There are some times in life that you have to choose between doing the cheapest thing and doing the right thing, and then there are those serendipitous moments when the right thing turns out to be the cheapest option of all.
Reducing your impact on the environment is one of those times when doing the right thing can save you a fortune, because an enormous number of the steps you take to help the environment can help you dramatically slash your bills. We reveal ten of the best ways to do it.
1. Use less electricity
This is the first big hitter, because taking a number of small steps can cut your energy bill immediately. Typically lighting accounts for around 10% of your electricity bill, and by switching to low energy light bulbs and being a bit more sensible about the lights we leave on, we could cut our lighting bills by 20%.
Gadgets make up another 15% of our energy use. Nowadays standby is far more energy efficient than it once was, but if you have an older TV, turning it off rather than leaving it on standby is far more energy efficient. And when you upgrade to a new TV, bear in mind that the bigger you go, the more energy it will use.
This can be another big hitter - especially if you have gas central heating. Start by assessing your home: can you insulate it better - in the loft or the cavity wall, or by reducing draughts around doors and windows? A few draught-excluding strips can make a world of difference.
Then make small tweaks, which will cut your costs. Turn your thermostat down by 1% and you can save £60 a year, consider wearing more layers instead. Turn the pressure down on your power shower: a high-pressure shower can use more hot water than a bath. Think about efficient cooking, such as using the small rings on the hob for small pans, leaving the lids on pots to keep the heat in, only boiling the water you need, and leaving the oven door open after cooking to warm the kitchen. Finally, you can wash clothes more efficiently by turning the temperature down to 30% and hanging your laundry rather than tumble-drying it.
3. Cut down on water use
If you are on a water meter, then the water you save means a direct cash saving. There are a couple of one-off jobs that will help, such as placing a brick (or a water saving device) in your toilet cistern, so it doesn't take so much water to flush the toilet. You should also fix any dripping taps - which can waste 5,500 litres of water a year. And you should install a water butt for watering the garden, washing the car and cleaning windows. There are some habits worth adopting too, such as only ever running the dishwasher or washing machine when it is full, taking shorter showers, and watering the garden with a watering can rather than a hose pipe.
4. Switch to an eco-friendly supplier
There are eco-friendly suppliers, and eco tariffs from traditional suppliers (although the number of these dropped dramatically when Ofgem insisted that suppliers simplified their ranges). It can be difficult to assess the merits of these, but they all publish what's known as their fuel mix - which explains how much energy they get from renewable sources.
There are several 100% renewable plans offering dual fuel deals, including Good Energy, OVO, The Woodland Trust, Green Energy and Ecotricity. Some of these combine green credentials with lower prices, so it's worth shopping around and comparing them to traditional suppliers.
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5. Car share
Car sharing is a brilliant way to cut your fuel bills, and can work for people who don't have sensible public transport solutions in their area. You don't have to commit to commuting to work every day like this: you can stick to a number of days each week, or sharing long car journeys at the weekends.
You can save between 20 and 30 pence per mile this way, so with a ten mile commute, sharing journeys for just two days a week can save you over £600 a year. If you don't know anyone who does the same journey as you, consider lift-sharing websites, which match people up who are travelling in the same direction.
6. Shop at your local market
There has been plenty of discussion about whether markets are environmentally friendly - especially when traders travel long distances with relatively small loads. However, if you go to a reasonably-sized market, and buy from local traders, you know you are saving all the energy used by a supermarket to heat the store, and wrap the fruit and vegetables in plastic. Some wise shopping - particularly towards the end of the day - can also save you a fortune.
7. Reduce food waste
Planning your meals, only buying what you need, making sensible use of the freezer, and keeping an eye on the condition of all the fresh food in the house, will save you throwing out £100 worth of food a year or more.
Freezing is particularly efficient, because if you make large meals and freeze them, you have cut down on the energy required in cooking; and by filling the freezer you have reduced the amount of energy it takes to run. At the same time, on those days when you come home and can't be bothered to cook, you'll save a small fortune by having something home-cooked in the freezer instead of opting for an expensive ready meal or takeaway.
8. Take lunch to work
This is always touted as a huge money-saver, because it can easily cut your weekly costs by £15 - that's £780 a year. If you opt for bargain lunch choices, like cheese sandwiches, peanut butter or homemade soup, you could save £20 a week - which is over £1,000. The environment will also thank you because of all the wrapping, pots, plastic cutlery and bags that you suddenly no longer need.
9. Say no to paper bills
If you opt for paper bills from your energy supplier, you can usually get a discount, save on paper, and stop having so many useless bills cluttering your drawers too. Those discounts add up, so it's worth checking whether all of your suppliers offer deals on paperless billing.
The average power tool is used for around 30 minutes each year, so even if you hold onto it for ten years before buying a replacement, you've got little more than five hours of use out of it - in return for sending yet another hunk of plastic to landfill. Before you buy something, therefore, it's worth seeing if you can borrow from friends or neighbours or rent it locally.
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