock sector generates as many greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined (Greenpeace).

While you might not be ready to go cold tofurky, reducing the amount you eat can make a real impact. If we all incorporate more vegetarian meals into our week, we can dramatically improve the health of our earth.

Vegetarian meal

Become a blood or organ donor

Donating blood is a simple way to transform someone’s life.

In fact, one third of blood donations help treat people with cancer (Australian Red Cross Blood Service). The blood you donate can also be made into 22 different medical treatments. See if you’re eligible today.

While you’re in the giving spirit, why not register as an organ donor if you haven’t already? Your generosity can be life-changing for those who need it.

Volunteer your time

Got some spare time? In our busy lives it is often difficult to find a spare second. But if you can, it will be well worth it.

Applying your expertise and passion is an important way of supporting your community and feeling empowered. Volunteer platforms like Seek Volunteer, Go Volunteer and Ethical Jobs are a great place to start searching!

This article first appeared in our monthly newsletter The Gazette. Sign up here and never again miss your monthly dose of good stuff.