Eco-friendly Living: The Beginners Guide to Eco-friendly Lifestyle
Climate change has gone from being a “some day” threat to something that already affects our world in extreme ways.
Weather changes are getting more extreme. Oceans and land are filled with plastic, and animals are dying from eating toxic trash. Rising sea levels will cause a loss of land for both living and farming.
If this sounds terrifying but we need to get clear about the extent of the danger we’re facing.
We need to stop waiting for someone else to fix it and start with ourselves.
In this article, you’re going to learn how to start an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Ready? Roll your sleeves up and let’s get to work!
The ideas presented below are new habits, and like making any new habit, you’re going to have to give up your old habits and start practicing the new ones, one change at a time.
Tips before You Start
1. Get motivated. Get clear on why you want to change your habits. It could be to enjoy better health, to save the environment, to save money, etc.
2. Start small. Start with the easy wins and build momentum to help you make the harder changes, one step at a time.
3. Aim for progress, not perfection. The goal here isn’t to turn your lifestyle completely zero-waste or green or sustainable. Don’t let perfection prevent you from making changes. Progress is all that matters.
4. Write it down. Make a list of changes that you want to make. Be realistic and don’t try to do them all at the same time.
5. Don’t do it alone. Getting your family or a friend on board will help make changes easier and much more fun.
1. Conscious Consumption
Consumerism has become an addiction that we rarely, if ever, stop and ask why we’re buying something or if we really need it.
So much of our buying is unconscious. We get in the store for a carton of milk and come out with a George Foreman grill.
Conscious consumption is about consuming less, but also more thoughtfully.
Household consumption (from food to fashion) is responsible for more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
In other words, you don’t need to wait for government legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You can change right now, starting with yourself.
All you need to do is to buy less!
#1. Stop Impulse Buying
* Become conscious of your impulse buying habits. Take an honest look at your bank account and credit card bills for any impulse buying. Highlight anything you think you bought on impulse. Identifying these impulses will help you stop impulse buying.
* Follow a 24-hour rule when you buy something online. Add the item to your wish list instead of your cart and come back to it the second day.
* Don’t shop when you’re feeling down. If you need to cheer yourself up and feel better, avoid retail therapy and try other self-care activities like treating yourself to a relaxing bath and lighting your favorite scented candle, or spending time with the people you love or with your pet.
* If you are terrified you’re going to miss out on a bargain, make a list of your priorities and the things that you really need. When you look up any bargains, make sure your money is spent on the things you need.
#2. Use the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’ Approach
One brilliant way to start consuming less is to use the illustrator Sarah Lazarovic’s ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’.
The idea is to start at the bottom (use what you have) and only buying new when you’ve exhausted all the other options. Keep this illustration where you can see it.
1. Use what you have
2. Borrow (gardening tools, everything for parties, baby items, books from the library etc.)
3. Swap (books, CDs, DVDs, kids toys and clothes, etc.)
You can also add the options: repair and rent to the diagram
#3. Think before You Buy
Below are a few questions to ponder before buying new:
What Is It Made From?
How have they been grown or produced? Is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it recyclable?
Who Made It?
Many products we buy involve child labor and workers being paid below minimum wages.
In most cases you might not be able to find out as supply chains are so complex and so much is outsourced.
This is why buying locally and buying from ethical and sustainable brands is a great way to ensure that you know exactly who made the product.
How Long Will It Last?
Most products these days are produced to be used once and then discarded. Toasters, printers, phones, etc. are no longer repairable. This is why when you buy new, you need to buy the best quality you can afford and buy products that are made to last and be fixed.
Fairphone (www.fairphone.com ) – offers mobiles that are made to last and be repaired and made from sustainable materials.
Buy Me Once (www.buymeonce.com) – Website and online shop that sells items made to last and to be repaired.
The Good Shopping Guide (www.thegoodshoppingguide.com) – An ethical brand comparison site for everything from homewares to food and drink.
2. Zero Waste
It’s undeniable that waste has become a threatening danger for our land and sea. It’s predicted that by 2024, the UK will run out of landfill space.
These landfill sites are responsible for a major portion of methane gas emissions. This methane gas is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide and is a significant contributor to climate change.
The term ‘zero waste can feel extreme and unachievable. But the goal isn’t to go completely zero waste but rather, produce as little waste as possible while at the same time recycling as little as possible.
Zero Waste offers a simple system of six options to deal with waste:
1. Refusing what you don’t need
2. Reducing what you do need
3. Reusing what you consume
4. Rehoming what you don’t need anymore
5. Recycling what you cannot refuse
6. Rotting (composting) the rest
The idea is that you start with refusing waste before they get into your home, and that recycling and rotting (composting) are the last resorts.
Refuse the things you don’t need, such as free pens, balloons, goody bags given out at events, junk mail (put a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign on your letter box.), little bottles of shampoo from hotels, etc.
This applies to what you’re buying and bringing home, but it also applies to what you already have, aka decluttering.
Decluttering should be done a one-time thing because you’re now more selective about what you’re bringing into your house.
With a little bit of inspiration and creativity, you can find multiple uses for a single item. For example, you can turn an old drawer into a bookshelf, torn t-shirts into cleaning rags, cracked mugs into pen holders, etc
Instead of disposing of the things you don’t need anymore, you can find a new home for them and extend their useful life. Make sure that whatever you’re going to pass on to someone or drop at a charity is clean, undamaged, and in a good condition.
It takes energy to transport, sort, and clean items for recycling. This is why recycling here should be the last resort option after you have worked your way through the other options.
The Recycle Now website (www.recyclenow.com) allows you to type in your postcode and get the lowdown on what can and can’t be recycled locally.
Before composting your food waste, think of ways to reduce it. Rot should be a last resort option for the ‘unavoidable’ food waste like eggshells, pineapple skin, tea leaves or bags, etc.
Things You Should Never Throw Away
* Textiles – synthetic clothing takes hundreds of years to decompose. Clothes that you no longer want can be passed on to friends, or donated to charity shops if they’re still in good condition. If not, they can be repurposed and resused or put into textile recycling bins.
* Electronics and smartphones – there are e-waste bins at most recycling centers, where many metals and other materials can be rescued for reuse.
* Batteries – they leach heavy metals like magnesium and lead and can cause landfill fires.
* Plastic bags and bottles – in landfills they break up into microplastics rather than break down. This is why they should be recycled.
* Aluminium cans – they are widely recycled and are valuable resources.
* Glass – it can be recycled almost infinitely.
3. Plastic Free
Around 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, 50 percent of which is for single-use purposes, and of that only about 10 percent is recycled.
With seven million tons of plastic ending up in the oceans each year, one in three fish caught contains plastic. Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic is strong, flexible, and durable which explains the stratospheric rise in its use. But this also means that it never really breaks down. Even when it slowly degrades in landfills, it doesn’t break down and instead breaks ‘up’ into smaller pieces that eventually end up in oceans and enters the food chain.
It’s hard to imagine a world without plastic. Plastic is a big component of computers, phones, TVs, and other essential equipment. It also keeps food fresh and reduces food waste.
The real problem comes from single-use plastic and how we dispose of it.
Consider filtering your tap water. To choose the best filtering service for your tap water, ask for a copy of your community’s annual water quality report.
Start using reusable water bottles and take them with you everywhere.
For the plastic bags you already have, reuse them before recycling them.
Buy reusable shopping bags or make your own. A pillowcase can be a great alternative to collect bread.
Keep these bags in your handbag all the time or in your car.
#3. Coffee/tea cups
Make your own coffee or tea at home and take it in a flask or insulated cup. Or take your own flask and request your coffee to be served in your own flask.
If it bothers you that you have to drag your empty flask around all day, collapsible cups offer the option to be squashed down when empty to easily fit into your bag. (www.stojo.co).
If you can’t do without a straw, consider using paper straws, bamboo straws, stainless steel straws, or glass straws. Make sure to say ‘no straw please’ when ordering.
See if you have a ‘bulk’ or ‘zero waste’ store near you. Bulk aisles are commonplace in many supermarkets. Take your jars and containers and fill them.
For fruit and vegetables, shop at farmers’ markets or plant your own garden. This is also a great way to make sure that your food is organic.
Use a plate to cover a bowl or a bowl to cover a plate of food in the fridge or microwave.
You can even make your own beeswax wraps.
Instead of using liquid soap, find good-quality soap, packaged in paper or cardboard. Use a soap dish to prolong the life of your soap.
Buy your shampoo in bulk. You can get a large bottle and simply refill the smaller ones that you keep in the shower.
You can also get solid shampoo bars.
4. Sustainable Food
Our food has a carbon (and water) footprint that varies depending on what we eat, where we grow it, how we process it, what we package it in, and so on.
Today, food production is responsible for a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions and more than half of these emissions come from animal products.
At the same time, it is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the food that is produced never even reaches the table.
How to Eat More Sustainably?
#1. Meal plan
This will help reduce your shopping trips and food waste.
Estimate how many meals you need to prepare in a week and plan accordingly.
Cook bigger quantities and freeze for later.
#2. Meat-free Monday
The idea is to have at least one meat-free day every week to cut our food footprint.
The Meat Free Monday website (www.meatfreemondays.com) offers loads of ideas for veggie meals, including breakfast.
Beans and green peas can be a good source of protein.
#3. Eat seasonally
We got used to getting whatever we want, whenever we want that we forgot which food should normally be available at which season.
One of the great ways to start eating seasonally is to shop at farmers’ markets or Join a CSA (community-supported agriculture). The idea consists of buying shares in a farm, then, during the season, you get fresh vegetables and fruits directly delivered to you, or to a drop-off point every week.
You can also grow your own veg in your garden or in-house pots.
#4. Cook from scratch
Ready meals might be more convenient, but cooking from scratch is much cheaper and healthier for you and the environment.
Embrace the slow cooker.
Batch cook when on the weekend and freeze some for another day.
#5. Go organic
Organic foods are minimally processed, grown with no pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides, preservatives, or irradiation.
There are 12 foods you need to buy organic because they contain the highest levels of pesticide residue based on studies by the Consumers Union (CU) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- Green beans
- Sweet bell peppers
#6. Reduce your food waste
In the UK, around 50 percent of food waste occurs in the home.
The three most commonly wasted foods in households in the UK daily being potatoes (5.8 million potatoes), bread (24 million slices of bread), and milk (5.8 glasses of milk).
Food items you can freeze
• Milk – make sure there’s a bit of space in the bottle for the milk to expand as it freezes.
• Eggs – cracked and whisked.
• Most vegetables – boil them in a pot (make sure to keep it closed) for up to 5 minutes. Let them cool down and pack them in resealable containers and freeze them.
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide, © January 9, 2020, by Jen Gale. All rights reserved.