The path to a more sustainable life may seem a little daunting and admittedly it can take a bit of getting used to (like remembering to always have a keep-cup or water bottle to hand, or even turning off the tap while brushing teeth), but it isn’t really that hard, and the benefits are TOTALLY worth it.
Actually, on that note, do you know that 22,000 coffee cups are disposed of in Ireland every hour? I don’t know what the number is for the UK, or Europe, but if we all swapped to a reusable option, think of the difference that would make! And never mind the coffee cups and lids; there are millions of non-recyclable coffee pod capsules thrown into landfill each year. I dread to think what the global total on those has been since their invention not so long ago.
Our oceans are being destroyed, our air is polluted, animals are being made extinct and forests diminishing rapidly. Now is not the time to think 'someone else will do it' or 'it's only one plastic bag/straw/cup/whatever'. Or God forbid, you are among those who think climate change isn’t happening [insert scary face emoji here!]
For the past few years, cutting down on my use of plastic and living a more sustainable way of life has been high on my New Year’s resolution list. Slowly but surely – and on some matters, rapidly and immediately – I am making changes and feeling better for doing so. I am excited to see that change for sustainability has now become a prominent topic in the media as well as in my peers’ conversations both online and in person. It is a global crisis after all.
We ALL need to make changes now before it's too late. Some will say these small changes aren't enough, and in some ways they're right. Corporations and governments, big and small, need to act too, but positive individual decisions are a good place to start to change your thinking and habits.
Thinking that one small change won't have a ripple effect is wrong, because the alternative is to do nothing and suffer an increasingly polluted world. Some corporations – and lots of smaller producers - are thankfully using plastic alternatives and choosing more ethically sourced and environmentally recyclable, multi-use materials for their products which makes it easier for us individuals to make better choices. The truth is, if all of us made small little changes it would make a BIG difference, because it’s easy to gauge the tip of the iceberg if you only just multiply all of your daily actions by every person you've ever met - it all adds up. And with billions of people on the planet now, we are creating an awful lot of unrecyclable rubbish with nowhere to go for a very long time.
I have created a list-to-self to keep myself right and I thought I would share my top tips to help you (and me) go more green… I can’t promise that I do all of these currently – but I am trying every day to adopt more and more of them into my daily decisions.
SECTION 1: AT HOME
1. Choose an Energy Provider that is Eco-Conscious
Data released in 2017 shows leading energy companies are responsible for a big chunk of carbon emissions. In Australia there is a Green Electricity Guide which lists the best performing retailers in the energy sector. We definitely need one of those in every country. And we should be choosing energy providers which have renewable assets, close to zero emissions, a strong public position against investing in fossil fuels and doesn’t have contracts to buy energy from fossil fuel power stations.
2. Invest in Energy/Water Efficient Appliances – or Use wo/Manpower!
Kitchen and laundry appliances can account for up to one third of the amount households spend on electricity. Pick appliances that reduce your power usage, and have water-saving fixtures attached to taps, showerheads. Choose a washing machine and toilet with a great WELS rating. And while we’re at it, use these less often. Do you really need a dishwasher cycle when a sink full of water and some elbow grease will do? I haven’t had a dishwasher or a microwave or a tumble drier in almost five years now and I love it! And as Ma in Derry Girls said, it is sacrilege to use the washing machine for a half load! Think full loads every time for economy - and the environment. When they’re washed, hang your wet clothes on a drying line or rack instead of using a powered dryer. And consider hand washing your clothes, particularly if you only have a few items to clean.
3. Switch Off!
We don’t need all of our appliances to be left on standby. Switching RIGHT OFF will save power. Take those charger plugs out of the wall when they’re not actually charging! Choosing lightbulbs which are more environmentally friendly also helps, as does switching off the lights when you’re not in the room. Use LED lighting or CFL bulbs instead of incandescent lighting as it’s proven to last longer, which reduces the need to keep purchasing light bulbs. Open up your blinds and use as much natural light and sunshine as possible before switching on your light bulbs.
Not having the TV/ radio/ music in the background when we’re not actually/actively listening/watching will not only save electricity, but you might even be more productive if you work near a TV. They have their own magnetic fields and can honestly interfere with your brain waves. True fact!
Plus, turn your heating off if you’re out for the night and look for more flexibility in the programming boxes to allow you to set timings on an easy app. Put on an extra layer of clothing instead of turning on the heating. Seriously, doubling up on your socks does wonders! This applies to business premises too, I used to get so cross when my team would have the temperature set at 26C and be sitting there in vest tops! Make sure to switch everything off in the evenings and at weekends.
· Put up a no junk mail sign on your letterbox to limit the amount of paper waste.
· Start timing your showers. Or better yet, invest in a shower timer and/or a water-saving shower head.
SECTION 2: IN THE KITCHEN
4. Cook it Yourself.
Not only will you save a bundle of money and probably eat better, but you might even realise you really enjoy cooking and preparing food for yourself – and others! Look at it as an adventure and an experiment using as much fresh (unpackaged!) produce as possible – maybe try to go vegan as many nights a week as you can, because less meat production is good for the planet overall, not to mention your health. Plus, it’s easy to head over to YouTube or even Insta for ideas & inspo if you don’t like traditional recipe books. I’ve covered ethical and sustainable food shopping further down…
5. Meal Prep
Meal prepping not only saves time, but it can also be energy efficient especially if you’re using the stove or oven. Create enough food for leftovers to prevent having to use your stove/oven every single day.
6. Cook More Efficiently
Cover your food when cooking in pots and pans on the cooker – this traps heat and can help cook your food faster, thereby reducing the amount of cooking time.
7. Sustainable Utensils
Use eco-friendly & sustainable cooking utensils and gadgets like bamboo, moulded bamboo, or stainless steel. Bamboo is stronger and more durable than wood, and bamboo forests replenish themselves faster than tree/wood forests. Plastic utensils along with melamine utensils are known to leach chemicals when exposed to heat, contaminating food and potentially causing health issues.
8. Store Well. And Invest in Eco-friendly and Reusable Food Storage
Being aware on how to properly store your groceries, and how long they keep, can be a good reminder and incentive to use them before they go to waste – ultimately cutting down food waste and saving you money.
Right now I am loving the new food pots from S'nack by S'well and S'well Eats. Food waste is now major consumer issue that will need to be resolved and heightened awareness around single-use plastic bottle waste will transcend into food. In fact, this behaviour is already being embraced on high street with several restaurant chains and cafes allowing their customers to take food away with their own containers. This can't happen soon enough as a recent report from The Guardian stated that the UK generates 11 billion items of packaging waste from lunches and food on the go each year. That is WAY too much and by choosing and using your own reusable food pots, much of this waste can be eliminated. While I’m on this point, please stop accepting disposable cutlery and napkins too. You don’t (always) need them!
Other reusable food storage options include The Swag bags, beeswax food wraps or silicon bags for lunch staples. Not only does this reduce your use of single-use plastic, but it will make your food last longer and save you money in the long run. Me like-y!
Also, find an empty space in your refrigerator or freezer and stuff with crumpled newspaper or full water bottles (try to avoid the plastic ones) – this improves cooling and saves electricity and money.
9. Food Waste
According to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment one-third of the one million tonnes of food waste in Ireland comes from households. 60% of this waste is avoidable as it's leftovers and food that’s past its sell by date. This is such an easy fix - just buy less but shop more regularly. Plus – use your nostrils and dip your fingers to test food, sometimes the date on the pack is a guideline and the food is still OK (not always of course, but you know the drill).
For the time poor, try to meal plan and batch cook where possible, freezing food in portions to defrost and eat throughout the week. Use a compost bin. Sometimes life gets in the way and you end up out for dinner a couple of times when you weren't planning to, don't beat yourself up over it but make the effort to throw away less food. You'll save money too.
10. Plant a Garden
It doesn’t matter if you only grow your own herbs in a window box or one tomato plant by the kitchen window; once you catch the growing bug and taste the amazing flavour difference that homegrown brings, you will only want to do more, get better, and grow bigger. The important thing is just to get started. It’s so very cheap to start a garden and the rewards reaped are awesome, not to mention delicious! A word of warning: start small. Smaller than you think you can handle. Especially if it’s in the ground and will need to be weeded often!
11. Beeswax wraps
Clingfilm, which is made from plastic, can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Tin foil is only recently recyclable but can be tricky as some recycling plants can't process it as easy as aluminium cans. It also needs to be clean. I have only bought one roll of clingfilm in my life and I am not a fan of foil ether, except at Christmas for the turkey. A great alternative is beeswax wraps which are popping up everywhere. They are made from natural beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil and are easily moldable around jars, lids and plates in the fridge. They are also perfect for sandwiches and lunches in your bag, and you can rinse them off and use again. You can buy from Irish company Ireland Beeswax Wraps here.
12. Water bottles
It’s hard to believe that this one hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Even my seven year old wonders why we sell water in shops when we have water in our taps (plus water bottles). I went to uni in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France and there are over 150 fountains in the city centre – which were all natural water sources as far back as Roman times. Let’s start that again! With drinkable water fountains and taps starting to appear everywhere in big cities like London, I am eagerly anticipating the days when we have water fountains everywhere and can refill at our leisure. We should note here too that drinking water over other juices, or diuretic teas/coffees is best for the body and mind.
To help nudge you in the right direction, please remember that when it comes to bottled water, it takes three times the amount of water in the bottle to make the bottle itself which holds the actual water. You'll be saving money and the planet if you BYO, even if you are already good at recycling the bottles you do buy. My favourites are from Sip n’Swell and the ones from Bobble Bottle which have a natural charcoal filter at the top.
13. Juice the off-cuts of your vegetables and fruits or pop them into morning smoothies. At worst, use a compost bin and use the rich soil for your garden or herb patch.
14. Repurpose glass jars. Repurpose any and all containers that you can actually!
15. Use washable metal straws instead of disposable plastic straws. Or just grow up and don’t use straws at all, you’re not five for goodness sake!
16. Use cold (or at least cooler) water when hand washing dishes.
17. Make your own coffee instead of buying takeaway… and on that note – COFFEE… The coffee industry almost merits a section on its own – forgive me if I talk at length but…
18. Coffee Cups* I know these are usually takeaway items, but I thought I’d include them here in the kitchen section because coffee falls into the food category for me.
This is one of the easiest and most cost-effective switches you can make. With almost 366 disposable coffee cups being used every minute they create an incomprehensible amount of waste. Buy a KeepCup or other type of reusable cup that you can bring out and about with you. I have now made a rule for myself that I am not allowed to buy a takeaway coffee unless I have mine with me.
Also, most coffee shops will offer a small discount on your morning latte if you are using one which is even more of an incentive to try. In our office, we have our own IMAGE branded KeepCup for everyone on the team, so perhaps you could encourage your company to do the same.
19. Coffee Pods
I’m turning to Australia for this one as I love the innovation from Crema Joe. It is estimated that Aussies are consuming a whopping 6 million disposable coffee capsules each day. This statistic indicates the popularity of coffee pod machines across the country, but it also flags a serious contribution to the global landfill issue.
There’s no question that coffee is a much loved and important daily ritual for many of us, but the environmental impact is becoming one we can no longer ignore. The planet is slowly being suffocated by coffee capsules that take over 500 years to breakdown, all the while releasing toxic carbon emissions. The good news is that there are alternatives to disposable coffee pods.
In 2015, Crema Joe took a stand against single-use coffee capsules by offering consumers eco-friendly options for popular pod machines. Made of stainless steel, their leading SealPod capsule is infinitely reusable, which means consumers can now significantly reduce the environmental impact of their coffee pod machine.
Since launching, Crema Joe has estimated that their customers are now preventing over 11,500,000 coffee pods from heading to landfill every year. But this pales in comparison to Australia-wide figures for single-use capsules.
With over one million Nespresso pod machines in homes across Australia, not to mention other brands, the reality is that over 131 billion pods could still be making their way into landfill each year. Crema Joe founder, Kayla Mossuto says, “Educating consumers on product waste is key”.
“If everyone with a capsule machine made the switch to reusable coffee pods, our annual impact on landfill could be reduced by 45,896,676 cubic feet. Just to put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of 52 Olympic sized swimming pools every year!” Kayla adds, “There is a lot of ‘greenwashing’ that goes on in the coffee capsule market. Many are under the misconception that recycling is the answer, but it’s simply not.” Unfortunately, the majority of coffee capsules are made from non-recyclable composite plastic. And, for those capsules that can be recycled, it is suggested that less than 5% are actually being recycled appropriately. That’s because spent capsules can’t be tossed into household recycling bins. Our general recycling plants just aren’t equipped to process products so small.
Coffee pods must be taken to special drop-off points to be properly recycled. However, it’s also important to note that the collection and recycling of coffee pods in itself is energy-intensive. The transportation, storage and processing of the pods produce waste and CO2 emissions. “As consumers, we need to take more responsibility for the items we consume and understand the impact it will have for our future, and our children’s future.” Check them out at www.cremajoe.com.au
20. Mend and Make Do
You can make your own Play-Doh, shampoo, laundry detergent…and all of these things are not only a lot cheaper, but often also healthier and might even just be fun to make. Mrs R Ganics from Helen’s Bay does classes all over the country – sign up and learn, it’s so fun! www.mrsrganics.com And aside from cleaning products, you can also learn to make your own curtains, cushions, clothes, throws, table decorations – and so much more from old clothes. Plus you CAN do many everyday home repairs and renovations – and the sense of achievement (also, slight smugness TBH) once they’re done is fantastic! Leave the plumbing and electrical to the pros, but you can definitely learn most other tasks. Tune in to a YouTube tutorial near you for anything these days.
21. Switch to simple cleaning solutions
You’d be amazed at the number of things you can clean with just baking soda and vinegar. Throw some essential oils into the mix and a nudge of elbow grease and you’ll have the cleanest house on the block. You’ll need fewer bottles of stuff under the sink, have less to worry about ending up in your children’s nostrils, mouths and pores, plus you’ll never have to run from the bathroom due to toxic fumes from a bottle again. Old essential oils like orange or lemon that have otherwise lost their effectiveness are great for freshening up bathrooms. I put a few drops inside the toilet paper roll or in the toilet.
SECTION 3: SHOPPING
This could be a whole blog on its own – and maybe I’ll write another blog about this, but for now… some key points….
22. Put a buying freeze on yourself and learn to appreciate the things you have. Read the books in your shelf, wear the clothes in your closet, (shop your own wardrobe!) pack up and cycle through the toys in your kids’ rooms so they become new to them every few weeks, and just focus on the things you’ve already acquired in life. If you absolutely must get something new, make yourself get rid of (recycle, re-sell) two other similar things to make room for the new thing. So if your kids want a new toy, they have to get rid of two old ones. If you want a new pair of jeans, get rid of two pieces of clothing you’re not wearing. You’ll not only bless others, but you will also be blessing yourself by having less to sort through and clean. Personally, I have a rule that I can’t shop online until I have some money in my PayPal account (from selling my old things), so I just have to get tougher on myself to buy less in general.
23. Buy quality items and share them with others. I’m a huge fan of hand-me-downs and I’m astonished by what some people end up throwing away. Set up book and clothing swaps with your friends and neighbours. Pass on toys to other generations of children in your family.
24. Shop Locally & Ethically.
I’m really lucky to have a great collection of shops in my town where I can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables and locally raised meat or fish all in one trip by foot. I know that’s not always practical, but if you start supporting the smaller, locally owned food businesses in your community, you’ll not only be helping the local economy, but you might also find yourself eating healthier, in-season foods, learning to cook new things and making some new friends. This applies to fashion and accessories too. Even beauty! Plus, it’s likely there’ll be less plastic packaging too. Do I need to insert a reminder here about bringing our own bags? I often want to kick myself when I forget mine as I know each new plastic bag bought/made is one that won’t be disposed of for a very long time. I’d rather carry 10 items in my arms than bring another plastic bag into the world.
25. Buy Second Hand or Previously Owned Clothes (Or Just Buy Less…)
And when it comes to shopping for fashion - the world’s biggest pollutant industry - choosing to own or buy less helps more, of course, but if you’re still not ready to give up fresh fashion forever, then think about charity shops and the growing sharing/fashion hire sites and the resale industry – which can all be a massive treasure trove of gems if shopped strategically. Try to consider eBay, HEWI, Vestiaire Collective, dePop and other second-hand sites as much as new clothing e-tailers. Doing this does help make a dent – albeit a small one - in the massive mountains of textiles and clothing waste around the world. And according to VOGUE Business, the resale market is on the rise – so get with the programme baby!
26. Support Local Crafters and Artisans
Look for local makers, crafters and artisans making cool things from previously used textiles and materials – find them via cool stores like Studio Souk or the craft collectives dotted everywhere.
27. Choose Natural Fabrics and Fibres
Also, try not to purchase non-recyclable fabrics and fibres; those £20 pleather trousers will take about 500+ years to decompose, so maybe consider cotton, linen, hemp and wool instead as your first options. Be sure to check out Fairtrade labels too, which means the item of clothing has met certain social, economic and environmental standards.
28. Look for Campaigns to Get Involved With (but not just for spending reasons)
For an affordable option on the high street check out H&M’s Conscious clothing line, or donate your old clothes to H&M, (just ask for the garment-collecting box, often located next to the cash desks), you’ll get rewarded with a voucher. M&S and other retailers have similar recycling options and Zara has recently committed to be 100% sustainable by 2025, which is to be applauded. Well done Zara!
SECTION 4: SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY
29. Non-Plastic Shower Products
Another great place you can ditch the plastic bottles is the bathroom. A lot of beauty products are sold in containers that are easily recyclable, but it is even better for the planet to cut down on buying them at all. This is going to be my newest switch out, after hearing suggestions from Taz Kelleher on @sustainablefashiondublin.
Instead of buying big bottles of shower gel, switch to old school soap instead. It's sold in cardboard packaging which can be recycled and most of them foam to a rich, thick lather which is a perfect replacement for those cans of shaving gel too. ***Note to self... Be sure to check out what chemicals are in the soap to give it that foam and how good or bad they are….
Other products like shampoo, conditioner and body moisturiser can also be bought in bar form. Lush, in particular, do great, inexpensive versions of these that will last ages. Check out their massage bars which melt into the skin when rubbed over the body. Switching out these few products will drastically reduce the plastic you are using on a monthly basis.
30. Invest in a Bamboo Toothbrush
One of the easiest switches to make is your toothbrush, from plastic to bamboo. These are now easily available (in Belfast or Dublin, try Avoca) and are so much better for the environment. It is estimated that 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are used a year and given that they take almost 500 years to biodegrade, every toothbrush you've ever thrown away is still out there somewhere.
With most bamboo versions, the bristles are still plastic which is more hygienic as they don't hold any moisture like natural bristles. But the handle is bamboo which is much better for our planet as you can pop it in the compost bin when you're ready to replace it. Alternatively, Irish brand Virtue brush has a 100% bamboo handle and compostable Nylon-4 bristles, making it completely eco-friendly. They also plant three trees for every toothbrush sold online proving that even the smallest of changes makes a difference.
31. Sanitary products
Only in the last few years have we seen sustainable periods become something discussed in the mainstream. Given that, on average, a woman will have up to 500 periods in her lifetime, this can create a huge amount of waste whether you use pads or tampons. Luckily there are so many alternatives now to choose from that aren't single use. Most of these feel quite alien to what we're used to, but it would help even if we switched out half of what we use on our periods to sustainable options.
A moon cup: there are lots of versions of this now but they all work a similar way. It is a soft, silicone cup used to collect menstrual blood for up to 8 hours. It will last you for years so no need to use the estimated 22 sanitary products per period.
Plastic free tampons: All those applicators from every tampon you've ever used? Yep, they're still out there somewhere. Switching to ones without applicators is eco friendly as the tampon itself will biodegrade after about six months. Brands like Natracare offer plastic free tampons that are 100% cotton. Alternatively, if you find tampons difficult to use without one, Dame have created a reusable applicator which is fantastic idea.
Period pants: No we're not talking about the huge pair you hide at the back of the drawer when your period rolls around but underwear that is period proof. SheThinx is an amazing brand which creates underwear that can hold up to two tampons worth and are both washable and reusable (they also look nice too).
32. Cotton Pads
They might feel insignificantly small in comparison to other polluters, but most females between the ages of 20-50 use roughly three a day, every day. Imagine seeing that amount used in a year stacked in front of you, it adds up to over 1,000 cotton pads! You can buy re-useable cotton pads which can be popped into the washing machine and used again on Etsy and in Urban Outfitters. Or make like your granny (or me!) and stick to a cotton or muslin facecloth.
33. Cotton buds
Luckily for us there are so many biodegradable version of cotton buds now that there is no longer a need to purchase the plastic ones. We use them for so many things that they are hard to replace with an alternative, or anything reusable. Go eco instead and choose ones that aren't made from single use plastic.
I’m mostly lasered, so have few body hairs left to remove as part of my beauty routine, but I do still shave every now and again. I’m pleased that I don’t use the wholly disposable razors which contain most plastic and are therefore most damaging, but even my Venus with its replaceable heads still results in a lot of plastic back into the world. Wax strips are the same. And hair removal creams pump chemicals back into our water system. My top tip here would be to give up the wholly disposable razors for good and challenge the companies to come up with better solutions which don’t wreck the planet. If you can afford it, go laser and reduce the need for hair removal in the future.
A very old school option is a safety razor. Investing in one that is good quality, with a weighted handle will last you a lifetime. All you need to do is replace the blade, which is far less waste and as they are so sharp, do not need to be replaced as frequently. Key tip: take a tutorial on using these as there is a knack to getting it right (and not ending up with a bloodbath!).
35. Check product ingredients – I’ll do a separate blog on which ones are most damaging, but check out Sarah Jossell online, she is a fab beauty editor and a real champion of eco and sustainable beauty.
36. Go makeup free for one week each month.
37. Limit the amount of water you use to brush your teeth. Turn off the tap!
38. Make your own face cleanser and scrub. Again, Mrs R Ganics does great classes to help you learn to make your own cleanser. One good class will teach you a lifetime of products and tips! Personally, I love a bit of natural oil and warm water on a good old fashioned face cloth, you can’t beat it!
SECTION 5: COMMUTING AND TRAVELLING
39. Buy a second-hand bicycle and start using it to commute everywhere.
40. Take stairs over the elevator. This also doubles up as a booty workout of course.
41. Use public transport. It’s also an excellent opportunity to catch up on reading and other things you couldn’t do if you were driving.
42. Make Fewer Car Journeys - so many car journeys are, in fact, needless. Cars are responsible for emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Choose to go without your car and walk or ride a bike or scooter to work, grab a train, bus or car pool with friends, or use ride share services to do your bit to reduce emissions into the environment. Every little bit counts.
SECTION 6: SUSTAINABLE OFFICE OR WORKPLACE
43. Go paperless
I’m proud to say we went paperless in our office between 2014-15 and we were collecting, re-using and recycling all single-sided paper before that from 2008. It’s incredible how many people and businesses still don’t do this! Shame on you! In a digital world, paper is mostly unnecessary in any business, so say no to unnecessary paper/posted invoices, receipts. Opt to have all your bills and bank correspondence sent via email and avoid printing tickets to festivals, events, concerts and flights when digital QR codes are available via your smart phone. In fact, get rid of your home printer. This will encourage you to seek a printer when you absolutely need it.
As for lights & electronics, the rules for home apply here too – switch off!
Sustainable baby items
44. Switch to cloth diapers/nappies.
45. Save gift bags and boxes for future use.
46. Give people experiences instead of things. (I’m a massive fan of this, as any of my friends, family and exes will attest!)
47. Spend more time outside. Plant a tree with someone, or for someone! Go for walk and talk meetings/catch ups instead of sitting eating food your body doesn’t need.
48. Shared Reading: Borrow books from the library or swap with friends instead of purchasing them directly (even though it pains me not to support writers by saying this!) Also - read your favourite newspaper publications online instead of reading the paper versions.
49. Adopt pets instead of buying them from a breeder. There are so many orphaned pets out there who need a family. And the same can be said for children!
50. Recycle Medicines: Bring unused medicines back to the pharmacies who can recycle them efficiently (although many just incinerate them, which isn’t good). Have a sniffle? Carry around your own handkerchief instead of using disposable tissues.
BONUS BALL: Create a video, a slideshow or a blog post of how you implemented these ideas and publish them publicly to help spread the word. Follow cool sustainable people or organisations on your social to keep the topic front of mind and receive fresh ideas as often as possible.