Being more eco-friendly really doesn’t have to mean you move off-grid and start living in a hut in the middle of nowhere, growing your own food and ditching the modern life. We can all play our part in contributing to the future of our planet because, after all, small changes can create a ripple effect leading to big impact.
I’ve always been attracted to a lifestyle that respects our planet, is in tune with nature and relies on its resources. I grew up in a small town in rural Poland where we’d always buy seasonal fresh and organic produce from local farmers; my parents and grandmother always relied heavily on what they grew in their own gardens; we would often use recipes for homemade health remedies (one of my Great Aunts famously made lots of potions from freshly collected herbs) and I also have fond memories of foraging in local forests for blueberries and mushrooms. But somewhere along the way in my 20s when I moved out to live in the UK, I got caught up in the urban life and its dependence on convenience, not questioning where my food comes from or buying cheap clothes on a whim then discarding them after a few uses. In the past few years though, as I entered the more reasonable 30s and started a family, I began to rethink our lifestyle – what we eat, what we put on our skin, where we buy our clothes from and why, and the impact of our decisions on our health and our planet.
So here are my top 7 ways anyone can become more eco-conscious:
1. Become more aware.
It all starts with awareness. If you can’t identify areas of your lifestyle and every day choices which need some adjustment, then you’ll find it difficult to make environmentally friendly choices.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
You can start by paying more attention to and questioning how you use resources on a daily basis – i.e. how you heat your home, how you use water, how you travel, where you buy your food from.
2. Use less plastic.
Plastic is pretty much everywhere around us – from water plastic bottles to children’s toys. Greenpeace UK claims that the UK alone uses 35 million plastic bottles EVERY SINGLE DAY, of which 16 million go unrecycled, ending up as litter in landfill and in the oceans.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
I’m not an expert but it seems to me that it’s impossible to completely ditch plastic. But I think we can definitely be more aware of how much we use and how we dispose of it. So the first thing to do is to make sure you recycle all the plastic. You can also find out more about different types of plastic, their origins, recyclability, safety and potential toxicity – I’ve found some great resources on the Life without plastic website so do check it out.
On the other hand, some of the ways you can minimise the use of plastic is by making swaps – like swapping a water bottle or food containers to reusable glass or stainless steel ones. We recently bought some stainless steel bottles from Klean Kanteen and I’m looking into alternative containers for storing food in the fridge or freezer. You can also support Greenpeace’s campaign to introduce Deposit Return Schemes in the UK which have been successfully delivered in other countries, such as Norway where the schemes helped to ensure 96% of all plastic bottles are returned and put back into making future bottles.
If you’re a parent, you can opt for wooden toys (made from sustainable wood where possible to minimise the impact on forests) in place of plastic toys. You can get some beautiful wooden toys these days and we’ve recently discovered some great new brands at the ethical online shop Babipur.
3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
These 3 R’s of waste hierarchy are the order of priority for the actions that we can take to reduce the amount of waste we’re using.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
First of all, we can all reduce what we buy and consume by doing simple things like buying food consciously to prevent it from being wasted or reducing the amount of paper we use – for instance by using cloth towels in place of kitchen paper towels to clean spills, etc. Another easy thing we can all do is to reduce our reliance on cars – easier said than done, I hear you say, but making small changes every day will add up to big impact over a longer period of time. If we all do this, then these changes will just multiply.
If you have a baby, you can also consider switching to reusable (cloth) nappies and wipes. In the UK alone, we throw away three billion disposable nappies each year (that’s just over eight million nappies every single day), of which 90% are landfilled, so this is a really good way of reducing the impact. We’ve been using cloth nappies and wipes for the past six months and we can’t imagine our life before them. These days, cloth nappies are very modern, incredibly efficient and as easy to use as disposable nappies. Apart from benefitting from huge financial savings and health benefits of cloth nappies, you can prevent over 2,000 of disposable nappies and wipes ending up in landfill. You can read my previous posts Cloth bum diaries to find out how we switched to cloth nappies, my quick guide to finding the right nappy and my review of cloth wipes. Many councils offer financial incentives to help families switch to cloth nappies so make sure you check if your council is doing this.
Switching from disposable products to reusable options can have a huge impact on the environment and there are many easy swaps you can make. Some of the items that you can easily replace in your household with multiple use items are: paper towels, disposable razors, disposable food storage containers, disposable plates and cutlery, plastic sandwich/ lunch bags, plastic grocery bags or paper napkins.
To ‘reuse’, why not find a different purpose for objects that you’d otherwise put in the bin. The possibilities are endless and there’s so many ideas that you can find online but you can start by using things like jam jars for storing nails or screws, or cutting up some old tea towels for cleaning wipes.
As for recycling, make sure you familiarise yourself with your council’s recycling methods and stick to these throughout the week. Most councils give separate containers for different items, but if you have enough space in your house, you could even purchase a larger bin with multiple sections to make recycling even easier. Recycling isn’t just about newspapers and plastic bottles though – think food waste as well! If your council (like mine) doesn’t collect food waste, you could collect kitchen scraps into a separate container yourself and use these as compost in your garden. Doing this is a perfect way to prevent more waste ending up in landfill, plus your plants, flowers and even home-grown vegetables will definitely look much healthier!
4. Use energy efficiently.
Using energy has a direct impact on our planet because by burning (fossil) fuels we are contributing to the gradual warming of the planet through CO2 (carbon) emissions. Moving onto renewable sources (such as wind) is the way forward but from what I understand, these only account for 10% at the moment. In the meantime then, it’s up to us to make informed choices on how we use energy on a day to day basis to minimise the impact on our planet.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
The first step you can do is start thinking about how you use energy and start changing your behaviour so that you don’t use it as much or rather use it as efficiently as possible. When it comes to heating your home, obviously you want to ensure an adequate temperature so that you and your family are warm. Never compromise on your health but think whether there are any ways you can be cleverer about your energy use.
My next tip would be to ensure you understand your energy bills and how much you pay per unit – knowing your annual consumption and how much you pay will enable you to shop around for a better deal with an energy supplier. Always use independent and impartial energy comparison websites – ideally approved by the energy regulator Ofgem which you can search for on Go Energy Shopping.
It’s also important to understand your boiler and thermostat settings so that your heating system is working efficiently and you don’t waste money and energy. Turning down your thermostat by 1°C can save you as much as £60 per year so it really pays off to know how to use it correctly!
Once you’ve done that, you can then look around your house and identify other ways (that won’t cost you a penny!) to cut down your energy use and as a result, will save you money. Some of these steps include:
- draught-proofing your home to stop energy escaping (which can save you £50 per year),
- turning off lights in unoccupied rooms (saving around £13 per year),
- switching to more energy efficient light bulbs,
- using your kitchen appliances more carefully (will save around £50 per year) – for instance boiling only as much water as you need,
- putting all your appliances on standby (saving £30 per year),
- using your tumble dryer less often,
- taking shorter showers – spending one minute less in the shower each day will save around £8 off your energy bills each year, per person.
You can find more reliable and practical tips on the Energy Saving Trust website.
Some other ways may cost you a bit more up front but you are bound to save money longer-term. For instance, when your appliances need replacing, opt for A-rated ones as they’re more energy efficient. You can also look into more large-scale investments, such as boiler replacement, loft insulation or solar panels. In some instances if you meet certain criteria, you can get these installed by your energy supplier for free and many councils also offer incentives for installing solar panels.
5. Choose locally grown products.
When people talk about reducing carbon footprint, they always mean flying less, which most of us wouldn’t necessarily identify with, but in fact we can all play our part in reducing the carbon footprint that our every day food items can have.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Buying locally grown and manufactured products is an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint so that you don’t pay for items to be shipped from far away abroad. Try and buy seasonal fruit and vegetables as this will also support local farmers. Opt for organic produce where possible – it’s actually cheaper than you think! I’ve made a few swaps myself and on a few occasions, the organic items were cheaper than a leading brand. This is simply because organic options are often (not always!) produced by the supermarkets’ own brands and, as a result, are not promoted as widely. As with many things in life, you often pay for the advertising that goes behind a product than its quality.
If you have space (and green fingers!), you can also grow your own fruits and vegetables. If you like gardening but don’t have the space, you could apply for an allotment to your local council. Gardening is a fab hobby and a great way to educate your children on lots of different things, not only to do with nature but also responsibilities and nurturing skills.
6. Conserve water.
Water is a wonderful natural resource but it’s hugely wasted and under-appreciated by many of us. The demand for water is increasing as many industries are booming and the population is increasing, however many places around the world experience continual droughts, also due to weather conditions changing. These droughts have a huge impact on crops, plant life as well as animal and fish populations.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Some of the easy steps you can take to conserve water are:
- taking short showers,
- boiling only as much water as you need rather than the whole kettle,
- fixing leaking pipes,
- running the dishwasher less often
- turning off the tap while you brush your teeth,
- waiting until you have a full load of washing,
- recycling water in your home,
- using a less-flush toilet,
- eating less meat,
- steaming vegetables rather than boiling,
- reducing food waste in general,
- using water saving appliances,
- collecting rainwater in a barrel to water your garden.
Some other ways to conserve water can be found on the Friends of the Earth website.
7. Opt for natural skincare and household cleaning products.
You may not realise this but what you put on your skin not only has a huge impact on your health (as our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it) but also on the environment. Starting from plastic bottles ending up in landfill to synthetically produced ingredients inside that shower gel or body lotion on your bathroom shelf, all potentially polluting our waterways and destroying marine environment. The same goes for the every day cleaning products around your house – your bleach, bathroom cleaner or washing up liquid could potentially contain unhealthy toxins harmful to your health and the environment.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
First of all, you can make more informed choices by learning to cut through the marketing jargon and understanding the ingredients listed on your skincare products (I have a useful post on this My six golden rules for deciphering skincare labels and ingredient lists). This will enable you to be more selective about the brands you go for. Start questioning their manufacturing methods, environmental policies or whether they test on animals, and simply boycott them by not spending your cash on their products. There are so many smaller less-known brands producing plant-based products at affordable prices yet with an ethical ethos, so do shop around. There’s a few reviews of different brands on my blog so there’s a good starting point. Alternatively, you can also make your own skincare products – I now regularly make my own body creams, facial serums and body scrubs.
As for household cleaning products, start by making gradual swaps to more eco-friendly and toxin-free products, such as those by Ecozone, Method, Attitude or Ecover. You can also swap your regular laundry detergent for a more natural alternative, such as soap nuts (I’ve written a review of them here) or even make your own washing powder – I really want to try it out so watch this space.
I hope you found this post useful and if you did, I’d appreciate if you could leave a comment below and share this post on social media.
And what are you currently doing to be more eco-friendly?