13 tips for sustainable living

Everything that we do has an impact on the world around us, from the way we shop for clothes, through to how long we spend in the shower. Admittedly, it would be difficult to achieve a scenario where the things we did had no negative consequences for the environment at all. But by making some small adjustments to our daily routines, we can help to keep these negative effects to a minimum. 

Over the last year, the legendary broadcaster, writer and naturalist Sir David Attenborough has spoken out about the devastating impact that our human footprint is having on the future of our planet. His recent BBC documentary highlights that a million species are at risk of extinction, and explores how this crisis of biodiversity has consequences for us all. These consequences include compromising our ability to control our planet’s climate, and threatening food and water security.

In addition, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, recently told the BBC that 2021 will be a “make or break” year for tackling climate change ahead of the November United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. World leaders will come together to work on solutions for the growing problem of climate change, and it’s expected that this will result in some new climate policies, and restore some hope surrounding the future of our planet.

Although it’s clear that some large-scale actions are needed to improve the health and wellbeing of our planet, there are also plenty of small contributions we can each make that, collectively, will have a big impact.

From saving water to supporting local wildlife, here are 13 simple ways to adopt a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.

1. Grow your own food

Growing your own food is an enjoyable and rewarding way to be kinder to the planet. The fruit and vegetables that we buy from supermarkets usually travel long distances to reach our shelves (using a lot of fuel in the process), and are often packaged in plastics and other unsustainable materials. In addition, supermarket fruit and veg are often treated with pesticides during the farming process, which is not only harmful to the environment, but can be harmful to us too if traces are left behind.

The UN estimates that the world will need to produce about 50% more food by 2050 to feed the growing world population. This means that the demand – and therefore, the environmental impact – of mass produced food, is only set to increase. One way we could work on reducing this demand (to help cut carbon emissions, and avoid unwanted chemicals or excess packaging), is to start growing our own fruit and veg at home, or in an allotment. This also has the potential to save us money and time on supermarket trips too!

Some people are put off by the idea of growing food at home because they’re worried that they won’t have enough space. But the good news is that there are plenty of superfoods that you can grow in containers on windowsills, patios or balconies – spring onions, tomatoes and kale are but to name a few! If you’re curious about what other fruit and veggies you can grow yourself, and you’d like a few tips, then have a read of our articles; 8 superfoods that you can grow from home or 10 things you can grow in a window box at home.

Alternatively, to find out more about the benefits of renting an allotment and how to apply, you might want to check out our quick guide here.

2. Drive less, and walk and cycle more

Although motor vehicles are a quick and convenient way of getting from A to B, the majority of them burn up a lot of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. In fact, it’s estimated that transport accounts for around a quarter of carbon emissions globally.

The UK has already said that it will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, but with the average UK car producing 180g of CO2 per kilometre, there’s still lots of work to be done in the meantime.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the negative impact that your daily travel could be having on the environment is to walk or cycle wherever possible. This is also a great way to stay active, and look after your health. Have a read of our articles, A beginner’s guide to cycling and 10 rewarding activities to do while walking.

3. Support local wildlife

If you love wildlife and want to help it thrive, then there are plenty of simple ways you can support local creatures – especially those who are having a tough time.

For example, hedgehog numbers are in decline, and today it’s believed that there are less than 500,000 hedgehogs in the UK; down from the estimated 1.5 million hedgehogs that roamed our green spaces in 1995. Experts have said that this drop is largely as a result of hedgerows and field margins being lost during intensive farming – and as a result, hedgehogs are relying on habitats in urban and suburban gardens to survive.

So, if you’re keen to help these small, humble creatures, then why not consider building them a home in your garden? Hedgehogs need homes just like we do, and a hedgehog house is relatively straightforward to make. These handy instructions from The Wildlife Trusts will show you how to get started.

Other ways you can help local wildlife include installing bird baths and feeders in your garden, avoiding cutting any hedges or trees during the main bird nesting season (March-August) when birds are raising chicks, and planting butterfly and bee-friendly plants in your garden or window box.

4. Recycle and reuse things

Any rubbish that’s not recycled or reused is usually collected and taken to landfill sites, where it is piled up, and left to rot. Not only are landfill sites ugly, but they are also huge sources of pollution. Waste breaks down very slowly, and produces toxins and greenhouse gases that pollute the atmosphere.

Rubbish in landfill sites is also at risk of escaping into the environment (for example, if it is blown away), and can often find its way into our oceans. It’s estimated that 12.7 million tonnes of our plastic waste finds its way into oceans every year, and this has some catastrophic consequences for marine life who can get tangled up in it, swallow it, or become suffocated by it. To find out more about why landfill sites are so bad for the environment, have a read of this page from Unisan.

One of the best ways that we can avoid pumping more rubbish into landfill sites and having it make its way into our oceans, is to make sure that we’re making use of recycling systems in our local communities. You can find out how to recycle waste in your local area on the GOV.UK website, here.

It can also help to try and repurpose items yourself to take the pressure off recycling centres. For instance, jars and pots that contained foods can be used to store odds and ends, and old clothes and envelopes and other postal packaging can be relabelled, and reused. Check out Recycling Guide’s list of everyday items that you can reuse time and again for some additional eco-friendly ideas. Or you if you fancy getting creative, why not take a look at our article 16 creative upcycling ideas that could save you money and help the planet.

You can also avoid the need to keep repurchasing certain items, like plastic water bottles, straws and batteries by purchasing reusable versions – for example, rechargeable batteries, metal straws that you can wash and reuse, or a KeepCup to hold your takeaway tea or coffee when you’re on the move.

5. Be more mindful of your meat and dairy consumption

According to research, meat and dairy production accounts for 83% of farmland, and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have also found the meat and dairy products with the very lowest impact on the environment to still be more damaging than the vegetables and cereals that are grown in the least sustainable way. Even more eye-opening is the fact that meat and dairy products only account for 18% of food calories and about 37% of protein.

Not only does meat and dairy farming produce a large amount of greenhouse gases, but with so many green spaces being converted into farmland (and so much plant life being needed to feed livestock), wildlife are also losing their habitats, and finding it more challenging to survive as a result.

For this reason, experts say that one of the most helpful ways that we can help to reduce our environmental impact on the planet, is to find alternatives to meat and dairy products where possible, to reduce the demand. This doesn’t have to mean cutting out meat and dairy altogether, but it could mean making an effort to have a couple of meat and dairy-free days a week. You could also consider opting for meat and dairy products that have been produced in a way that is less harmful to our environment.

If you’d like some ideas for some tasty vegan recipes, that will hopefully leave you feeling inspired, then have a read of our article 10 sweet and savoury vegan recipes.

6. Conserve energy at home

By reducing the amount of gas and electricity that you use at home, you can help to lower carbon emissions. At present the energy supply sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and is responsible for 35% of total emissions globally.

Though energy drives our lifestyle, there are several quick and easy ways that you can conserve energy at home, help to protect the environment, and save money on bills.

For example, you can:

  • Turn electrical items off completely, rather than leaving them on standby.
  • Hang clothes out to dry, rather than tumble drying them.
  • Turn the heating down.
  • Switch lights off when leaving the room.
  • Only boil as much water as you need in your kettle, as it will boil quicker and use less energy.
  • Consider switching to a renewable energy supplier.
  • Only run your washing machine or dishwasher when it’s full.

For more tips on how you can conserve energy at home, you might find it helpful to read our article: Save money on your energy bills.

7. Save water

Many people only think of gas and electricity when they think of saving energy, but saving water also helps to conserve energy. The energy required to process and deliver clean water to our taps creates a considerable amount of pollution, so it helps if we can conserve as much water and therefore, energy, as possible.

Some helpful ways to save water include:

  • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. By turning off the tap when you brush your teeth just once, you could save 12 litres of water, so imagine how much water you could save in a month, or a year!
  • Reduce your shower time. It’s estimated that at present, Britain ‘showers away’ over 2,000,000,000 litres of water per day! According to Waterwise
    the optimum shower time is 4 minutes – and if every UK home cut their shower time down by just one minute, it would save a huge £215,000 million on our collective energy bills every year.
  • Fix leaky taps. A leaky tap could be wasting around 5,500 litres of water a year, and sometimes the fix can be something really quite simple! If you’re worried about the cost of getting a plumber in, then it’s worth having a look at some YouTube videos to see if you can diagnose and fix the problem yourself. Many times, it might be that a washer just needs replacing.

If you’re like some more advice on how to save water (plus, energy and money too), then it’s worth having a read of our article: How to reduce your water bills. You might also find some useful tips in our article How to reduce your water bills.

8. Choose Fairtrade products

By buying more Fairtrade products, you can help farmers in developing countries get paid a fairer price for their work. When farmers are paid more for what they produce, they become more economically stable, and in turn, food supply becomes more reliable.

Part of the Fairtrade agreement is that farmers must take steps to improve soil and water quality, avoid using harmful chemicals, protect biodiversity and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers receive training on environmentally friendly farming practices too. So, by buying Fairtrade products, we are helping to give farmers a better quality of life, and an incentive to farm better and sell more.

To find out more about how Fairtrade farmers protect the environment, you can check out this blog post here. Or to find out more about why Fairtrade means sustainable trade, have a read of this page.

9. Use eco-friendly cleaning products

Many of the popular, mainstream cleaning products contain chemicals such as preservatives, detergents and foaming agents that can be harmful to our environment.

If you want to opt for eco-friendly cleaning products then it’s best to choose those that have no synthetic ingredients by brands such as Method and Ecover. You can also make your own cleaners at home using natural ingredients. Check out this article on 8 homemade cleaners that actually work from Good Housekeeping.

Or to find out how to do a simple yet effective spring clean using minimal products, you could also have a read of our article, 28 top tips for a successful spring clean.

10. Sell or donate items

At points in our lives, all of us will find ourselves with items that we no longer want or need to keep, and what we do with these items can have a significant impact on the health of our environment.

By selling or donating items (rather than throwing them away) and by buying second-hand items, we can help to reduce the amount of energy and raw materials involved in manufacturing and disposing of them.

If you’re wondering where you can buy and sell second-hand items, then eBay and Vinted are great places to start. You might also want to check out our article, How to make money from your clutter for some other ideas.

It’s also worth considering donating your unwanted items to charity shops. Though it’s a good idea to give your local ones a call first, to check that they can accommodate your donations – as items are being quarantined on arrival.

11. Go paperless

Across the world, over 4 billion trees are cut down every year to make paper (which equates to 1% of the Amazon rainforest per year!). And according to recyclingbins.co.uk, here in the UK we use a whopping 12.5 million tonnes of paper each year. While 80% of this gets recycled, it’s estimated that an additional 17 trees and 50% of water can be saved for every tonne of paper that’s recycled. So there’s still more that can be done, and every little helps.

Though the act of recycling an old envelope or shopping list might seem small, it can be a worthwhile and valuable contribution towards saving our trees. Better yet, it can help to consider whether there are ways you can reduce or cut your paper usage altogether.

For example, if you find that you have household bills or other letters cluttering up your desk, drawers or kitchen sides, then it’s worth looking into whether you could receive these by email instead. Many companies now have a paperless correspondence option, so that you can cut down on the amount of paper that’s getting delivered to your door.

It’s also worth considering whether you could take notes on an electronic device like your phone, tablet or laptop, rather than continuing to use and buy paper out of habit.

12. Donate unwanted food

If you have food in your kitchen that you know you won’t eat but you don’t want to throw away, then why not donate it instead?

A great way to do this is by downloading the free Olio app, which allows you to share unwanted food items with people in your local area. All you need to do is post an image and description of what you want to give away, and people will be able to contact you through the app to arrange to collect it. You can also use Olio to give away non-food items like clothes and books too.

You could also consider donating food with a longer shelf-life to your local food bank, so that others in need can benefit. You can find your nearest food bank here.

13. Shop with sustainable fashion brands

If you’re planning on buying any new clothes, rather than second hand, then it’s always a good idea to be aware of the manufacturing processes that a particular brand uses.

While ‘fast fashion’ is often cheaper, this is because the processes that are used to make the clothes are faster and cheaper too, and often result in large amounts of waste – and at present, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. On top of that, there are many fast fashion brands who take advantage of garment workers in other countries; paying them low wages, and encouraging them to work in poor (and sometimes unsafe) working conditions.

The best way to make sure that you aren’t contributing to environmental harm caused by fast fashion is to try and shop with brands that use sustainable and ethical practices. For more information about sustainable fashion, it’s worth having a read of this article from Study 34. Or, to get an idea about which sustainable fashion brands you could shop with, check out this article on 10 fair trade and ethical fashion brands that ship to the UK from The Good Trade.

Final thoughts…

While attempting to tackle issues around climate change and animal extinction might seem like an insurmountable task, the positive news is that by making small changes, we can make a big difference.

If you want to help protect the health and future of our planet, but you’re unsure where to start, then perhaps you could try to incorporate one small change a week into your daily routine. For instance, making a conscious effort to remember to turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, or hanging your clothes up to dry, rather than putting them in the tumble dryer. While these things might seem small, collectively, they will have a big impact.

David Attenborough summed it up nicely in the closing scene of his recent BBC documentary, Extinction. He said…

“I do truly believe that, together, we can create a better future. I might not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity, and all its inhabitants. What happens next is up to every one of us.”

Do you have any additional tips on sustainable living? Are you planning to make use of any of the tips above? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.

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