Top 10 tips for leading a more sustainable lifestyle
I recently recorded a podcast for Namaslay® with YogaByCandace® where we talked a little bit about my sustainability journey and a few tips and tricks I’ve learned for reducing waste in our everyday lives. It still blows my mind that anyone thinks of me as an authority on the subject but upon reflection, I can see I have come a long way and I do have something useful to share. I hope it inspires you and remember, no action is too small!
Between Sir David Attenborough effecting nationwide policy changes on single-use plastics and the amazing 16-year old Greta Thunberg inspiring the international School Strike for climate (and now giving speeches in Parliament), the awareness around climate change and pollution has never been greater and it has never been more apparent that we need to take responsibility for the ways in which we consume (corporations also have to take responsibility for their own damaging practices and the way in which they interact with the planet but that is a whole other kettle of fish and we’ll start with the easiest thing to change - ourselves).
As is the way with most things, this has come as a result of us reaching a breaking point and news stories can often be harbingers of doom, but rather than spreading apocalyptic misery, I wanted to share my top ten tips to reduce your own waste starting at home. It can sometimes seem overwhelming when we think of all we should be doing and the amount of damage humans have caused this planet IS overwhelming, but if you want to make lasting change, start small. It’s the same as everything else in life; start where you can, do what you can and once that becomes a habit, add a little more. Remember, we are all about sustainability, so we want our change to be sustainable too, which will not happen if you try to do all the things at once. With that in mind, the things I’ve found to be most helpful and easiest to implement:
1. Avoid plastic packaging wherever possible and practicable. This may be different from person to person depending on the kind of lifestyle you lead and where you live. For me, the easiest thing to start with was to buy produce like fruit and vegetables loose. Then, I started shopping at bulk stores for pantry goods like beans, pulses, rice, spices, nuts etc. If ever there is an opportunity for you to buy the same thing with less packaging, take it.
2. Where you can, make your own. This goes for everything. Mainly your food – not only will you be probably eating much healthier (you know what’s going into the food and restaurants are businesses, so most often their main concern is taste over health), but you will save money by not eating out and you have control over how much packaging comes with the food, where the food comes from and what happens with leftover food i.e. you can eat it or compost it to avoid food waste. You can also make your own toiletries and home cleaners to avoid harmful chemicals, excess plastic packaging and animal testing, and save some money.
3. Repair first, buy second-hand second and when you do buy new, buy to last. Making clothes is an incredibly energy-intensive process, often including toxic dyes and all sorts of nasty chemicals used to treat the fabrics. Not to mention many clothes are made very cheaply in terrible working conditions, only for 30% of them to end up in landfill anyway. Back in the day, things were bought to last – you bought a handkerchief instead of disposable tissues and your coats and shoes would last FOREVER because you would repair them. We live in a throwaway society obsessed with going fast, and fast fashion is a huge problem. First of all, repair your clothes! Secondly, thrift where you can, it is a lot cheaper (see a theme emerging here?), a lot more sustainable and you can end up with some awesome and unique things. Lastly, if you do need to buy something new, there’s no shame in it, just make sure that a) you are buying good quality stuff that will last, b) they are made using sustainable processes and eco-friendly materials, and c) you are supporting ethical companies.
4. Consider reducing or eliminating your consumption of animal products. The first time I read about this correlation was a few years ago (before I was vegan) and I didn’t get it. Eating less meat has an effect on the environment? Turns out yes, a big one. How much of an effect varies depending on who you listen to, but I think we can ALL agree that current farming methods and the over-consumption of animal products is contributing to climate change at an alarming rate. Going back to our older generations, they would only eat meat as a luxury, not three meals a day. Now, I am not promoting eating meat but I am saying it might be worth taking a look at your consumption and seeing where you could cut down. Obviously, it has the huge benefit of letting animals live their lives and I personally believe it’s better for your health, but it is also much better for the environment which is why I went down this path in the first place. If you want to learn more about the connection between animal agriculture and climate change, I would recommend watching the documentary Cowspiracy.
5. Leave the house prepared. Again, this will look different for everyone. If you are a takeaway coffee kind of person, carry a keep cup. If you are always stopping to buy cakes from bakeries (me errrrday) then carry a Tupperware for your sweet treats. If you know you pass a bulk shop on the way home and you end up wandering in most days, carry an empty jar. I always have a tote bag, cutlery (this travel bamboo set is easy to carry and biodegradable) and a water bottle, and then I will bring a Tupperware if I know I will be buying some type of food, and my steel cup if I’m going to a festival or going into Bristol on a sunny day when the pubs serve drinks in plastic cups because they don’t want people taking their glasses outside (I got mine from Glastonbury festival but it’s very similar to this).
6. Buy local where you can. Not only are you doing an awesome thing by supporting local businesses and putting money into your local economy, but you also make sure your food is as fresh as possible, you avoid the emissions associated with your food taking a long journey to get to you and you will often save money, especially if you buy directly from the producer e.g. at a farmer’s market. It also means you will often be forced to eat seasonally which brings more variety into your diet and encourages you to try new recipes (and eat what your body needs e.g. root vegetables in winter and salads in summer).
7. Ask, do I really need it? Will it bring value to my life? As a collective we can be pretty guilty of the impulse buy and this often spirals out of control around holidays like Christmas and birthdays. We buy (sometimes) low quality items which we look at or use maybe once before the novelty wears off, then we either throw it away or, we add it to the mountain of useless junk we hoard creating messy spaces, messy energy and a ton of overwhelm. There is nothing wrong with buying things, we just have a responsibility to become more conscious of the way we consume; if you really need something or it is something you will truly treasure and it will last, then absolutely go for it. We don’t need to eliminate shopping, we just need a cultural shift.
8. See if you can make your commute greener. I appreciate this is not practical for everyone and I’m not suggesting you never drive again, but a huge number of people jump in their cars for a journey which is under a mile. Sometimes you’re exhausted/hungover/lazy and you just NEED some carbs stat, that is okay. However, when you’re a normal functioning human, maybe see if you can walk, cycle, get the train, get the bus or even car pool. You will get some exercise (maybe), save some money (probably), release the stress of driving and definitely reduce emissions.
9. Vote with your dollar. The whole world is a business; this is often what is so hurtful to our planet but you can also use it to your advantage. You matter, your spending habits matter and where you take your money matters. Businesses who want longevity move with the times. Look at how much the vegan food industry has exploded. Look how many places are advertising minimally packaged or biodegradable-packaged goods. Use your money to support companies whose values are aligned with helping the planet. I bank with Triodos because they are super transparent about the companies they invest in (who are all doing good). I buy my toothbrushes from The White Teeth Box because I’ve spoken to their owner Luke and it is clear how passionate he is about being leading a sustainable lifestyle. I visit local farmer’s markets and independent shops whenever I can because I know my money is helping a person rather than a corporation, as well as the local economy. I never buy products which allow animal testing. If you are a person who invests, invest in green companies. There are so many ways you can effect change as a consumer, so make the most of it.
10.Use your voice. This can sometimes be the hardest one. Something as seemingly simple as asking for your drink without a straw can seem daunting. Or asking if your food can be put in the container you brought with you. Or saying, “Thank you, but I’m going to put it straight in my bag”. But it all adds up. At the bulk shop ask if you can use your own jars, ask how it works. Every single time I’ve done this I’ve been met with kind curiosity and more often than not, the other person has commended me and sparked up a conversation about reducing waste. Yes, I am sometimes “that person” who asks the restaurant if they actually compost their biodegradable napkins and utensils and I will quite happily have 35 loose brussels sprouts rolling around the check-out belt, but it gets people’s attention and it makes them think. Awareness is the catalyst for any change, so it is all good.
I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times; you do not need to be perfect at this! I am not perfect at this! The fact that anyone thinks of me as any means of authority on the subject is laughable to me because I am just a normal person. The difference is I have changed my perspective to come from a place of “Is this helping or harming?”. And I can’t tell you how many times friends and family have said “I think of you every time I’m at the market”, “I think of you every time I have to buy a plastic bottle”, “I do xyz now because of you”. I am overjoyed whenever I hear these things because it shows me that even a little action can inspire and it shows me that there is a shift in awareness. It is more important for everyone to do something small than a handful of people to do everything perfectly. Don’t let the fact that you can’t do everything stop you from doing anything.
When you do get it wrong, and you will, be kind to yourself. We are all just trying to do our best and it’s never too late to start. To each and every one of you who has taken action, whether it be a whole lifestyle overhaul or just having a shift in your awareness (that is also taking action) I applaud you, I commend you and I thank you. Together, we can protect this place we call home. It’s the only home we have.
Sustainability is something I’m super passionate about and I’m always happy to chat about it. As I said, I’m not an expert and I don’t have a hundred million statistics to give you, but I can offer useful tips, tricks and support based on what I’ve learned and I am always happy to share these. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below, fill out the form on the contact page or message me directly on Instagram.