The Three Rs for saving money: reduce, reduce, reduce

Do you use paper towels? How about plastic bags? What about those throwaway paper-based floor sweepers? Those raglike kitchen cleanup products? Plastic water bottles?

If protecting the environment isn’t enough of an incentive for reducing what you consume, how about saving money in tough times? Instead of thinking only about recycling, start with the first R: reduce. Reduce what you buy, reduce what you consume, and, especially, reduce what you throw away.

It starts in the kitchen.

Use sponges instead of handy wipes. They’ll last at least a month and save some real cash. Worried about germs? You can disinfect a sponge by putting it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Works like a charm.

Don’t mop up spills with paper towels. Save old t-shirts as rags and use them. Then throw them in the washing machine when they get dirty and use them again. Those soft cloths also work great as dust rags.

Cut old towels into smaller pieces for dishcloths, dusters, potholders or rags; put them to use for your pet, as wet-feet dryers, blankets or toys.

Resuscitate your old broom instead of sweeping with the throwaway sweeping and mop sheets, which are expensive. Many mop heads can be tossed into the washing machine and reused for years.

Many people store leftovers in plastic bags and then throw them away. Instead, purchase a good set of glass storage containers. Better yet, go to a secondhand store such as Salvation Army and buy a set that someone else has given away. Not only are glass containers great for storing anything, but you can also use them for marinating food. Don’t forget to save good glass jars as future storage for leftovers.

Save the plastic from bread wrappers and other similar items for wrapping wet garbage — that is, the wet garbage that you can’t compost, such as fish or meat. If you must put a food item in plastic, save the bag and reuse it. For example, if you buy bacon and put the opened package in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, save the bag and use it for the next purchase of bacon. Don’t throw the bag away. Store it and use it for future garbage.

Cloth napkins seemed to have gone the way of the family dinner, yet they are far cheaper than paper napkins and can be used over and over again.

Stop buying water in bottles. Do you know that bottled water costs many times more than gasoline? Good old aqueduct water is perfectly fine to drink. Get a metal water bottle — they are widely available locally or on the Internet — and refill it. You’ll save oodles of money and keep plastic out of our waste stream. If you worry about the water, purchase a water filter. You’ll still save cash.

Save cardboard boxes and packing materials and reuse them when you ship something yourself instead of purchasing new bubble wrap or peanuts. Speaking of mailing, pay your bills over the Internet instead of buying envelopes and stamps. Most banks now offer this service for free. It’s perfectly safe and reliable.

Finally, buy items in the largest container you can. Large bottles of aspirin or vitamins or even cooking oil are cheaper per ounce, as are most food items. In that way, you’ll have fewer containers to recycle and save cash too.

Michael Welber is newsletter editor for Green Living & Energy Education.