Everyone knows the planet is in dire straits right now. Everywhere we look – the news, social media, politics, advertisements – climate change is very much present in our society’s conversation. It’s easy for us think, that as ordinary people, it is difficult to make any impactful changes in our everyday lives. Impossible, even. Sure, we could all turn into tree-hugging hippies that live off the grid, shun big corporations and grow our own food, but is that even practical or feasible for the average person? Does the average person even want that? I would wager that the answer is mostly probably ‘no’ for 99% of the population. And whilst this attitude might be partly responsible for our planet’s detriment, it is understandable. The lives that we lead are comfortable – drastically changing them is not. What we don’t realise is that the average person can make a difference – and that it is the average person that should be trying to make a difference.
With an increasingly industrialised animal agriculture industry, an overwhelmingly prevalent fast fashion industry, an extreme desire for convenience, newness and trendiness, rampant usage of disposable plastics, and a society with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, the planet has never been worse off than it is now. Our seemingly harmless, everyday habits (that we don’t even give second thought to) are inexorably dragging the state of the environment to an all time low. We have more food waste and textile waste in landfills, more oceanic ‘dead-zones‘, more toxic waterways, more polluted air, more beaches and marine life choked with plastic (to be exact, 8 million tonnes of it each year) more deforrestation, more unhealthy, overweight and unhappy people, more species extinction, and more chemicals in our food than ever before. The thing is, we buy into all of these things every single day. And we are effectively voting with our money. We are voting for an unhealthy planet with unhealthy people. When we spend our money on things that cause environmental and social detriment, what we are really saying is “I am ok with this, I support this, and I am going to keep funding the industries that are slowly but surely destroying my home.”
All of this begs the question…are you? Are you ok with this? Do you support it? And if not, what are you going to do about it? What can you do about it?
The answer is actually quite simple. It just requires you to change a few things.
Before you get defensive, know that none of this is an attack on how you live your life. What it is, however, is a call to action. A wake-up call, if you will. A cry across this online space that says “Hey! I am trying to change things for the better. Will you help me?”
It can seem like an overwhelming responsibility, but never underestimate the power of a single person. I have seen so many examples in my own life where I have inadvertantly influenced others to make more positive choices – my friends, family, work colleagues, old school friends, (hopefully) you as you are reading this blog post, and even strangers that follow my Instagram account have come to me and said that I’ve helped them make positive change in their lives. An increase in plant-based meals, a change to veganism, an incorporation of more environmentally-friendly products…every little bit counts. Our individual actions may seem small, but a tiny pebble still makes ripples in a pond that spreads outwards and touches an expanse of water that was previously still. We are all here together; we just need to realise it. Cumulatively, our actions can have a great impact on the world around us. And the more people get involved, the more people they can influence. Every time you use a cloth bag instead of a plastic bag, or eat a plant-based vegetarian/vegan meal, or use a product that is sustainably produced and non-toxic, or buy an item of second-hand clothing, or purchase new clothing from an ethical brand, or use a keep cup instead of a take-away coffee cup, you are not only adding to the growth of companies that are trying to change the world for the better, but you are detracting from companies and habits that are causing environmental detriment and reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfill. It is all of our everyday habits that are causing our ultimate downfall – so it is up to us to change them to more sustainable ones.
So, without further ado…here are a bunch of tips and things that I personally incorporate into my every day life to minimise my impact on the environment and help make a positive change.
- Use cloth/enviro-bags instead of plastic bags. Keep a stash of them somewhere that is easily visible and accessible so that you don’t forget to take them with you whenever you go grocery shopping! I use this particular bag in the photo to take my lunch container to work with me, for running quick errands where I might require a bag, and have even wrapped lettuces in another similar cloth bag (tie off at the top and pop it in the crisper – they keep really well!). This bag is an old cotton tote from Cotton On (I don’t shop there anymore as they are quite unethical and are a part of the fast fashion industry – more of this in a later blog post) but it has served its purpose well over the years.
- This point is twofold – firstly…Shop at your local produce markets. We go to our local markets every single Sunday and buy a heap of organic and spray free produce that is grown locally. This not only reduces food miles (the distance over which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer; as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport it) but also allows me to support my community and local businesses. Not only that, but it is a lot cheaper than buying the same amount of produce from a grocery store. We still buy things from grocery stores, but going to the markets allows us to reduce what we buy from grocery stores and allows us to save a few dollars. You get a better feel for how things are produced as well; and if you become a regular, you tend to have favourite stalls, and you end up developing a relationship with the stall-holders themselves. It provides a lot more meaningful human connection, rather than using the self-serve checkouts or passing through a checkout with a cranky attendant that doesn’t really want to serve you. And secondly…adopt a plant based, vegan diet. Studies have shown that a vegan diet is far more environmentally friendly than a standard diet. It also benefits your health, too!
- Use natural, cruelty-free, organic products that are produced sustainably and have compostable, reusable or recyclable packing. This is point is pretty-self explanatory. But there are other aspects to this – there are so many different beauty/cosmetic products available to us now, but the vast majority of them are not very good for us. Many are laden with harmful chemicals that can lead to skin irritation, eczema, acne, and hormonal imbalances. Some are even suspected to be carcinogenic – not really the sort of thing we want on our skin! Our skin is our body’s largest organ and it absorbs everything we put on it, so make sure that the products you are using are truly natural (real ingredients, not synthetic ones). This not only benefits your skin, but it is far better for the environment, as all of the stuff we put on our skin eventually gets washed down the drain and into our waterways when we take a shower! Avoid products with lots of chemicals and especially avoid products with plastic microbeads (read more about these here). Two of my absolute favourite skincare companies are Dirty Hippie Cosmetics and Living Libations (original website here and Australian distributor here). Both are dedicated to producing sustainable, natural, pure, high-quality products that nourish the body we live in and the earth we live on. I cannot praise these two companies highly enough.
- Use a safety razor instead of a disposable razor. These things are super old school and last a life time. It can be a bit of an adjustment at first, but once you get used to them, they are easy to use. As soon as the blade becomes dull, you can remove it and it can be recycled. Unlike disposable razors or disposable razor heads encased in plastic, these are much more environmentally friendly. If you stop and think about how much we shave you can begin to see how much of a negative impact these disposable razors can have – in fact, it is estimated that 2 billion razors are thrown away each year.
- Make your own cosmetic products using natural ingredients. This is a popular choice for many ‘zero-wasters’. I make my own tooth-powder to clean my teeth with, and use an essential oil blend call the Mint + Myrrh Tooth Serum by Living Libations along with it. This powder has lasted me months and cleans my teeth really well – it has even reduced my tooth sensitivity! I simply wet my toothbrush, lightly dip the bristles into the powder, add a drop Tooth Serum and then brush as per normal. Other easy DIY items are deodorant paste (pictured), lip balm, hair oils, facial oils, body moisturiser, household and bathroom cleaning products…the possibilities are endless. The ingredients are natural, easy to make, long-lasting, safe, non-toxic, and relatively inexpensive to buy in bulk – I get mine from sites such as N Essentials and Biome. There are plenty of recipes online, so find one that works for you and give it a try!
- Use natural cleaning utensils that will break down if you throw them away. The majority of standard cleaning utensils are made from toxic glues, plastic and plastic-based materials. Most of these items cannot be recycled, but they also take hundreds of years to break down. By choosing items made from recyclable or compostable, natural, biodegradable and non-plastic materials, you are reducing the amount of plastic going into landfill every single day (and also reducing the tiny particles of plastic washing down the drain…). I also find that these items are not only more effective, but last a lot longer too. Biome is a great place to find these, but many health food stores stock items like this as well.
- Use stainless steel, glass or bamboo drinking straws. Straws are a huge environmental hazard, especially to marine life. National Geographic estimates that in the U.S alone, 500 million straws are used every single day. If, like me, you are an avid smoothie drinker, you will go through a phenomenal amount of straws in your lifetime. By using your own reusable straw, you effectively reduce the amount of straws going into landfill and waterways. These things are so easily transportable that you can even take them with you and use them in cafes and other places you would normally use a disposable straw (just make sure to ask for no straw with your next beverage). Plus, they feel a lot nicer to drink out of! Again, Biome has your back with this one.
- Use small mesh produce bags instead of disposable plastic bags. I’m sure we are all familiar with going to the grocery store and putting things like fruits and small vegetables into those small, clear plastic bags that we tear off a reel. Like any other plastic bag, these are really bad for the environment (even if we reuse them…because we throw them out eventually anyway). You can replace these with reusable mesh bags – I get mine from a brand called Onya Life.
- Reuse empty glass jars at a bulk foods store. We have a whole heap of different sized glass jars that we take to our local bulk food store every month to stock up on nuts, flours, and super foods. This one is area specific, but there are more and more stores popping up all over the country that cater to this (The Source Bulk Foods is a great example!). This allows us to avoid a huge amount of plastic packaging and also means that we can buy more healthy foods for an affordable price.
- Get a keep cup. In Australia alone, over 1 billion disposable cups are used each year. And although many of these are put in recycling bins, the truth is that they cannot be recycled. This is because the cups are lined with plastic that is almost inseparable from the paper part of the cup. And whilst the paper casing might break down in landfill, the plastic lining does not. Keep cups are a great alternative to disposable cups and a great conversation starter as well. The first time I used mine in my local shopping centre, three separate people asked me where I got my cup from – and only one of them was the barista that made my coffee. I got mine from Pottery For The Planet.
- Buy second-hand clothing and ethically, sustainably-made clothing. I’ve had a real change in the way I buy clothes in the last 12 months. I no longer buy clothing from fast fashion outlets that produce clothing en masse (they are unethical in terms of production and detrimental to the environment) and instead purchase my clothes from thrift stores, people selling their almost-new clothing online, from online vintage stores (Etsy is great for this), or from ‘slow’ fashion labels and boutiques that use organic materials and make their clothing in small batches, whilst empowering garment workers instead of exploiting them. This method of buying clothes is much more rewarding and also allows me to curate a wardrobe of pieces that I truly love and will keep for years to come, instead of having armfuls of cheap, tacky clothing that I will throw away in three months.
Finally, some extra facts – the following is a list of degradation time-frames of everyday items in seawater:
- Newspaper – 6 weeks
- Cotton rope – 1-14 months
- Plastic bag – 10-20 years
- Aluminium can – 200 years
- Styrofoam cup – 400 years
- Plastic bottles and plastic toothbrushes – 450 years
- Fishing line – 600 years
I am not perfect when it comes to being 100% ‘zero waste’. I still use single-use plastic from time to time, mainly in food packaging. But I have cut down on my usage dramatically, and I am actively trying to make a change every single day. It gives me a sense of hope and a sense of pride, and if everyone started to make these sorts of changes we could make some serious groundwork when it comes to healing this planet. There is no end-game; not really. We should always be striving to do better and find ways to lessen our imprint on the earth. I truly think that it is our responsibility, while we are lucky enough to be here, to take care of our beautiful home. By adapting these practices into your life, you can start to make a positive change too. All of these things are easy – honestly, they are. It just requires a little bit of adjustment at first. But the result is worth it…can you imagine if everyone took similar measures every single day? What a better place this planet would be?
It is time to take a stand, together, and step forward with our eyes on a cleaner, greener, sustainable future.