7 small ways I’m doing my bit for the environment

Today I thought I’d share some of the things I’m doing to try and reduce my plastic waste. I know it isn’t changing the world, but I’m trying hard to make considered tiny changes that might feel insignificant, but if enough of us do them then we can be the change we want to see – and help preserve the planet for the generations to come.

One thing that has always worried me has been climate change. I’m pleased that the hole in the ozone layer has fixed itself but I think things like that bring false hope that we are not completely fucked, and I’m really scared that we are making permanent and irreversible change to the only planet we have. I don’t want to frighten you too much, but we are currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in history – and the number of species going extinct is between a whopping 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural rate of extinction. That’s the rate at which species would become extinct without any human interference. That’s petrifying, isn’t it?

I believe that small changes really do add up. I’m not quite at the point of being zero waste – because things can quickly get expensive and challenging – but I’m trying hard to make conscious and thoughtful decisions about the way I interact with the world. It’s all well and good contributing to charity but it’s better if we enact the change we want to see. So here are some small ways I’m trying to do my bit for Planet Earth.

1) Refusing a plastic lid on my takeaway coffee

I do have a reusable coffee cup, but often I forget to take it out with me. When i do, I ask for my cardboard cup without the lid; I’m going to drink it immediately and it means I can cut down on single-use plastic. I try to buy my takeaway coffee from places that offer cups that can be recycled too.

2) Buying glass bottled beverages over plastic

Coke in a glass bottle? Yes please. Sparkling water in a glass bottle? Sure. It might be a little more expensive, but at least I’m not buying it to throw it away. Glass can be washed and recycled.

3) Getting coffee capsules that can be recycled

I’ve tried alternative pods for my beloved Nespresso machine, but there is one thing I notice about the supermarket alternatives; they are all plastic. And what happens to those plastic pods? They are used once and end up in landfill. And I drink a couple of cups a day – that’s nearly 1,000 capsules to landfill every year. Instead, I opt to spend slightly more for the Real Deal because Nespresso can recycle their capsules; they give you a free bag, which you put your used capsules into and then bring back into the store when full. Or, even better, order your capsules online and they pick up the used ones at the same time as delivering them to your doorstep. Super convenient – and no excuse to throw them away.

4) Donating items to charity

When possible, I will donate items I haven’t used – much better than throwing them away. Someone somewhere might appreciate that dress I’ve had at the back of the wardrobe for years. Even when it seems easier to throw things away, reframing it so that items can get a new lease of life elsewhere really helps. There are also companies out there making it easy to get rid of your unwanted items – I recently got £40 for a pile of old textbooks and novels from We Buy Books, and a few days ago discovered the brilliant Give and Makeup, an initiative where you send your unused or lightly used makeup products to Refuge and Women’s Aid. All those eye-shadow palettes I’ve bought and never found myself reaching for won’t go into the bin but instead will get used by women who need them. Amazing.

5) Dietary choices

I’m vegetarian, which is kind of lucky because it turns out that cows are one of the world’s biggest contributors of global warming! By not eating meat, I’m doing my bit. If meat is your thing, try cutting it out one or two days a week – the compound effect of reducing your meat intake by 20% can not only help the environment but it ends up cheaper too! Win, win.

I also avoid drinking milk for similar reasons. I’ve got into almond milk recently. It isn’t as good for the environment as oat milk which uses so little water that I would encourage everyone to make the switch! I am allergic to it which is why I sadly don’t drink it. Almond milk, whilst using a lot more water than oat, still uses significantly less than dairy and has a far reduced impact on the environment which means that I am happy to drink it where I can instead of milk. Doesn’t mean I say no to dairy products (I mean, I REALLY love cheese) but it just means I consume less, which in turn minimises my environmental impact.

6) I only wash my hair once a week

The World Health Organisation says a person needs fifty litres of water to maintain health and hygiene. And guess what? In the UK we use three times as much on average every day per person. That’s three times as much water than necessary, water that we’re often just wasting because society seems to expect us to shower or bathe on a daily basis – not because we need to, but because it’s drilled into us. I think a lot about my water usage and now I only wash my hair once a week. It sounds a bit grim when I say it like that, but your hair does get used to it!

‘…if you spend just three minutes less time in the shower, or go one more day without washing your hair, you could help save over six gallons of water and significantly reduce your impact on the environment.’

Becki Murray, Harper’s Bazaar

I use dry shampoo and texturising powder in between washes, and my hair seems much happier as a result. It also means I use much less water – and I shower 3-4 times a week for about 3 minutes max, so I don’t actually end up using a huge amount of water overall. It doesn’t sound like much, but my water bills are a lot lower – I use half the water that the average single UK person uses! I even turn the temperature down too until it’s warm enough to be pleasant but not too cold – which, alongside being better for your hair and keeping me in the shower for less time, saves on my heating bill too. Yay! Thank you showers for being so efficient, and thank goodness I hate baths.

7) Switching to solid shampoo bars

I used to hate Lush until I realised that they do other products besides soap. I found out recently that they sell solid shampoo and conditioner bars – which I was curious about as the sheer amount of plastic waste from shampoo bottles irks me. You can buy tins to keep your solid bars in too, and the paper bags from Lush are all recyclable so they are great Planet Earth-friendly items!

I was a bit dubious about the shampoo bars but they smell frigging amazing, lather up a treat AND you don’t need a lot either. The conditioner bars even work on my dry ends which is a miracle! Perfectly sized to chuck into an overnight bag and much less cumbersome than the plastic bottles I used to lug around. I also have a little pot of their Retread conditioner if my split ends need some real TLC, and you can take the plastic pots back to Lush to be reused. Amazingly eco-friendly.

I’m sure if I really think about it there are tons more examples that I could add to the list, but these are the main ones that come to mind. I also get a few things for free; I don’t drive, so I don’t need a petrol-guzzling car, and I live in London so I can take public transport. Living in a flat reduces my carbon footprint, and because I buy vintage style clothing I end up buying less shipped-in polyester and more local cotton items. I do think about my clothes and really support brands that offer sustainable fabrics and have strong ethics (my favourite dungaree company Lucy & Yak, I’m looking at you!) but I feel that I might write a separate post all about navigating the world of ethics and sustainability in a fast-fashion world.

Any small eco-friendly changes you’ve made? And any ideas of other things I can do to help? Please share them!

Further reading and related links:

Find out what your carbon footprint is

‘How to wash your hair less (and help save the planet in the process)’ : Becki Murray

Change the way you wash your hair to help save the environment (via The Conversation)

Stats on UK water usage

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