50 Unexpected Ways to Make Your Everyday More Sustainable
From energy and plastics to waste, water and wildlife, there are all sorts of ways our day to day choices can limit our impact on the planet. Here are 50 that you might not have thought of.
Living through an environmental crisis is a daunting place to find ourselves. Extreme weather events are beginning to affect most of us, and even when they’re not, the headlines can feel overwhelming.
But scientists are clear that we can still bring the planet back into balance. The quickest, most meaningful change will always come from governments and big businesses that can pull huge levers that make major change. But that doesn’t mean each of us doesn’t have the power to make a big difference too.
In fact, scientists have calculated that lifestyle changes among people living in the West – particularly those linked to how we travel and what we eat – could cut as much as 5% of all global carbon emissions. Here's 50 easy, unexpected ways then to make you day-to-day that little bit more sustainable.
- Discover refurbished electronics. Smartphones, laptops and accessories that have been repaired and restored are often as good as new, and come with a warranty.
- Reuse gift wrap. Much of it isn’t recyclable and ends up in landfill, so reuse what you can and get creative with other reusable materials like fabric scraps.
- Decant your mini toiletries. To avoid buying lots of small plastic bottles, refill your existing minis or, if you don’t have any, buy reusable mini bottles.
- Donate your hair or mention the idea to your salon. Charities collect human hair to create mats that soak up oil spills.
- Leave the cling film in the drawer. Put a plate over your leftovers in the fridge and pack sandwiches snugly in reusable Tupperware.
- Discover your local repair café, where volunteers fix up electronics and other household bits and bobs so there’s no need to dump them.
- Clean your laptop and smartphone. Those crumbs and bits of lint can limit the lifespan of your devices.
- Opt for audiobooks. A single tree produces less than a hundred paper books, whereas digital audio versions have a much lower carbon footprint.
- Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe. Spent half an hour in your email inbox saying goodbye to the sales emails that tempt you into impulsive purchases.
- While you’re at it, empty your inbox. Storing those old, unread emails fills up data centres that are powered by electricity.
- Take the train. If you’re flying short haul, look up the rail options for your journey. Weigh up added time and cost against what it takes to get to and from the airport – you’d be surprised how similar the train option can be.
- Find out where your home is losing heat. Hire or borrow a thermal camera to spot drafts so you can quickly make your home more energy efficient.
- Drive differently. Save fuel by eco-driving – which involves gentle speed changes, staying in the most efficient gear and sticking to the speed limit.
- Learn to sew. You only need to know the simplest stitch to mend a hole or reattach a button – and it could add years to the life of your clothes.
- Limit your laundry. Spritz vodka on your clothes if they just need a freshen up.
- Rent some threads. Services like By Rotation are particularly handy if you’ve got a fancy event or wedding, where you need something you’ll only wear once.
- Discover your local tailors. They can work wonders, making old favourites fit again, or mending wear and tear.
- Get your sneakers deep cleaned. A pair of trainers that look bad enough to bin often just need a professional clean. Search for an expert locally.
- Turn old clothes into cloths. Low quality clothing often can’t be resold and ends up polluting countries in the Global South – so instead of palming off old t shirts on your local charity shop, turn them into cleaning rags and dusters.
- Try bamboo socks. Bamboo’s hollow fibre makes it super absorbent and less likely to smell. More wears means fewer washes.
- Drip dry for a minute as you get out of the shower or bath. A less soggy towel means less laundry – which means less water, less energy and fewer micro-plastics.
- Wear natural fibres. Wool, cotton and silk are breathable, meaning they stay fresher for longer so need laundering less often.
- Switch to the pet food of the future. There’s a growing range of insect-based pet foods for cats and dogs that offer high protein without the carbon footprint.
- Choose organic. Even if it’s just once in a while (and if you can afford it), supporting organic farms helps prevent pollution and lower carbon emissions.
- Rescue restaurant waste. Apps like TooGoodToGo offer the chance to buy discounted fresh food from restaurants and other food retailers that would otherwise go to waste.
Batch cook. It doesn’t just make life easier when you finish work late on a busy Monday night, it also prevents food waste and reduces the energy needed to cook meals.
- Try passive cooking. Turn off your hob or oven a few minutes before you normally would, and let the residual heat cook your food. Perfect for cooking veg and even pasta – and estimated to cut costs by as much as 80%
- Choose unusual veg varieties. The more different crops farmers grow, the better – which means all of us eating more varied fruit and veg. But remember, local is always better. Boysenberry, anyone?
- Learn to pickle. Avoid chucking out leftover cabbages, carrots and cucumbers – you name it, you can probably pickle it.
- Grow your own herbs. It saves the cost of buying limp, short-lived bunches of basil, while cutting out the plastic and air miles.
- Use your nose. The sniff test is the best way to know whether your food is fresh or not. Many UK retailers have scrapped ‘use by’ dates on food products because they can cause needless food waste, and you can take ‘best before’ dates with a pinch of salt.
- Go loose leaf. Teabags require more processing, and many contain plastic.
- Turn your fridge down. Many are set to 7℃, but adjust it to 5℃ or less to keep your food fresher for longer.
- Don’t leave your fridge empty. Aim to keep it about two-thirds full, so it can operate most efficiently.
- Buy refillable beauty products. Toiletries and make up used to rely on single use plastic packaging, but many brands are now offering refill options.
- Opt for mineral sunscreen. Standard sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene that can be harmful to coral reefs and other marine life.
- Go organic in the bathroom. Just as food grown organically is better for the environment, so too are the ingredients in our toiletries.
- Let your lawn grow. Given the chance to run a bit wild, lawns can become home to a range of native plants and flowers that support insect life.
- Harvest your rainwater. That could involve investing in a fancy tank – or simply leaving a bucket outside and using the water it collects to water your plants.
- Get composting. Even if you don’t have outside space, you can still buy or build a small compost bin to turn food scraps into nutrient rich compost for your plants.
- Feed the birds and offer them a bath. Particularly in built up areas, birds may struggle to find food and fresh water for bathing. Your garden can be a sanctuary.
- Buy from certified B Corporations. These are businesses that have met rigorous standards for their social and environmental impact.
- Divest your pension. Many pension pots fund fossil fuels, so chat to your pension provider or HR department about how your pension is invested and what your sustainable options are.
- Ask questions. Challenge the brands you’re buying from – how did they source their materials or ingredients? If they claim a product is sustainable – how? This shows companies what matters to their customers, and tells them they need to do more.
- Consider changing your will. This sounds morbid, but bear with us. Traditional burial methods harm the Earth, whereas new environmentally-considerate ones – like composting or mushroom burials – protect it.
- Don’t scroll past that petition. Demanding better from government and corporations is the surest way to make rapid change happen, and anyone can add their voice.
- Follow young climate and indigenous activists on social media, and share their messages. Here are five to start with.
- Learn what the different recycling symbols mean, and use the right bin. (Hint: the arrow-triangle doesn’t always mean it goes in your home recycling).
- Don’t believe the hype. Learn the greenwashing buzzwords that brands use to gloss over their questionable practices, so you can avoid getting hoodwinked into buying harmful products.
- Fight the impulse buy. If you’re an impulsive shopper, try the ‘24 hour rule’: wait 24 hours after seeing something you want to buy, then decide if you can’t live without it.
Words: Becca Warner
Illustrations: Lauren Morsley