Reduce, Reuse, Save: 10 Ways to Help the Earth AND Your Budget

Try these eco- and wallet-friendly habits, from making your own wrapping paper to getting cash for empty bottles.
kid recycling

Recycling reduces waste, preserves resources, and leaves planet Earth an overall nicer place to live — but can it save you money in the long run?

In fact, certain recyclables can be sold for cash, or reused so you won't need to buy them over and over again. You can even save some bucks buying products manufactured from recycled materials.

Thankfully, you can go green and save green at the same time by following these 10 tips.

Get Paid to Return Empty Bottles

Depending on the state where you live, you may be able to redeem your glass, plastic, and metal beverage containers for money. Several states have what's called a "bottle bill," which means a few extra cents get added to the original sale price of the container when you buy it at the store. Gather up your empty containers, and you'll get that deposit returned to you at a redemption center; over time, those cents can add up to dollars.

Trade in Metal, Electronics, and More for Money

Likewise, everything from electronics and scrap metal to aluminum cans and old wiring is a good source of extra cash. Many independent retailers and big box stores (including Target and Best Buy) have trade-in programs, where you can earn store credit if you bring in used laptops, electronics, or mobile phones, saving you on the purchase of a new item. Stores such as Office Depot/OfficeMax and Staples also have store credit programs; bring in your empty printer ink cartridges to offset the high cost of buying new ones.

SEE ALSO: Let's Discuss: What Do You Think of Amazon's Trade-In Program?

Buy Reusable Beverage Containers

Falling into the "buy once and keep reusing" category, containers such as reusable water bottles and coffee travel mugs reduce plastic and paper waste. Instead of spending a ton of money on bottled water, invest in one container and refill it at the fountain or water cooler. As for coffee, if you prefer a regular Starbucks fix, get your drinks in your own reusable tumbler. You'll save 10 cents on each purchase, cutting down on both cost and paper/plastic waste.

Make Your Own Compost Pile

One way the green thumbed can save money is by opting for a homemade compost bin or pile instead of buying expensive bags of fertilizer. Take a container you don't otherwise use — like a garbage can, coffee container, or pot — and throw your old eggshells, fruit and vegetable skins and peels, used tea bags, and other organic waste into it. Instead of discarding these items in the trash to take up space in a landfill, they'll biodegrade on their own. You can then use the mixture in your potting or gardening soil in place of fertilizer.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

Reducing paper and plastic waste at the supermarket is easy: Just bring your own reusable bags each time you shop. Many grocery stores (e.g., Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) sell their own that you'll need to buy once, but can keep reusing. Or you can bring previously used plastic or paper bags each time you shop to minimize the number of bags your store uses. (Many grocers even offer a discount to shoppers who bring their own bags.)

Reuse Boxes and Containers

You can put many containers to good reuse before throwing them into the trash pile, from cereal boxes to the packaging your TV came in. They can be a great, no-cost alternative to purchasing extra containers for the kitchen or bathroom. Plus, used cardboard cuts down on the need to buy art supplies if you or your kids are crafty types.

If you've recently moved, break down your empty boxes and keep them on hand.

If you've recently moved, break down your empty boxes and keep them on hand. They may be useful if you move again, or for some other household need, and then you won't have to buy them new once more. (Don't limit yourself to cardboard; items from egg cartons to glass bottles/jars are all great to reuse.)

Create Your Own Wrapping Paper

While it may feel good to give gifts to your loved ones on birthdays and during the holidays, buying reams of wrapping paper can be hard on the wallet. Using old newspapers is one tried-and-true option in lieu of wrapping paper, but feel free to get creative with other materials recycled from around the house. Tinfoil, envelopes, or something more graphic, like comic book pages or old maps, add a unique and festive flair to what you're wrapping.

Keeping old bows and ribbons around also gives you a chance to reuse them on future gifts, saving you the cost of buying new.

Make New Goods From Old Clothes

Before throwing away out-of-style or worn clothing — or taking it to the thrift store — can you repurpose the pieces into something different or wearable? Salvaging usable fabric can mean creating bags, wallets, or other accessories if you're able to sew your own.

You can also go the easy route and convert an old pair of jeans into a new pair of shorts; or use old T-shirts as dust rags (no sewing required!).

SEE ALSO: You Won't Believe How Much You'll Save Thrift Shopping for Clothes

Give Old Furniture, Appliances, and Other Stuff a New Life

It may take some do-it-yourself savvy, but you can find new and inventive uses for old, unwanted furniture or other stuff around the house that you might be inclined to discard. Bulky coffee tables or old-school entertainment centers can quickly convert to ottomans, storage cabinets, or play tables for the kids.

Old CDs — in the age of streaming and digital downloads — can find new usefulness as reflectors on a child's bicycle. And old appliances can be repurposed, like turning an old blender into a lamp; vintage phone receivers into bookends; or an old washing machine drum into a seat or even a fire pit!

Scavenge for Savings

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, and that's what scavenging is all about — searching through other people's trash for clothing, appliances, knickknacks, or art that can be reused or resold.

If you're up for scavenging, it can yield a trove of useful finds that other, less-recycle-minded folks may have trashed. You might stumble upon any one of the items listed above, and avoid purchasing them.

As always, if you don't have any use for your old stuff, someone else might. Try joining The Freecycle Network, where you can post and list unwanted items that another person may find a good use for. Throwing out your stuff means filling up a landfill somewhere. By finding new, nifty ways to recycle and reuse your things, you'll give them a new lease on life, reduce your need to consume and buy more, and save money.

Readers, what are your best tips for saving money by recycling? Do you think any recycling habits are more trouble than they're worth, and if so, what are they? Let us know in the comments below!

Paul Sisolak
Contributing Writer

Paul Sisolak is a freelance writer who covers a wide range of topics, including personal finance, automotive reviews, travel, news and trends, entertainment, and education. He has written and reported for U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, Huffington Post, CNN Money,, and
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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