This year, and for the past few years, I’ve made it my mission to live a more sustainable life. Sustainable living is a hot topic at the moment as the world comes to grips with the realities of a changing climate. As a gardener, I’ve noticed that our summers seem to start later, last longer and get hotter and more destructive every year. When I’m out walking I notice the effect litter and pollution have on the natural environment and when I’m at the beach I notice the cliffs are getting closer and closer to the houses each time I return. I think we all notice these things, if you’re anything like me they are worrying.
I worry about the future and am concerned that if we continue to go along as we have been then we will do irreversible damage to our environment, to the world we live in. In this sense, I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce my impact on the world around me.
For me, living sustainably has been an empowering choice, a positive change. I have learnt a lot and gained a fresh appreciation of the simpler things in life. I still have a long way to go, but that’s part of the process. To me living sustainably needs to be exactly that – sustainable, so sometimes I’ll try things and they don’t quite work for me and I try not to be too hard on myself.
What does it mean to be sustainable?
Sustainable living means different things to different people, but essentially it refers to a way of living that uses as few resources as possible and causes the least amount of environmental damage for future generations to deal with.
By living sustainably I am aiming to reduce the amount of natural and personal resources I use in my everyday life. It has meant changing a few things, but ultimately those changes have been for the better. Living sustainably ultimately costs less, smells nicer and, most importantly, makes me feel like I am part of the solution.
Here are a few simple things you can do today to start leading a more sustainable life:
Drink Tap Water
Buying bottled water is pretty much the norm these days, but it’s incredibly wasteful – 30 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away every year (and only about 20% are recycled), it is resource intensive – it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce those plastic bottles, and contributes to landfill – it takes about 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to decompose.
Tip: Buy a reusable bottle, fill it with tap water and take it with you when you go – you’ll also save yourself hundreds of dollars a year.
Say no to plastic bags
Plastic bags are bad for the environment. They clog waterways, create problems for animals who can get caught in the bags and drown, and if they ingest the plastic they can die or become very ill. They are generally a single-use item but take hundreds of years to break down and require a huge input of resources to create.
South Australia recently banned the use of cheap, disposable plastic checkout bags and replaced them with bags that are able to be reused and biodegradable. Though controversial at the time, it has meant there are 400 million less plastic bags in use in South Australia every single year.
Tip – buy a reusable shopping bag and take it with you when you shop. If you’re forgetful (like me!) store them in the boot of your car or buy a couple that fold up and can be stored in your handbag.
Eat less meat
Meat production requires a huge input of resources including water and energy. It takes more than 8,000 litres of water to produce just 500g of ground beef. By skipping meat just one day a week you can reduce your carbon footprint by as much as if you stopped driving your car for an entire month.
Tip – try going meat free one day a week. I have a long list of easy to prepare vegetarian recipes here.
Buy a reusable coffee cup
If your daily visit to the coffee shop is a must then consider buying a reusable coffee cup. More than 500 billion disposable coffee cups are manufactured and disposed of every single year. Most of these cups end up in landfill as they are lined with a type of plastic that can’t be recycled. This plastic lining also means they take a long time to break down.
Tip – By purchasing and using a reusable cup you are taking a small step to solving a huge problem.
Put a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker on your mailbox and switch to electronic bank statements
This is so simple, but it makes a huge difference. Junk Mail accounts for more than 6% of Australia’s total paper use every single year, and yet only about 20% of it is actually read. This amounts to 240,000 tonnes of paper. The amount of water needed to produce a year’s worth of catalogues could fill 8,640 Olympic sized swimming pools. That’s a lot of water!
Tip – Read your statements online and encourage companies to send e-alerts/newsletters or advertise on Facebook instead.
Use earth-friendly dishwashing detergent or powder
Many of the name-brand household cleaners contain toxic chemicals such as phosphate, ammonia and chlorine bleach which, when washed down the drain, can pollute waterways and kill animals like frogs and fish. They have also been linked to health concerns in humans.
Tip – Look for environmentally friendly cleaners – there is a great list of earth-friendly brands here.
Take shorter showers & install a low-flow showerhead
I know it might seem silly, but this simple step can save gallons of water every year. Around 30% of household water is used in the shower. Low-flow showerheads can reduce the amount of water you use by up to 75% saving you money and reducing your environmental footprint. To cut out the time you spend in the shower try brushing your teeth and washing your face in the basin (only turning the tap on when you need it), it will make a huge difference.
Tip – Install a low-flow showerhead and reduce your water use by as much as 75%.
Eat seasonal produce that is locally grown and preferably organic
There is so much to say about this, so much so that it warrants an entire post of its own. Suffice to say that the less distance your produce has to travel, the less harm you are doing to the environment. As an added bonus, when you eat produce that is in season you are getting fruit and veggies that are at their best. If they’re organic they will have grown in a way that respects the natural environment. More on this topic shortly – subscribe to stay updated.
Tip – Shop at your local Farmer’s Market to find produce that’s grown locally and in season.
Use your car less
Riding your bike or even walking is good for your health and reduces the amount of cars on the road which means less traffic, noise and pollution. A 6 kilometer walk means about 6 kilos less pollutants in the air (that’s a four mile walk and 15 pounds saved for my US readers). If you can’t walk or ride, try taking the bus instead.
Tip – Walk or ride your bike short distances – every little bit counts.
This a is just short list to help get you started – there are so many things we can do to reduce our impact, many of which require little to no effort.
Are you trying to live a more sustainable life? What are some of your tips for reducing your footprint?