Scrap conditioner and eat porridge for breakfast — Maresa Fegan has a 24-hour guide to going green
24 hours to save the planet may seem like a tall order. But there are small changes we can make to our daily routines that can have a big impact on climate change and the environment.
One of the few silver linings from the Covid-19 pandemic was a dramatic fall in air pollution. In India, where air pollution is among the world’s worst, some people reported seeing the Himalayas for the first time from where they lived.
As countries went into lockdown, more people stayed at home and commuter traffic ground to a halt.
The net effect, from an environmental point of view, was less pollutants in the air we breathe, at least temporarily.
The Covid-19 pandemic gave many of us pause for thought. As we stayed at home we adapted to a simpler way of life. Restrictions on our movements meant we cooked more at home and shopped less.
In some ways the pandemic made us more conscious of our daily habits. It forced us to consider how we consume goods and how much we really need to get by. For some it may even nudge them towards living a greener, more sustainable life.
But what exactly does it mean to live sustainably? We’re all familiar with the ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ concept but sustainable living goes beyond that.
Put simply it’s about reframing our needs and choices to lessen the burden on the planet and on our environment.
It’s about considering borrowing before buying.
It’s about mending and making do like the generations before us. It’s about finding a new home for unwanted belongings. It’s about being more mindful of what we buy, where it comes from, and how it is produced. But it’s also about making better choices and connecting with our local communities.
For blogger Elaine Butler living a more sustainable life for the past four years has led to a simpler, more relaxed, cheaper, and healthier way of living.
Her blog, Living Lightly Ireland, was borne out of a quest for information about coffee cups and how reusable or compostable they were.
Since 2016 the mother-of-two has made several changes to what the family buys and consumes and she shares her experiences and insights online.
Making small changes and better choices, Elaine says, can ensure a future for our children and grandchildren.
While this sounds like a mammoth task, she suggests starting with small steps and making changes where it is possible and not feeling guilty where it is not.
“Low consumption is at the very heart of sustainable living,” Elaine explains, adding that this can mean buying less, making better choices, and reducing car and air travel where possible.
“Reducing consumption is a big thing and everyone can do it regardless of budget,” she adds.
For Elaine food shops are by necessity and she advocates shopping locally and within your budget, from butchers, greengrocers, food markets, and producers.
The social bond that comes with developing a relationship with smaller retailers and producers is an added bonus that she never anticipated.
“You will never have a relationship with a farmer halfway across the world that supplies a supermarket but you can develop relationships with local producers, retailers and farmers,” Elaine says.
“Building that social bond was one of the most rewarding aspects of this journey and I didn’t expect that when I started,” she adds.
One big change that Elaine and her family made was limiting the number of flights they took.
“All of the little things like switching your thermostat down a couple of degrees are negated by one weekend trip away,” she says, adding that a short-haul return flight from London to Edinburgh contributes more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than someone living in Uganda or Somalia would in a year.
Living more sustainably doesn’t necessarily mean buying or installing new gadgets in the home, Elaine says, explaining that it’s often about reducing consumption and, in turn, costs.
“If somebody starts by making easy switches, if they reduce their consumption, take one less flight a year, and eat less meat, that would be huge,” Elaine says.
Making changes doesn’t have to cost money either as there are many ‘no cost’ changes that everyone can make.
For example refusing to take a shop receipt as the plastic-coated paper is not recyclable, using a parking app instead of a printed ticket, or bringing your own container to the butcher or deli counter are all small changes that can help to reduce consumption and waste.
“But living sustainably and with zero waste is about living differently. It’s about a simpler life, not unlike that experienced by a lot of people during the pandemic,” Elaine explains.
But there is also a social dividend, the Dublin-based mother-of-two says, from connecting with others in the local community.
“It’s also great for social connections. If you’re feeling isolated in your community buying local, sharing and borrowing goods, walking or taking public transport are great ways to feel part of something beyond your own front gate,” she says.
To get you started here are some tips and small changes to make your everyday routines more sustainable and kinder to the planet.
An average shower uses 10 litres of water per minute so consider reducing the time you spend in the shower to cut back on water usage. Alternatively you can reduce water usage by switching to water-saving shower heads or adding an aerator to your sink tap.
Think before washing your hair every day, Elaine says, as generally it’s not good for your hair or for the planet.
Look for refills of shampoo from zero waste stores, which can be as cheap as €3 for 500mls.
Instead of using conditioner try using a vinegar rinse – two tablespoons of vinegar in a pint of water – and rinse through after shampooing.
Fast fashion is no longer hip. 85% of fast fashion ends up in a landfill. Buying less or buying vintage is better for the planet and some suggest a rule of only buying clothes if you are going to wear them at least 30 times. Also consider donating unwanted clothes to charity.
Wash clothes less often, Elaine says, as most people don’t need to wash their clothes after every wear.
Look for eco-friendly laundry detergents that are kinder on your clothes and on the environment.
Porridge is the most sustainable breakfast we can have in Ireland, Elaine says. It’s produced locally, affordable, and also healthy.
To cut back on packaging waste opt for loose teas, which are widely available in supermarkets.
Package-free varieties of tea and coffee can also be bought from zero waste stores.
If you can, walk or cycle to work instead of driving and creating more carbon emissions.
Alternatively offer someone a lift to work if you travel in their direction - you can find people using the sharing platforms www.carpool.com or www.liftshare.com.
Avoid single use plastic-lined coffee cups and invest in your own keep-cup if you need your caffeine fix before you start your work day. Every year we discard 200 million disposable coffee cups in Ireland.
Switch to www.ecosia.org as your internet browser and search engine at work and at home. It uses revenue generated from advertising to plant more trees. It has more than 15 million users and has planted more than 90 million trees across the world to date.
Bring your own lunch rather than popping to the shop for a sandwich. Try a meat-free option or get creative with leftovers from last night’s dinner.
If you do go to the shop or supermarket consider lobbying for less packaging and plastic when making your purchase. For simple ways to take action check out Friends of the Earths ‘Sick of Plastic campaign at https://www.foe.ie/sickofplastic/learnmore.html. Invest in a glass bottle for drinking tap water rather than buying bottled water – it’s better for your pocket and for the planet.
Consider going paperless where you can. Alternatively use only recycled paper and try printing on both sides of every sheet of paper. It is possible to recycle one sheet of printer paper up to seven times.
Also look for eco-friendly office supplies, such as pens made out of recycled water bottles like the Pilot range of ballpoint pens available from a number of online stationary stockists.
For dinner, keep any leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or freeze for another day. Keep in mind that the average household in Ireland wastes around 120kgs of food every year.
Buy less meat, either by having one meat-free meal a week or putting less meat in a recipe.
Join the ‘grow your own’ brigade and start with something simple that you will use every day.
Growing herbs, such as basil, in a container on your windowsill is one of the easiest and tastiest ways to get started. Friends of the Earth have some tips and information on their Growing Together project at https://www.foe.ie/growing-together/.
Avoid toxic cleaning products by making your own using simple pantry ingredients. Elaine suggests swapping bicarbonate of soda for cream cleaners to scour pots and pans or using vinegar as an antibacterial cleaner to keep germs at bay.
Video streaming devices connected to your TV, such as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast Ultra, and Roku, use less energy than set top boxes, according to a US study by the Natural Resources Defense Council last year.
Turn your heating thermostat down by one or two degrees to conserve energy and keep your bills down.
One big thing everyone can do, whether you rent or own your home, is switch energy providers to Community Power, a new provider that is 100% run and owned by community-led renewable energy projects. Visit https://communitypower.ie for more information.
Bin disposable wipes for cleaning your face before you retire to bed and opt for a washable face cloth instead. Switch off laptops, tablets and phones when charging as they charge much faster and use less energy. For night-time reading opt to borrow books from your local library instead of buying them.
For more tips on living sustainably and where to find zero waste retailers check out Elaine’s blog at https://livinglightlyinireland.com/.
There are plenty of useful tips on the government developed website, www.mywaste.ie, which has also launched a phone app allowing you to monitor the impact of the amount of waste you create and discard.
Another useful resource is www.gozero.ie, an online directory of farmers markets, fruit and veg shops, and other retailers selling sustainable produce.