Simple but impactful hacks for sustainable living
Positive Week 2019
The lowdown: Headed out of town on an end-of-summer holiday? Air travel produces a huge amount of carbon emissions, and the more a plane weighs, the worse it gets.
The move: Start with the lightest bag you can find, and then look at your itinerary and pack only what you need. Consider the versatility of the pieces you pack, too, and how you can change them up with accessories rather than bringing a whole new outfit. Think about your packing materials as well, using packing cubes to separate your laundry instead of plastic bags.
The impact: Every flight produces an average of 90 kg of carbon emissions per hour. The less a plane weighs, the less emissions it produces, so reducing your load by just a few kilos can make a difference.
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ONLY BUY LOOSE PRODUCE
The lowdown: A lot of supermarkets are moving away from packaging their produce in plastic wrap, but it’s still relatively common. Especially with fruits and vegetables that have protective skin you don’t even consume, this plastic packaging is unnecessary.
The move: Find a supermarket that doesn’t sell their produce in plastic packaging and make it your new go-to. If you’re wary of the fact that other people might have touched what you’ve bought, give it a thorough wash with cold water.
The impact: People in the UK collectively throw away about 295 billion pieces of plastic every year, most of which are single-use and can’t be recycled. All that contributes to the 12.7 million tonnes of plastic that make their way to the ocean.
The lowdown: Do you really need to print that airplane ticket? Can you send a PDF to your colleague instead of passing them a stack of papers? Even though we’re in the digital age, we all use way too much paper in our daily lives.
The move: Make use of the tech you have and don’t print anything. Download tickets onto your phone, sign documents digitally and either decline a receipt or opt to have it emailed when you can. Download apps that can help you with this, like Evernote. There are few things the internet and your mobile can’t help you do.
The impact: Every person in the UK uses almost 4.5 trees worth of paper every year in their personal lives, and 10,000 sheets of A4 at the office. Remove yourself from that statistic.
CYCLE OR WALK TO GET THERE
The lowdown: Transportation is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions. Air travel is, of course, the worst, followed by driving a car. Public transit is a great alternative, but the most environmentally-friendly way of getting anywhere is by foot.
The move: Walk to where you need to go, and if you’re in a rush, cycle. Lots of cities have docking stations where you can short-term hire a bicycle – just make sure to bring your own helmet. All of these options use zero fossil fuels, produce no carbon emissions, and are great exercise.
The impact: The average person in the UK makes 44 car journeys per year, emitting about 287 grams of carbon per mile. If all 40 million of us left our cars at home once a month, we could stop 320,000 tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
TURN YOUR AIR CON DOWN
The lowdown: While an air conditioner cools the inside of your home, it’s not only using a lot of energy, it’s also increasing the temperature outside. And with global temperatures rising, the need to keep the indoors cool isn’t about to go away.
The move: Turn your air con off when you’re not home, and when you are, try turning it down by just two degrees.
The impact: About 20% of the total electricity used by a building goes towards air conditioning, so reducing it even just by two degrees will make a difference. We bet you won’t even notice the change.
PACK A REUSABLE BAG
The lowdown: When you buy something, it’s so easy to spend a little extra money and get a plastic bag to carry it home. But plastic bags take up to 500 years to biodegrade, so even if you reuse it once or twice, it’s still going to end up in a landfill for a long, long time.
The move: Every time you leave the house, bring along a reusable bag, preferably made from recycled materials or organic cotton.
The impact: Of course, producing anything has an impact on the environment. But, as soon as you switch up those plastic bags for a reusable bag 52 times (ie. a few days a week for two months), you’ll have offset what it took to produce that bag. A bit of good news – we’re making progress, with plastic bag sales down by a third since last year.
EAT LESS MEAT
The lowdown: Worldwide consumption of meat is more than just an animal rights cause – it also has a measurable impact on the environment. Recent research has shown that consuming beef and pork in particular is impacting climate change and adding to the waste in our waterways.
The move: Reduce the amount of beef and pork in your diet, and instead look to grains and pulses to get your protein. If you can cut back other animal byproducts, like milk and eggs, that helps, too.
The impact: Last year, research confirmed that we need to drop our meat consumption by 90% globally if we’re going to fix this problem. You, as a consumer, have the power to choose more sustainable options, encouraging less reliance on this hugely polluting industry.
SHUT YOUR TECH DOWN
The lowdown: Leaving your computer on overnight, even if it’s in sleep mode, will still allow it to keep using energy. Computer screen consumption, in a modern office, accounts for at least a third of the electricity usage, and a lot of that energy is given off as heat, which can negate air conditioning efforts, too.
The move: Shut your computer down and unplug it at the end of the day. Do the same with any other electronics you don’t need. Wait to charge your phone until it’s completely out of battery, too. If you’re not using something, there’s no reason why it should be plugged in or switched on.
The impact: To produce electricity, we burn fossil fuels. That releases gases like carbon dioxide, which depletes the ozone layer. Domestic spaces account for 30% to 40% of the total electricity a city uses, so anything you can do to minimize your electricity use means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
WASH YOUR CLOTHES LESS
The lowdown: As Stella McCartney and lots of others advocate, we are way over-washing our clothes. And every time we wash, it releases hundreds of thousands of microfibres into waterways, and reduces the life expectancy of our clothes.
The move: Step away from the washing machine this week, and give yourself and your clothes a break. Maybe you’ll make it a habit. And, when it does come time to wash your clothes, use water no warmer than 30 degrees and hang them to dry. When it comes to your more delicate pieces, look for a green dry cleaner. The usual ones use lots of harsh chemicals that are bad for your clothes and the environment.
The impact: Just one synthetic garment washed in a machine produces 1900 little fibres that can end up in the ocean. And, if you wash and dry a 5 kg load of laundry every two days, that adds up 440 kg of carbon emissions, 75% of which comes from using the dryer.
SWITCH TO A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
The lowdown: Plastic water bottles are a huge contributor to the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and the oceans every year. But people keep buying them, with 2.2 billion litres of bottled water consumed last year, a rise of 8.5% from the year before.
The move: Don’t buy anything in a plastic bottle. Instead, invest in a portable, reusable one that you can fill right from the tap. Ideally, choose one made from recyclable materials, and make it a habit to pack it every time you leave the house. If you’re worried about where to fill up, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan is here to help – he’s installing another 100 public water fountains in the city before next year.
The impact: In the UK, we go through 2 billion plastic bottles per year, which works out to about 200 per person. That means you have the power to make it 200 less every year.
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Written by - Tara MacInnis