6 Ways I’ve Reduced My Environmental Footprint — and You Can Too!
According to this article by the Guardian, human beings make up only 0.01% of all life on Earth, and yet since the rise of human civilization we have managed to contribute hugely, if not cause entirely, the extinction of 83% of wild mammals, 80% of marine mammals, 50% of plants and 15% of fish. These numbers are shocking.
It’s easy to think that as individuals our everyday choices aren’t contributing much to this issue, and yet that way of thinking is at the core of the issue. If we all think this way and we don’t bother to make changes, not only for the environment but for the health and longevity of ourselves and our families, the situation will only continue to worsen exponentially.
Below I have outlined 6 areas of your life where it’s easy to switch to more sustainable methods and products. These ideas will also cost you less in the long run and will give you greater peace of mind!
Problem: Non-recyclable cups, containers & plastic straws
Solution: Bring your own everything!
It’s understandable that sometimes you’ll be in a pinch and will need to pick up lunch on the go, which, depending on where you go, may or may not come in properly recyclable or biodegradable packaging. Any time you can, be prepared with your own reusable coffee mug, water bottle, take-out container, utensils and stainless steel straws. If you drive, keep them washed and in your car just in case you need them. I recommend these straws from Amazon, which come with a bendy brush that makes them easy to clean.
2. Grocery Shopping
Problem: The plastic bag epidemic
Solution: Reusable tote bags & produce bags
I’ve opted for reusable grocery tote bags for as long as I had the sense to do so, but I just hopped on the reusable produce bag train in the last couple years, once I found out they existed! I have two sets of these produce bags from Amazon. They’re made of mesh polyester, which unfortunately isn’t one of the healthiest and sustainable materials, though they’re built to last and can easily be thrown in the wash. There are also more expensive hemp and cotton bags available on the market for an even greener option.
Problem: Emissions and waste from meat & animal products
Solution: Reducing meat & animal product intake
Remember the days when meat used to be strictly for celebrations or Sunday dinner? If you were born later than the 1960s (cue the rise of McDonald’s), meat every day of the week and often for more than one meal per day may be a more accurate picture.
Upon researching the food industry and stumbling across terrifying facts and statistics, I decided to cut out all land animals in 2014. Now my fish, egg and dairy intake is also very low — in fact most of my meals are typically vegan. This has been the right move for my health as well as the environment since the production of plant-based foods, such as vegetables and whole grains, require significantly less resources and generate fewer emissions than meat and animal products. Whole plant foods also provide more nutrient bang for their buck.
Becoming a vegetarian or vegan may seem like a drastic change, and my advice would be to start where you can. For example, you can limit meat to 2-3 nights per week instead of 4-6, opt for plant-based breakfast options instead of bacon and eggs, or only have meat when you eat at a sit-down restaurant. Any small changes you can make will lead to change for the better.
Problem: Plastic toothbrushes in landfills & oceans
Solution: Eco-friendly & organic bamboo toothbrushes
According to this HuffPost UK article, Emma Priestland, plastic-free campaigner at Friends Of The Earth says “Bamboo toothbrush handles can take around six months to compost, while a plastic one takes hundreds of years to fully break down.” With this 4-pack from Amazon working out to $3.75 per toothbrush, they’re also comparable in price to all the fancy plastic toothbrushes available with the unnecessary colours, handle shapes, bristle formations, and so on.
5. Feminine Hygiene
Problem: Plastic packaging & chemical-laden, inorganic products
Solution: The Diva Cup & underwear for periods
I’ve been using the Diva Cup for at least 3 years now and I’m quite happy with it! Since it can be easily washed, there’s really no need to replace it often, if at all. Sometimes on the first day my abdomen is too tender and the Diva Cup is uncomfortable — but that’s where period underwear come in, like Thinx and Knix. It takes some getting used to and it’s worth it knowing that I’m not only avoiding the insane cost of feminine hygiene products, but I’m also not contributing to the shocking number of products being dumped into landfills: roughly 240 tampons and 60 liners or pads per year, per woman!
Problem: Excessive plastic packaging, toxic chemicals & potential carcinogens
Solution: Natural laundry detergent & wool dryer balls
As a person with fairly sensitive skin, my mom figured out years ago that certain brands of laundry detergent made me rashy (mostly the Tide brand). It’s no doubt that this is because of the questionable toxic chemicals in the products that leach into the skin. After settling for other popular brands that didn’t seem to irritate my skin, I still didn’t feel right about the ingredients and the packaging I was contributing to landfills. After some research I found Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda (instead of your typical detergent) and Oxygen Brightener (instead of bleach). The products are pretty inexpensive, use natural ingredients and last a long time — for 2 people and 1-2 loads per week, the 100-load container lasts us about a year. Nellie’s went with tin instead of plastic because it’s more easily recyclable.
Another laundry product I have yet to try but intend to is a wool dryer ball. I don’t use dryer sheets but that’s what these would replace. These ones are natural, hypoallergenic, shorten drying time by 20-40% and last more than 1,000 times. What a steal at $20 for 6!
If you’ve done all of these and are looking for even more ways to reduce your environmental footprint, I also brainstormed this list of ideas:
Buy vintage or second-hand clothing (and donate/recycle your own clothing)
Avoid getting takeout delivery
Switch to paper bank statements
When offered, choose an emailed receipt over a printed copy
Opt for public transit when you can
Do the majority of your workout without the use of machinery (body weight workouts are really popular and effective!)
Save retail bags, newspaper and other scraps for wrapping gifts — it’s what’s inside, not the decorative paper and bows, that counts the most
Shop at bulk food stores and reuse the plastic bags and containers
Freeze excess food or only cook what you need to avoid food waste
Batch cook or bake food so that you only use the oven once
Avoid leaving electronics plugged in when not in use
Switch to all natural cleaning products or make your own
Replace your appliances with energy efficient models
Keep your car tuned up
Grow your own fruits, vegetables and herbs
Shop at farmers markets when available
Switch to French press instead of coffee pods