These tips don’t require a life overhaul; they’re small adjustments to your routine that can have a notable collective impact on the planet. The challenge is remembering to do them frequently enough that they become a habit. And, go!
1. Never say yes to a plastic bag!
Old habits die hard and remembering to take a reusable bag to the shops can be tricky. I’ve drilled down the habit by forbidding myself, under any circumstances, to buy a plastic bag. This either means having to carry all the items I have bought, sans-bag, in an awkward balancing act to my destination, or having to buy a (nother) reusable bag, which is actually very inexpensive, but adds up when you keep forgetting to bring one!
2. Cold machine wash.
Unless you have any seriously stubborn stains, using cold water in your machine washes can be just as effective. For day-to-day washes with no stubborn stains, go cold!
3. Be a veggie one day a week.
Be it ‘Meatless Mondays’ or any night you feel up to it, try to make a conscious effort to avoid meat for just one night of the week. The global livestock industry produces greater greenhouse emissions than the world’s trains, planes, ships and cars combined (ref) – cause for us to think about whether we really always need meat on our plates, or if it’s just there out of convenience and habit.
4. Drink less milk.
I was astounded to learn that it takes about 255L of water to produce one glass (250ml) of milk (ref). We should all be thinking twice about gulping down that habitual glass of milk. While non-dairy alternatives like almond, soy, coconut and other plant milks are unlikely to impress the same environmental demands as animal dairy farming (from the production of grain to feed the cows, to the space and water that the animals themselves require) – many of these crops are known to be high water-users nonetheless (ref). The answer? Try having just a little less of all forms of milk in your life – change up your breakfast routine, try switching to herbal teas and start substituting that chocolate milk for fruit juice.
I know you’re thinking ‘I now have to make room in my kitchen for four colour-coded bins, and give every guest a training session on the recycling setup when they walk through the door’ but the truth is that most recycling depots do the sorting for you. Have one recycling bin in your kitchen into which you place anything recyclable (glass, tin, paper, plastic). If you’re unsure whether it’s recyclable or not, check the label; some of our retailers are quite good at telling you whether the item is ‘currently recycled’ or not. If you are in Cape Town and don’t know where your nearest recycling depot or pick-up company is, this site is a wealth of knowledge: http://capetowngreenmap.co.za/recycling
6. Change lightbulbs to energy savers.
If you haven’t done this already – do it tomorrow. Fluorescent, energy-saving bulbs use less electricity and burn 8-10 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs (ref). With the wide variety of energy-savers now on the market, there’s no excuse for burning the old, energy-sapping bulbs of the past.
7. Turn off the tap.
Another wasteful habit we seem to have become used to – leaving the tap running while brushing our teeth, washing our face, doing the dishes. These seemingly small amounts of water amount to litres and litres lost down the drain across the globe. Close the tap at every opportunity.
8. Use cloth instead of paper.
Growing up in the ‘convenience’ era, we’ve learnt to use paper napkins at the dinner table, and paper towels in the kitchen. Instead of these ‘one-use wonders’ make an effort to use cloth napkins and wipe the counter with a dishtowel instead. The dishtowel can get washed; each paper towel contaminates our planet.
9. Unplug and turn off.
Turning off TVs, video/audio equipment, laptops and phones left on standby is a ridiculously easy way to save energy and decrease your electricity bill. Although the individual energy saving might seem ever so slight, with the extraordinary volume of TVs, laptops and mobile phones in the world, the collective impact would be far from negligible. Same goes for light switches – there’s a reason they are always at the door! Switch them off when you leave the room.
10. Avoid food wastage.
Before you throw something away, think of the journey that product has been on in order to reach you. Is it a cup of rice that has been nurtured with resources until being harvested and transported to a shipyard or train station, after which it has travelled thousands of kilometres to arrive at a retail warehouse, where it is packaged and then transported to a supermarket shelf? That’s one special cup of rice. Think about where your food comes from; appreciate the production processes that have gone into creating it. Buy wisely and use efficiently – waste not, want not.