GOING GREEN – LIVING A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
By Sheila Frampton
Over the last two centuries, our changing lifestyles have had a massive impact on our environment. Industrialisation and a growing population mean that we have put immense pressure on our precious resources. As a result, we are seeing global warming, problems with our ozone layer, and oceans filled with plastic that are having a devastating effect on marine life.
The coronavirus lockdown across Europe has shown us what happens when the earth is left to recover – in many areas the air is becoming cleaner, nature is healing, wildlife is returning to the streets, there are more fish in our rivers – dolphins have even been spotted in Venetian waterways.
If we are to help our planet, we need to ‘go green’ and try to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
What is a sustainable lifestyle?
A sustainable lifestyle is one that reduces our reliance on the earth’s natural resources. It means reducing our ‘carbon footprint’ and our environmental impact by changing the way we use energy, the way in which we travel and even the foods we eat.
What are the most effective measures to ‘go green’ in terms of our lifestyles?
“If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” Pete Seeger.
The most effective route to a sustainable lifestyle is to turn to the ‘three Rs’ – not the ones we learned at school but Reducing, Recycling and Reusing.
The most significant reduction we can make is that of waste by aiming for a ‘zero waste lifestyle’ which means having nothing in our bin bags at the end of the day. Of course, we can’t do that without a great deal of consideration and planning – and it can take months and even years to achieve but small steps in the right direction can help in the fight to save our planet.
The facts about waste:
- In the UK, the average person throws away approximately 400 kg of waste each year – seven times our own body weight.
- Of the 26 million tonnes of waste produced in the UK, only 12 million tonnes are recycled with 14 million tonnes sent to landfill sites – an average recycling rate of 45%
- Each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans – imagine five shopping bags filled with plastic on every foot of coastline in the world.
Single-use plastics are a serious climate change hazard. Plastics production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of production. By 2050 it is estimated that plastic production will be responsible for 13% of the total ‘carbon budget.’ What’s more, plastic packaging accounts for 40% of the demand for plastics worldwide, and 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels.
The most common plastics and plastic-related products found on beaches include food wrappers, plastic bottles and bags, drinking straws, take away containers and cigarette butts. To reduce these and the other plastics in our lives, we could consider the following:
- Carrying a reusable water bottle reducing the need for plastic bottles
- Avoiding using plastic straws and disposable plastic cutlery
- Carrying a reusable coffee cup – 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year in the UK and only 1 in 400 are recycled
- Avoiding excessive food packaging – some supermarkets are selling reusable net bags for fruit and vegetables
- Saying ‘no’ to plastic shopping bags, taking our own shopping bags, or using supermarkets that offer strong, recyclable paper carrier bags.
- Choosing soap, shampoo and conditioner bars rather than liquids in plastic bottles. The carbon footprint of liquid soap is 25% more than a soap bar. It needs five times as much energy to produce and uses 20 times the amount of packaging. Natural soap bars with minimum packaging and no palm oil include those by Bain & Savon, Friendly Shampoo Bars, Foamie Shampoo Bars and products by the Natural Soap Company.
- Trying plastic-free toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash – some toothbrushes have plant-based bristles and bamboo handles and some dental floss is made of silk or corn starch.
Some great websites providing information on how you can reduce plastic usage include:
Reducing our Carbon Emissions
We can reduce carbon emissions by using public transport more often, walking or cycling short journeys, or by car sharing. When driving, if we avoid speeding and unnecessary acceleration, we can significantly reduce fuel consumption and when buying a new car, choose a low carbon vehicle, an electric vehicle, or a hybrid. Small changes – like checking tyres, using the correct grade of motor oil and keeping the energy tuned – can also make a difference. Taking fewer, longer, holidays will also reduce our energy consumption.
Energy use in the home
- Make sure your home is well insulated
- Choose energy-efficient appliances
- Reduce the amount of electricity and water you use.
- Unplug devices when not in use
- Choose renewable energy
Cutting down on red meats can reduce your carbon footprint by 25% – the carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-eater. Try to buy local – which means reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation, eat more fresh produce, and try to reduce food waste.
- In the UK, it is estimated that 10 million tonnes of food and drink waste s produced a year – more than 60% could be avoided.
- 70% of the food we throw away comes from the home
- 100 million pints of milk go down the drain each year
To reduce your food waste:
- Plan and store to cut food waste
- Don’t over shop – try to buy what you need
- Know the difference between use by and best before dates
- Use leftovers to create new meals
- Recycle your food waste – created a food waste bin
- If you or your neighbours have a garden, start a compost heap or compost bin
Recycling reduces the need for extracting (mining, quarrying or logging), refining and processing raw materials all of which create air and water pollution. Recycling also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It also reduces the need for landfill sites.
Tips for recycling:
- If you want to get rid of something – think about donating them to friends, to charity shops, or going to a car boot sale.
- If you have any plastic bottles, see if there are any local companies producing natural cosmetics and donate them for reuse or buy refills. The Body Shop accepts empty clean bottles, tubes or tubs to be recycled under the TerraCycle scheme.
- Ask if any local supermarkets offer recycling incentives – some are beginning to offer coupons towards shopping in exchange for returned plastic bottles. These schemes are in their early stages but see lovemoney.com – supermarket recycling schemes.
- Use your local recycling centre – many centres have plastic recycling facilities for hard and soft plastics (see bpf.co.uk), for metal objects, glass, cardboard and electrical appliances that cannot be donated or given away.
- Keep an additional bin in your kitchen for your clean plastics. When recycling plastics:
- Empty, wash and squash your containers – replace lids on bottles after they have been squashed
- Remove any film or labels – these go in general waste
- Plastic bags, cereal bags, bread bats, plastic wrap from toilet rolls and other items, bubble wrap and plastic wrap can be recycled at carrier bag collection points in large supermarkets
There are some great ideas for reusing household items from glass jars and tin cans to plastic bottles – and lots of these are listed online. Reusing is now called ‘upcycling’ and this can refer to anything that is given a new purpose from glass jars, tin cans and plastic bottles to furniture that is given a new lease of life with a coat of paint or reupholstery.
- Add coloured sand or beads and a tea light to make a lantern.
- Fill with water and fresh flowers to create a vase.
- Make some home-made jam or chutney, add a pretty cover and a ribbon – they make fabulous presents.
- Fill with soil and plant a bulb.
- Covering a tin can with burlap and ribbons can turn it into a candle holder.
- Tin cans and beads can be used to create pretty windchimes.
- Painted and labelled tin cans can be used to create cutlery holders.
- Tin cans can be used in baking – perfect for mini pies.
- Plastic bottles can be made into bird feeders.
- Plastic bottles can be transformed into water containers to keep plants watered whilst you are away.
- Plastic bottles of any size can be used to create hanging baskets.
- Old plastic bottles are useful holders for nails and screws.
Zero Waste Shops
If you’re interested in sustainable shopping and reducing plastic waste, it’s worth checking if you have any Zero Waste Shops in your area. Take a look at the website zerowastenear.me The site has a coding system so you can see which ones offer:
- Bulk food buying
- Household refills
- Zero waste shops
- Vegan friendly
- Bakery services