We all know the planet is slowly being killed by our manic consumerism, but we all think “what can I do?” If like me, you’re not a tree hugger or a tofu eating hippie, then what easy changes can you make to your lifestyle that will make a difference?
As a meat-eating, driving, single parent, living in the South of England, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything bad (when compared to the people around me), but I also didn’t think I was trying as hard as I could to try and limit the damage I was doing.
So early 2018 I decided to make one small change each month that I could do (and more importantly, keep doing) that would reduce my impact on the environment.
Swapping out shower gel, with the large amount of plastic packaging for the number of showers I was having out of a single bottle, was an easy one. A bar of soap (ideally vegetable based) lasts me the same amount of time as roughly four shower gel bottles. Plus, it’s so much cheaper too! My findings are backed up by a study in 2009 which found that liquid hand soaps require about 20 times the energy for packaging productions compared to soap bars (1).
As a middle-aged bloke, this one had a secondary benefit too, as I am follically challenged (bold), I don’t use shampoo, so almost my entire hygiene regime become more ecologically friendly overnight. An easy one for me.
- Water bottles.
I hate paying through the nose for something that is almost free! Bottled water is a purchase I despise, and so now I make sure all 500ml water bottles are rinsed, refilled, and used again. I know many people buy and use specific reusable water bottles, but I have empty bottles lying around, so I’ll keep using them until I’ve used them all.
Think of it this way; if you rinse and reuse each bottle of water you buy once you have immediately halved the amount of plastic consumed. Quick easy win, and yes once again you save money, and when you consider a recent report forecast production of these bottles will grow to 500,000,000 by 2021 something has to change (2).
I’d love to tell everyone to jump on the bus or cycle every trip, but I know not everyone has the quality of service we do here in Brighton, and first and foremost this list has to be easily do-able. The easy trick we can all do though is slow down a little whilst driving. Anticipate breaking more, and don’t accelerate hard. Just doing these small changes has reduced my fuel consumption by 15-30%, which for the average household is a huge saving (3).
In the longer term, don’t buy a new car, make your old car last longer (all the time it’s economical to do so), and if you do have to renew your car think about the consumption (or go fully electric if possible).
- Coffee cups.
Buying a reusable (and often insulated) coffee cup was the easiest of the changes I made. The initial £2 investment has been quickly offset, with every high street coffee shop and even motorway service stations now offering a discount for your own cup. I figure I’m now ‘quids in’ and saving with every coffee I buy now. With an estimates 2.5 billion coffee cups bought and thrown away each year in the UK alone, almost all unable to be recycled due to the coatings on them (4), this is a quick win for the planet.
Switching from disposable safety razors to a barbers (cut-throat) razor was the one switch that I was most nervous about. The initial attempts were ‘messy’ let’s say, with me looking like an extra from Sweeney Todd, blood everywhere! But, with the help of youtube tutorials and a little practice I can now shave my face (and my head: even the back) without any blood appearing. This particular change has brought big financial benefits, with my buying the equivalent of two months shaving (including foam) for the same cost of just two weeks shaving the old way, personal findings backed up in an article in the Mirror newspaper from January 2017 (5).
- Red meat.
This was the biggy for me, and hence why I did the easier stuff first. I come from a family of great cooks, and we all love our food. The traditional meat and two veg, full English breakfast, and BLT’s were a mainstay of the weekly diet, so trying to cut down on the meat consumed during the week felt almost like a betrayal. Initially, I reduced the amount of red meat I ate to just once a week, a change that was surprisingly easy; so easy in fact that cutting red meat out has been incredibly easy. I have now cut meat out almost completely (6).
The changes I have made are easy ones for anyone to make, and the great personal bonus is that each and every change has made me financially better off. Go on, do it! The planet and your bank balance will thank you.
All images sourced from Pexel, and are royalty and licence free. https://www.pexels.com/photo-license/.
- Koehler, A. and Wildbolz, C., 2009. Comparing the environmental footprints of home-care and personal-hygiene products: the relevance of different life-cycle phases. Environmental science & technology, 43(22), pp.8643-8651.
- Laville, S., and Taylor, M., June 2017. theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change. The Guardian Newspaper.
- Dijkema, M.B., van der Zee, S.C., Brunekreef, B. and van Strien, R.T., 2008. Air quality effects of an urban highway speed limit reduction. Atmospheric Environment, 42(40), pp.9098-9105.
- Poortinga, W. and Whitaker, L., 2018. Promoting the Use of Reusable Coffee Cups through Environmental Messaging, the Provision of Alternatives and Financial Incentives. Sustainability, 10(3), p.873.
- Andrews, J., 2017. https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/how-everyone-can-cut-cost-9573230. The Mirror Newspaper.
- Lee, S., Wong, C. and Richards, S., 2018. REDUCING RED MEAT CONSUMPTION FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE DIET.