As conscious consumers, we are all looking for ways to lead a more eco-friendly life. Resources such as The Foot Print Calculator1, which estimates the impact your way of living has on the planet, can be humbling regardless of how eco-friendly a life you try to lead.
We have put together our top eco hacks for ten easy swaps that can help you to reduce your environmental impact every day, so without further ado, here they are:
1. Jazz up your smoothie jar with a re-usable glass or aluminum straw
Not only do they look waaaay better than their garish plastic counterparts, a sturdy glass or pretty rose gold aluminum straw makes for a much more enjoyable drinking experience.
National Geographic estimates that 500 million straws are used every day in America2, which is enough to wrap the earth 2.5 times3 and that’s just the U.S! Plastic straws pollute our oceans and are hazardous to wildlife; they have become part of modern life despite most often being completely unnecessary. Say no to straws when you are out and about and buy yourself a pack of re-usable straws for use at home; who wants to be sucking on potentially toxic plastic anyway?
2. Stand out from the masses with a re-usable coffee cup in a pretty pattern or sleek design
You can get some fantastic designs made from bamboo or glass, not to mention you can save yourself a pretty penny with some retailers by bringing your own cup.
The Guardian estimate that 100,000 trees4 are destroyed every year to make take away coffee cups and less than 1% of these cups get recycled5 because it takes a specialist company to remove the plastic coating from the paper before it can be pulped.
3. Recruit a reusable water bottle as your new side kick
You can be both eco-friendly and on top of the latest trends by popping a reusable water bottle in your gym bag, taking it to work and using it to keep you hydrated when you’re on the go. There are styles to suit everyone; from minimalistic glass covered in a coloured silicone sheath to sleek aluminum bottles with beautiful patterned designs.
As a result of our ‘on the go’ culture, The Guardian estimates that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and this is set to rise by 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis that could be as serious as climate change6.
4. Meal prep in style with glass lunch boxes
Invest in some glass food containers and you can use them as lunch boxes, on the go food storage or to simply store leftovers in the fridge at home. You can get handy sets with colourful clip lids that you can use in the freezer, oven and microwave without the fear of plastic toxins leaching into your food. They don’t wear out like plastic and by meal prepping your lunches at home, not only will you be saving yourself a ton of money but you will also be massively reducing the amount of waste you could be producing from single use food packaging; a win win!
Lesswaste.org estimates that the UK alone produces five million tonnes of household packaging waste every year7 and The Guardian estimates that some plastics can take up to 450 years to degrade4. Some plastic food storage also contains BPA which Scientific American warns can leach from plastics and resins when they are exposed to hard use or high temperatures (such as the microwave or dishwasher) and can promote human breast cancer cell growth8. It is certainly scary stuff and safe to say that swapping your plastic for glass might not be the worst idea in the world, if not for the environment then for the potential risk to our own health.
5. Eat less meat
A simple statement but an action that can have a massive impact. The Guardian state that agriculture causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock9. The BBC estimates that each year we raise and eat nine animals for every person on the planet and that nearly 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land is devoted to raising animals. This produces around 750 billion litres of methane every day, with methane being 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide10.
The Guardian estimates that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring emissions down by 63% and veganism by 70%11. If you are not already vegetarian or vegan, there are some fantastic recipes out there – why not give Meat Free Monday a go?
6. Collect re-usable shopping bags as if they were designer handbags
We don’t just mean having a bag for life, it can be taken a step further by buying some smaller cotton bags for those times when you want to pick up loose fruit and veg from the supermarket. Shun the single use plastic that houses pre-packaged fruit and veg and instead opt for loose produce; you can pick out the best quality pieces, save yourself money and reduce plastic waste all at the same time!
Conserving Now quote that plastic bags can take 400-1000 years to break down and even then they don’t biodegrade, they break down into smaller toxic pieces which enter soil, waterways and get consumed by animals. They estimate that sadly over 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals deaths are caused by plastic bags every year12.
British supermarkets tend to use a lot of plastic and will pre-package much of their produce therefore, if you can, try local farmers’ markets or if you don’t have a market around you or struggle for time to go shopping, try a fruit and veg box delivery service. There are some fantastic companies out there who will deliver a box of fresh, organic and local produce to your door once per week. Not only is the produce usually loose in the box without plastic wrappers, saving on plastic, but the quality of the produce you get tends to be a massive step up from what you will be used to from the supermarket; think crisp and tangy British apples picked straight from the tree, or knobbly, flavoursome purple carrots pulled from the ground that morning, complete with a thin coating of mud!
Best of all, if you can find a little bit of time at the weekends and you have a small amount of space in the garden you could grow your own. There are plenty of fruits and veggies that are easy to grow and great for beginners. Have a look at our blog Grow Your Own: Month by Month Guide, along with our individual guides for Growing Your Own in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter for some tips and tricks to get you started. It can be an incredibly satisfying thing to do, knowing that the veggies that are on your dinner plate are something you have created from scratch, not to mention the money you could save yourself and the incredible difference in the flavor and nutrients compared to the produce you get at the supermarket.
7. De-clutter your door mat
Say no to the junk mail, unsubscribe from brochure drops, get your receipts by email and ditch the paper bills in favour of e-statements. Not only will you be de-cluttering your front door mat, you’ll have less filing to do, less recycling to put out and fewer scraps of paper lying around – what’s not to like about that? Seriously, no one likes filing.
This doesn’t have to be a mammoth task, just keep it in your mind every time you sort your post out and ask yourself – could I get this statement by email instead and do I need this brochure or could I look at it online? It’s an easy peasy way to de-clutter your life and to be more eco-friendly in the process by discouraging companies from sending out more paper nonsense.
The World Counts estimates that over 30 million acres of forest are destroyed annually to produce paper; that’s an area the same size as England. The paper industry is listed as the 5th largest consumer of energy in the world, using 4% of the world’s energy13.
Making some simple swaps will not only de-clutter your filing cabinet, but will also de-clutter your mind! Storing documents electronically makes them much easier to find (e.g. when the accountant is begging you in desperation for your receipts in January). Go paperless for your statements and bills, unsubscribe from brochure mailing lists, use email and go paper-free with your own work. When you are in those situations where paper use is unavoidable, try and pick sustainable sources, turn envelopes and letters into notepads and recycle what you’ve got left over.
8. Glam up your takeaway
Before you make a purchase, consider whether there is a way you could buy the item and reduce waste at the same time. If you are going to pick up your Saturday night takeaway or a smoothie for brunch, could you take a reusable container or Kilner jar with you and ask the restaurant to use that instead of their throwaway container?
Now I can feel you cringing slightly at this suggestion BUT if you just act confident… no one will question you! It’s become ‘fashionable’ to take your keep cup to your local coffee haunt so it’s just a matter of time before taking your glass lunch box to the chippy becomes eco-cool too… mark my words people, mark my words. Even if it doesn’t, who cares, you’ve saved yourself some rubbish and you’re helping to save the planet so you can say ‘take that’ doubters!
Have a think about single use items; what alternatives could you find instead of throwaway bags, nappies, disposable razors and paper towels?
It becomes a bit of a challenge and when you start thinking more about all of the things you buy you’ll be surprised at some of the alternatives you will think of. Avoiding the use of all packaging is more or less impossible in the current day but encouraging corporations to start taking a close look at their packaging by making conscious purchases is a good step in the right direction.
Be sure to check out our blog Packaging: The Shocking Truth of its Environmental and Health Impact for more information on the different types of packaging and how they are affecting our planet.
9. A clear house is a clear mind
The best way to reduce packaging and waste is to buy less in the first place. Think baby steps towards a more minimalistic life and start with a de-clutter. Clearing your home of the things you don’t need sets the foundation for buying less in the future. It can be enjoyable to have a home with less in it and a capsule wardrobe with fewer items; making tidying up and getting ready in the morning a whole heck of a lot quicker and easier.
Sell, gift and trade unwanted items and make a promise to yourself that you will buy less in the future. Having ‘things’ is not the key to happiness and often the desire to buy something is just that; a ‘desire’ to have the thrill of the purchase, which quickly fades. Try the two day rule – when you see something that you want, hold off for two days and then re-consider whether you actually need it. More often than not you will find that the desire will have faded and you are not that fussed after all so you can save yourself unwanted clutter and money.
10. The three RRRs
Recycle, reuse, re-purpose. It is more or less impossible to avoid creating waste, so when you are faced with ‘what’s left’ consider the three Rs before sending it to landfill. Reuse jars to store dried fruit and nuts or make jam, re-purpose glass bottles into vases if you need one, compost your food scraps to use on your veg patch and last but not least be sure to recycle.
It’s important to remember that ‘perfection’ does not exist in any form and in our modern day it is more or less impossible not to leave a footprint on this earth, even if you do live in a mud hut and live off of windfalls (#GOALS). That being said, we can all make tweaks to our lifestyle to minimize our footprint and being a conscious consumer is something to be proud of.
1 “What is your ecological footprint?” Global Footprint Network. 2017.
2 Parker, L. “Straw Wars: The Fight to Rid the Oceans of Discarded Plastic” National Geographic. 2017. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/plastic-straws-ocean-trash-environment/
3 Nunez, J. “The Sipping Point” The Last Plastic Straw. 2017. https://thelastplasticstraw.org/about-us/
4 Hall, D. “Throwaway culture has spread packaging waste worldwide: here’s what to do about it” The Guardian. March 13, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/13/waste-plastic-food-packaging-recycling-throwaway-culture-dave-hall
5 Rustin, S. “Think before you drink – about how to recycle your coffee cup” The Guardian. March 16, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/16/takeaway-coffee-cups-recycle-environment-waste
6 Laville, S. and Taylor, M. “A million bottles a minute: world’s plastic binge ‘as dangerous as climate change’” The Guardian. June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change
7 “Reduce > Think Packaging” lesswaste.org. 2017. http://www.lesswaste.org.uk/reduce/think-packaging/
8 Biello, D. “Plastic (Not) Fantastic: Food Containers Leach a Potentially Harmful Chemical” Scientific American. February 19, 2008. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/plastic-not-fantastic-with-bisphenol-a/
9 Carrington, D. “Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert” The Guardian. July 21, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars
10 Mosley, M. “Can eating meat be eco-friendly?” BBC. August 20, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28858289
11 Harvey, F. “Eat less meat to avoid dangerous global warming, scientists say” The Guardian. March 21, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/21/eat-less-meat-vegetarianism-dangerous-global-warming
12 “Plastic Bag Environmental Impact” Conserving Now. 2017. https://conservingnow.com/plastic-bag-environmental-impact/
13 “Environmental Impact of Paper Production: A useful but wasteful product” The World Counts. September 28, 2014. http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/Environmental_Impact_of_Paper_Production