The New Year is almost upon us and we're starting to consider what we want to kick ass at in 2018; fancy living more sustainably? Awesome. Then I've got a few super easy tips here to arm you with before 2018 kicks off.
Ok, so I think I know why you're all here; Blue Planet 2 made you despair at the choices humans have made. Am I right?
This time last year I decided to start living more sustainably and ethically and boy is it a rollercoaster and a whole load of shouting "WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS SO HARD FOR ME?!" in the middle of your supermarket. Trying to live sustainably can feel very overwhelming, which is why I started blogging about it and sharing my frustrations and difficulties. We live in a world of convenience and convenience is not very eco-friendly at all.
In fact, our convenience culture is not very convenient because it'll be damn inconvenient when:
- Sea levels rise and flood islands, cities and towns causing massive numbers of climate refugees
- Thousands of species become extinct
- The oceans are dead
- We can't grow any food in our soil
- We're drowning in plastic and all of our mistakes
That got dark quickly, didn't it? Sorry. Don't mean to bring you down over the festive period; MERRY CHRISTMAS, THE PLANET IS SCREWED - that wasn't what I wanted but, I mean, it's true.
Before we get into it, I want to point out that the idea isn't to be perfect from the get-go. And maybe it isn't the point at all. I've been at this for a year now and I'm far from perfect but my efforts are valid. For me, the point is to make the best with your life and your circumstances. You're not gonna see any shaming around here because you forgot your drinks bottle and needed a drink.
Ok, so, grab a cuppa because over the course of this blog post we're going to talk about:
- What sustainable living is?
- Why would you want to live more sustainably?
- Cover a few seriously easy ways you can start living more sustainably without spending a fortune
What is sustainable living?
Sustainable living is about reducing your impact on the Earth and its resources. The definition of sustainable is maintaining something at a certain rate. So it means, we're not taking out more than we're putting back in or that can repopulate/regrow over a certain period of time. For me, sustainable living covers more than that, it is also about protecting our planet and it's ecosystems by keeping them healthy and sustaining THAT.
We live in a world of capitalism, consumerism, and convenience; the three horsemen of the apocalypse if you will. Talk to your grandparents and you'll soon discover that life just 60 years ago was very different. Since then, we have created a whole load of, frankly, unnecessary crap and waste all in the name of convenience. I'm not ok with it; and, since you're here, I guess you're not either.
Why would you want to live more sustainably?
What brought you here? What made you decide to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Maybe it was one reason, maybe it was a few reasons:
- Reducing the amount of waste you produce - we produce a lot of unnecessary waste which impacts the environment in a number of ways. I go into this in more detail in 8 reasons to produce less waste.
- We're sick of crying while watching Blue Planet - the devastating impacts plastic pollution has on the environment are, well, devastating.
- Saving money - I have definitely found that since living more sustainably my shopping habits have changed, which have saved me money
How can I start living more sustainably?
This will not be a complete guide to how to live more sustainably. By the end of this blog post you'll be armed with a few simple changes you can make to start living more sustainably.
I don't want to throw everything at you right now - because I find that kind of paralyses me. When I have a few things I can do, I feel empowered and like I can do it and make a positive change right now. I will be going into more depth in future posts, you can check out my sustainable and ethical living section, and ask me anything you want in the comments or Twitter.
1. Stop. Pay attention to your shopping habits and what's in your house
This is absolutely the first step to living more sustainably. Before you can start making a change, you need to know what you want to be more sustainable than.
Take a look through your waste and recycling bins;
- Are you throwing away a lot of non-recyclable plastic?
- Why? What products are packaged in non-recyclables?
- Can you get the same product packaging-free, or in recyclable plastic? (Arguably, plastic recycling isn't super great but it's better than non-recycled plastic, and let's take this one step at a time because I haven't got zero plastic down either.) I wrote a handy blog post here about why plastic is so bad if you want some more info on it.
- Are you throwing a lot of food away? I guess it's not so bad if you have a food waste scheme where that food is turned into energy but it's a waste of your money all the same.
Are your wardrobes full of clothes you don't wear? Do you tend to buy things, wear them once and never again? Why? Is it the style? The quality? Did you pick it up because it was a good deal?
Take a look around your whole house and assess why you purchased the things you did.
This is something that's great to keep in mind every time you go shopping for anything:
- Why am I buying this?
- What purpose does the object need to fulfil?
- Will it fulfil that purpose?
2. Make some goals
Ok, so now we have an idea about how we're buying, what we're throwing away, and any clutter in our house, we can set some goals.
Jot down a couple of goals; make sure they're specific and measurable. Here are a couple of examples:
- I don't want to buy any clothes this month. Instead, I'm going to clear out my closet and find new ways to wear what I already have.
- I want to reduce the amount of food waste I'm producing by half. Instead, I'm going to make an effort to eat/freeze leftovers, or learn to only cook what I will eat in that day/meal.
- I am going to stop buying fruit and vegetables in non-recyclable packaging. Instead, I'm going to only buy loose produce.
Write them down somewhere you're going to see them regularly and let's get cracking.
3. Have a clear out
You may not need to do this; it really depends on what your goals are, though it never hurts to have a good clear out. I mean, it does at the time when you're surrounded by a pile of things and wondering why you started, but it feels so good afterwards.
If your wardrobe is overflowing, you have loads of CDs/DVDs/games you don't use, if you have a cupboard or drawer 'of doom', or are concerned there might be a monster living under your bed, get clearing out.
One of the benefits of living more sustainably for me is a slow transition into only having things in my house that provide us with some kind of benefit/that we use. I think that if you're able to have a tidy out and get rid of things that represent your old, more wasteful, way of living it helps keep you on track. Plus, who doesn't like slightly emptier cupboards, wardrobes, drawers, and shelves?
Take anything you no longer need that's in good condition to local charity shops, offer them to your friends and family, or stick 'em on eBay. But do it now. Do not put them in a pile to deal with later.
4. Cut out those single-use items
One of the biggest and easiest ways we can start living more sustainably is to stop using single-use items. I'm talking about; plastic straws, napkins, plastic cutlery, coffee cups, and disposable razors to name a few things.
You will be glad to know there are reusable and long-lasting versions of all of those things:
- Straws = stainless steel straws, bamboo straws, glass straws
- Paper napkins = cloth napkins
- Plastic cutlery = pop a set of cutlery out your kitchen in your bag, or there's bamboo cutlery
- Coffee cups = not all takeaway coffee cups are recyclable but that's not a problem if you have a reusable mug
- Disposable razors = these tacky looking things can be replaced with safety razors, or good quality, long-lasting electric razors. I've just got round to getting a safety razor (a super extra rose gold one, idc, it's pretty) and they're just as easy to use as a disposable one, you just need to be a tad more careful.
- Sanitary products = yes, you can get reusable tampons and towels AND menstrual cups. It's not as gross as you think either, so you can find something that works for you.
- Toothbrushes = every toothbrush ever created still exists in landfill, that shit has not broken down. Get yourself a bamboo toothbrush instead.
5. Start buying loose fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables wrapped in non-recyclable packaging are by far one of my biggest frustrations. It is so unnecessary and it seriously gets on my nerves that loose peppers are more expensive than peppers wrapped in plastic packaging; wtf is that about?
Ok, so what do you do put your loose fruit and vegetables in then?
- Some items can be put straight into your trolley/basket/bag without packaging, like bananas
- Produce bags; got any cloth bags at home you could use? Or you could turn old t-shirts into produce bags? Or buy some produce bags online.
- Or you could do what I do sometimes and use a load of those paper mushroom bags for everything…
- Complain to your supermarket about them selling things in non-recyclables - please, because I think Tesco are getting sick of me moaning at them, so if we all do it, they might give in
6. Get angry, in a polite way
Let's channel the frustration we feel when we're trying to buy something in a more sustainable way but we can only get it in 'not currently recyclable' packaging. (That, by the way, is the biggest cop-out ever - not currently? So when are you going to use recyclable packaging and quit being non-committal?)
Begin emailing or writing to companies and asking them about their plans for recyclable packaging, or something else they're doing which isn't sustainable. Such as why your local Tesco has replaced paper mushroom bags with plastic ones? WHY TESCO, WHY? I know it looks like I hate Tesco sometimes but it's where I shop all the time and yeah, sometimes they make hateful decisions.
If anyone wants to see a sample/draft email or message to send, let me know and I'll put one up.
7. Educate yourself
One of the best things I have done this year is to learn more about how harmful our current culture is. You can never know enough and I'm constantly learning about things that reinforce my enthusiasm to live more sustainably even though it can be hard sometimes.
A few things I found really insightful:
- Chasing Ice
- Chasing Coral - this is utterly heartbreaking, especially towards the end
- Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body, and Ultimately Save the World - Josh Tickell - this is a seriously fascinating read about soil and agriculture. I know that probably sounds boring to most people but I'm a soil geek; still, I definitely think it's something people should know about.
- Feral - George Monbiot
- I uhmed & ahed about whether or not to include Cowspiracy. It's very popular and it is definitely very shocking if you don't know anything about the environmental damage agriculture causes but I'm aware some of the studies quoted weren't quite right. This is discussed in Kiss The Ground and I think that's perhaps a more unbiased approach. Nevertheless, I think Cowspiracy is an important watch.
- The True Cost - this looks at the human and environmental impacts of the majority of clothes we wear
- Blood & Earth by Kevin Bales - Blood & Earth is one of the hardest books I've ever read. Did you know that slavery and environmental destruction often go hand in hand? Like True Cost, it documents the environmental and human impacts of modern life and looks at things like where our food comes from, minerals to make smartphones and laptops & more.
- IPCC summary - If you're interested in the science and figures, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) summary for policymakers is perhaps the best place to start. I have used it loads on my masters course already because this summary has all the key bits in one place.
If anyone has any more recommendations for books, films, or documentaries, leave them below.
Please leave me a comment below with the tips you're going to try out. If you have any questions, or want me to cover a specific topic, let me know and your wish is my command.