Happy Earth Day! We’ve nearly a third of the way through the year now, and what better time to think back on New Year’s Resolutions to ditch plastic and go greener, and check in on where we’re all at.
Earth Day has been around since 1970, and has been the subject of many a worthy school project since. Once a year we’re reminded to think a little longer on the impact our lives have on the world we live in, and to consider the ways in which we can reduce that impact. This Earth Day has a focus on ending plastic pollution, and following on from my previous post on ways to reduce your plastic waste, I thought it would be wise to put together a list of tips for a broader selection of ways that we can all live more sustainably.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the higher your disposable income, the easier it is to live sustainably. But even if you’re on a tight budget, there are small everyday changes you can make that will reduce the amount of waste you produce, cut down your carbon footprint and leave you and the planet feeling perkier. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’d say it’s not a bad place to start.
1. Switch to a green energy supplier
It almost goes without saying, but switching to a green energy supplier is both really easy and really effective when it comes to making your everyday life a little more sustainable.
Companies like Ecotricity, Octopus and the aptly named Green Energy all supply the National Grid here in the UK with ecologically-sourced energy – meaning the money you spend on gas and electric goes to companies investing in solar power, wind farms, hydroelectrics and biogas rather than traditional fossil fuels. Team this up with switching out your lightbulbs for energy saving versions and you’re onto a definite winner.
2. Give time instead of gifts
Sometimes you see something in a shop, and you know that a particular person is going to really appreciate and cherish that thing. That’s a good gift. What’s not such a good gift is something panic-bought out of a sense of obligation, that’s going to gather dust before ending up in landfill sooner than planned. In the past I’ve been guilty of gifting people with all manner of novelty nonsense, stuff that’s fun for five minutes but ultimately a bit of a waste of materials, energy and… well, money.
Instead of fuelling throwaway culture and buying from retailers who mass-produce, consider giving people the gift of your time instead. Whether it’s a cheque redeemable for an hour’s help in the garden or doing DIY, an invitation to come over for dinner or anything from dog walking to baking a cake, writing someone an I.O.U for a helping hand or a hangout can be as thoughtful as it is eco-friendly.
3. Reduce your diet’s carbon footprint
One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating – or at least cut down on – red meat. Closely followed by dairy. I am absolutely not one of those die-hard people who sees everything in black and white and thinks the world should go vegan, but I gotta say, it is WAY EASIER than you would think to reduce the amount of animal products you eat.
Veganism is not affordable for everyone or accessible to everyone, but ‘flexitarianism’ totally is.
I don’t think I’ve ever posted a graph on my blog before, but this comparison of the water and land needed (and emissions produced) for different types of food is really good. So here you go.
Corrrr, that’s a big old trio of lines on the end there. If you can commit to cut down to only eating meat at weekends, or having 3 vegetarian days a week, that makes a difference. If you eat vegan food most of the time but you have a day off once in a while, you’re still doing a freakin’ great job. I’m not here to give anyone a lecture on the ethics and abuses of using animals in the food chain, but as far as the environment goes, if you want to make a difference then cutting down or cutting out is the way to go.
4. Get recycling savvy
I had a flyer through my door recently from the local council, saying that almost two thirds of the stuff that’s put into recycling bins in my local area is contaminated with things like food or (un)sanitary waste. FFS. It can get confusing trying to figure out what can and can’t go in your recycling bin, when different areas have different rules and packaging comes with a variety of recycling symbols that don’t always make it clear what the score is. But nappies and sandwiches are definitely a no-no.
I am totally on the guilty list for “people who got slack at cleaning stuff before putting it in the recycling” so I put my hands up – there may have been some tomato sauce-laden cans with my name on. I know. Belated New Year’s Resolution over here: clean things properly before they go in the recycling, so that they actually get recycled. A lot of people also got a ticking off for trying to throw away recycling in plastic bags – don’t do it! Recycling plant staff aren’t allowed to open the bags, so if you bin your recyclables in an ordinary bin bag, it all ends up in landfill.
5. Lighten up your household chemicals
High street retailers are getting a lot better at making and stocking household cleaning products out of stuff that isn’t quite so ecologically unsound. Ecover sprays have gone down in price lately, and more shops are stocking Method and other products for keeping your house clean without using petrochemicals. Naturally-derived cleaners are a simple switch, and they aren’t the only way you can avoid buying chemicals that are bad for the planet. You could even make your own.
Whether you’re vegan/veggie or not, most people aren’t keen on putting down poison in their house when there’s a pest problem. It’s a total no-no if you’ve got pets, it can leave you with decaying animals under your floorboards, AND you run the risk that a mouse or rat you’ve poisoned gets eaten by – and subsequently kills – other wildlife like owls, or your neighbour’s cat.
But not everyone has the means to capture every offending visitor, drive them several miles away and release them in the hope they don’t come back…So, ever thought about borrowing a falcon or a ferret instead? If you need to get rid of uninvited visitors, look for chemical-free pest control companies who can assist by bringing natural predators to deal with the issue.
6. Ditch disposable plastics
Bottles, straws, bags, cutlery and cups – among other things. Single-use plastic needs to become a thing of the past, and thankfully campaigns like Say No To The Straw and the introduction of carrier bag charges in many countries are helping to cut down on the amount we use.
My previous post on reducing your plastic waste has a few ideas and products listed – but there are plenty of other possibilities. Treat yourself to a reusable coffee cup if you’re a regular caffeine consumer. Put pressure on your favourite bars to switch to biodegradable bendy straws, or keep a metal / bamboo straw in your bag like the eco-warrior you truly are.
Drop hints to your number one takeaway that wooden cutlery is way better than plastic, and that compostable tubs are, like, soo much better than polystyrene. Invest in a sturdy water bottle you can keep refilling again and again – the list goes on.
7. Buy local / Grow your own
Side note: Not everyone can do either of these. But, if you can, totally do. Growing your own is probably the least accessible thing on this list, because even if you have a garden you can’t necessarily just start growing courgettes outside your rental property, and you might live somewhere that your courgettes are just going to get nicked, and you might not have time to actually faff around growing them anyway. But naturally, if you are able to grow your own veg, you’re simultaneously saving yourself money and reducing your contribution to intensive farming and dubious crop chemicals. Woohoo!
If you can’t grow your own, you might be able to buy local as a plan B. In my experience, buying local does tend to cost more than buying from a big store like Tesco, so again this is an ‘if you can it’s good but no judgement if you can’t’ sorta situation. Plan C is to shop wherever you’ve always shopped, but look for veg that’s in season and labelled as having been grown in the country you live in. The less air miles your food has done, the better.
8.Take public transport
Something else I’ve touched on a little bit before is trying to make your travel more sustainable. It’s pretty tricky to see the world without leaving a steady stream of fossil fuel usage in your wake, but when you’re getting from A to B and moving around your local area, lift sharing and public transport are a naturally better choice than using solo personal transport if you can help it. If you’ve got a better sense of balance than me, using a pushbike rather than any kind of motor vehicle is also a big win.
Shopping second-hand is just great anyway because you get stuff nobody else has (anymore) and it often costs about 20% of the price of something new. Better yet, look for community freebies sites and groups on social media where people are giving things away or selling them on cheaply – it removes a little bit of our contribution to throwaway culture, saves serviceable goods from going to the dump and it’s at least 50% more fun than going and buying something that’s been freshly produced, packaged up and come on a long journey to reach you.
(Plus, if you find a total gem / something you really need in a charity shop instead of a chain store, you’re also helping a good cause to raise some much-needed funds. Hooray!)
10. Cool wash and air dry
“Tabby, you’re really clutching at straws now.” I hear you say. But seriously, you can tell just from looking at your energy bills that tumble-dryers are not a very eco-friendly addition to the house, so if you can hang things out to dry instead you’ll be doing your bank balance and the planet a favour.
Cool/cooler washes are also an easy switch to save energy – contrary to popular belief, there is rarely anything that needs to be washed at more than 30°C, and things do get clean in a cold wash too. Save a few trees by cranking the temperature down a notch.
11. Seek everyday reusables
It’s not just about straws and bottles. Start to look at the other things you buy on a regular basis that are only single-use. Switching makeup wipes for a flannel, throwaway cotton rounds for washable cotton makeup pads and ditching household cleaning wipes / kitchen roll in favour of reusable cloths are just a few of the extra ways you can take the amount of processing and packaging needed for your lifestyle down a peg.
People who have periods can try out things like Thinx underwear and moon cups, people who shave can invest in razors with replaceable heads instead of using throwaways, there are bamboo toothbrushes you can buy to replace plastic ones… and plenty of other stuff besides.
As always, I’m sure there are plenty of good ideas I’ve missed from this list. And also as always, feel free to add suggestions in the comments below!