The effects of our everyday lifestyle reach far beyond ourselves. Being more sustainable is important for all of us.
The past few months have made us all change the way we approach even the most ordinary things. They’ve also highlighted how those ordinary things need to change along with us. As challenging as new restrictions have been, they’ve shone a light on some of our most – and least – sustainable habits. The ways in which we’re impacting the environment have shifted as we’ve adapted our lifestyles to fit around the pandemic. While these changes have been vitally important, many haven’t been planned for in the long term.
The enormous surge in single-use face masks and gloves was unimaginable back in 2019; but heading into 2021, it’s impossible to ignore the waste they cause. This is bad news for wildlife getting tangled in the elastic of mask strings; and for the planet itself, with chemicals from man-made fibres leeching into soil. The demand for these essential items has rapidly outpaced the ways in which we can safely dispose of them. Particularly when so many are carelessly discarded, this isn’t sustainable.
The Marine Conservation Society found PPE on 30% of beaches and 60% of their inland litter picks this year. Coronavirus precautions have been in place for less than a full year, so image how much more waste could be turning up in the next 12 months if people continue using disposable products.
We all know that fast fashion and out of control consumption is terrible for the planet; it’s not hard to see how throwaway face masks are turning into a similar problem. With these health measures lasting indefinitely, it’s important that we make smart choices now to limit further damage. Investing in reusable masks is a great way to cut down on waste. They keep you safe [and stylish], and are much cheaper than buying less durable items which don’t last beyond minimal use. Wear, wash thoroughly, then wear again and again. If you find you keep losing your masks, now’s the time to get organised; they’re going to be around for a while. Keeping plenty of spares in handy places like your car, desk, or by the front door can stop you getting caught out.
It’s not just litter that’s seen an increase. We’ve been throwing away a LOT this year; in particular, food waste and packaging from online purchases. Many recycling facilities have been dealing with workloads they wouldn’t usually see until Christmas, with people working and buying from home. As we all turn to internet shopping, it’s important to be smart about our choices. Cardboard is an easy one, but recycling plastic packaging can leave people scratching their heads. A quick google search can tell you if your local facilities are equipped to deal with all the excess that comes with your items. Not everything needs to go to landfill!
Ordering items together where possible to reduce the individual packaging and shipping of multiple orders can help too. Thinking critically about whether or not you’re impulse buying is also a good start. We all want to stay entertained, but a constant stream of purchases being transported across the planet adds up to cause unnecessary pollution. Do you know where your goods are coming from? Choosing to buy from neighbourhood and UK businesses who’ve moved online cuts down on the amount of travel your purchases have to make AND supports independent retailers in your area.
BEING SUSTAINABLE IN THE KITCHEN
Food waste counts for approximately 8% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. With people being furloughed and staff shortages, lots of fresh produce hasn’t been harvested, with fruits and vegetables left rotting in fields instead. Elsewhere in the supply chain, bottlenecks have built up and perishables have been lost. After the initial panic buying back in April, we’ve all come a long way in managing our weekly shop, and food waste has gradually lowered. People are finding it easier to predict what they need in their fridge and eating out far less. Ensuring that you’re not overestimating the amount of food you need – and being mindful of its shelf life – you can keep things fresh and sustainable. Opting for local, organic produce is beneficial for everyone.
It’s not all been bad news. Back in April, the first lockdowns saw a global reduction of 17% in carbon emissions. With heavy travel restrictions and months of flights being cancelled, air pollution in many places has been drastically improved. Even New York’s emissions were cut by nearly 50% during lockdown. Quality of air has an invisible but major impact on everyone’s health. It’s one of the leading causes of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. Those with asthma suffer particularly badly from the traffic fumes in our cities, but long-term exposure to dirty air affects us all.
Working from home has made a seismic difference in how much we travel on a smaller scale. Rush hour queues have dwindled and cities have had some time to breathe again. But as life returns to normal, so do old habits. Choosing public transport, cycling or even walking is a much greener way to get around. A full bus of passengers could take around 40 cars off the road. That would reduce a LOT of petrol fumes if everybody made the switch to more sustainable commutes. These are simple changes but habits can be tricky to form, especially for those of us who’ve been stuck in the same rut for many years. Temporarily working from home can be a valuable time for many of us to reasses our old morning routines, and how they can be made more environmentally friendly.
Our leisure time looks different now too. While a holiday on a tropical island is just a dream for most of us this year, it’s worth considering just how essential all that travel really is. Swapping some of those exotic trips for vacations closer to home – and travelling by more eco-friendly means – can minimize the amount of pressure we put on the planet. Choosing train over plane is a great way to keep the trip and shed some of the carbon baggage. Getting from London to Madrid on a flight produces around 118kg of carbon emissions, whereas the same holiday via train is only 43kg. Staycations also help to boost the economy here at home, and tourism provides revenue for thousands of small businesses.
SUSTAINABLE NEW HABITS
It’s up to governments and industries to implement large scale changes to avoid returning to previous pollution levels. But the emphasis right now also needs to be on how we use this period to evaluate and adapt our habits. Moving forward with healthier practices doesn’t have to be difficult. Lockdown has shown us how resourceful we can be. Using this downtime to make some small changes to our lifestyle will set up greener patterns for the future.