Environment | 5 eco swaps to help the planet
If anyone were to ask, I’d say I’m a fairly decent human being; I stick to speed limits, I pay my taxes, I feed the homeless; heck, I even voluntarily visit my 89-year-old nan each week, despite being repeatedly told by her that I’d be prettier if only I would “put a comb through my hair” and “wear a nice cardi once in a while”. So okay, I’m no criminal, but before I polish my halo, I’d have to admit that I’ve been fairly passive in my efforts towards climate change. The rainforests are disappearing, sea levels are rising and that poor bloody polar bear is living on a iceberg no bigger than my dorm room in student halls.
This time last year, I discovered A Plastic Ocean on Netflix (bring the tissues, it’s heartbreaking stuff) and vowed to make some small swaps to help our planet restore and thrive. They’re all pretty small in terms of effort and time, some have even cost a little more at first than my previous habits, but I found that once I knew the consequences of living absentmindedly, suddenly every change – no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time – tipped the balance of my ethical queasiness.
Here are the five eco swaps I've made, (and stuck with!), to help our planet...
1. By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish; a grim thought and one that we can act on now by investing in a reusable coffee cup. Discounts are widely becoming standard practice if you bring in your own cup into big chains and even smaller independent businesses (Pret offer 50p; Costa and Starbucks offer 25p). If you find yourself on the road a lot, try to keep one in your car, for those all-too-tempting drive-thru stops at service stations.
2. It’s estimated 35 million single-use plastic bottles are bought daily in the UK and only 16 million of those are recycled, so ditch the worst plastic culprit and buy a BPA-free reusable water bottle. Few people know that, by law, any licensed premise in England and Wales has to offer “free potable water”, so don’t be afraid to ask; it’s strangely liberating.
3. Flexitarian, pescatarian, veggie, vegan, plant-based; whatever you want to call it, it’s fairly obvious that reducing our meat intake has become de rigueur in 2018. Whether you’re spurred on by your ethical stance, a health boost or the environmental call-to-action, start small. Taking meat and cheese off the family meal planner just once a week, is the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks or reducing everyone’s daily shower by three minutes. As a household, we adopted a vegetarian diet in late 2016 (very occasionally choosing organic meat and fish when we’re happy with its provenance and standard of welfare) and it’s drastically reduced the cost of our food bill.
4. Inspired by the Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign, this past year I’ve drastically reduced my clothing consumption, instead choosing fewer garments made with organic cotton or sustainable textiles such as bamboo and hemp, and researching leather alternatives such as cork and Pinatex (yes, you can buy beautiful shoes made from pineapple skin!). We’re fast approaching the annual spring-clean wardrobe detox, which means millions of items of clothing will end up in landfill.
In an ideal world we’d all support the slow fashion movement, investing in ethical fair trade brands and cherishing our wardrobe like it was a good friend. But for many Brits who rely on the cheap and throwaway fast fashion culture, the smallest way to making a big difference is to commit to recycling your clothes or donating them to your nearest charity shop. The likes of H&M and Zara even now offer in-store recycling bins to boost textile collection, promising to downcycle any items that can’t be reused into insulation fibres.
5. As we’re all sisters here, it seems fair to bring up the subject of periods. Last year I discovered the nauseating statistic that the average woman spends £492 annually on menstruation, with the largest expense being tampons and sanitary towels. The Marine Conservation Society’s 2016 beach clean-up found 20 fem-care products per 100 metres of British shoreline, shocking isn't it.
So, I'm reclaiming that extra £500 a year for a weekend city break by using a menstrual cup. If the thought of a menstrual cup makes you cringe, (yeah, that was me last year!) I urge you to give it a go. I now preach evangelically about my OrganiCup to anyone who will listen. Other brands such as MoonCup and TulipCup are worth looking into too. Once you make the switch you won't look back, I promise!
Not convinced? I hear Prague is lovely this time of year.
Sophie is a freelance writer, creative and sustainability advocate based in Cardiff, UK. Her passion for the Earth and holistic living form the basis of her work, offering practical advice to become a conscious consumer. Follow Sophie on Instagram @rae_soph.