Say no to newness
Even if you go out of your way to source the most ethical, eco-friendly products possible, the mantra of “make do and mend” is usually better than “buy, buy, buy”. Take your trusty pair of jeans, for example: the environmental impact of the mainstream denim industry is huge, with every pair producing the CO2 equivalent of driving a car for 50 miles. This means keep wearing your old faithfuls until they’re fashionably threadbare, get into vintage and charity shop shopping and, if you must go new, do it mindfully: walking to the shops beats buying – and returning – online impulse purchases.
Think outside the compost box
Did you know you can compost hair caught in your hairbrush, that weird dust from behind your fridge (it’s mostly organic matter) and burnt out matches? Also: popcorn, old spices, and used paper towels (which are forbidden from entering your paper recycling). You can even compost paper and Post-it notes – the glue is non-toxic so it naturally biodegrades over time. Conversely, food waste that crops up in the wrong recycling bin can cause the entire load to be rejected, so make sure it’s kept where it belongs.
Be tech savvy
It can take some getting your head around, but even sending an email has a carbon footprint – which is something to think about next time you’re getting your meme on. But since most of us can’t live without being constantly connected, make sure you’re staying charged up in the right way. A solar-powered charger, like the The Freeloader Supercharger 5W, has a small solar panel that gets busy in direct sunlight, then provides power for your smartphone/tablet/camera, or any device that connects with a USB. Easier wins still are energy efficient home tech – from LED lights to “smart appliances”, like fridges that use more or less energy depending on how full they are.
Take a swipe at wet wipes
Wet wipes take more than 100 years to biodegrade, but 3.4bn of them are flushed down the toilet in the UK each year, according to the Earthwatch Institute, and often end up in rivers and the sea. Last year the Marine Conservation Society found an average of 12 wet wipes per 100 metres on UK beaches. It’s time to try eco-friendly alternatives. Cotton pads and washable muslins are the best eco-alternatives for removing makeup, while cotton cloths are excellent for cleaning surfaces. Many new parents balk at giving up baby wipes because: eeeuuuw. Fortunately, sustainable bamboo wipes are now a thing.
Take the aeroplane pledge
I know it, you know it. Flights are the antithesis of environmentally friendly. Yes, even if we’re flying to an eco-lodge in Costa Rica and pay £40 to offset our carbon footprint/guilt. We Brits take 72.8m overseas trips a year, according to the International Passenger Survey, and the Air Transport Action Group says the aviation industry accounts for 12% of all transport-related CO2 emissions in the UK. Instead, take advantage of the other modes of transport at our disposal: we have access to Europe’s extraordinary rail network, we can catch a ferry to Scandinavia and cycle around the Cotswolds. The world is ours! (But not ours to trash.)
Put a jumper on
Turns out, turning down the thermostat isn’t just a classic dad move; it’s one of the easiest things you can do to help the environment. Most of us tend to be heavy-handed with the thermostat, which means wasted energy and a stuffy atmosphere. Set the temperature to 18C, then crank it up to 21C if you’re still cold. Better still, ask your energy supplier for a smart meter. These have an in-home display with near-real-time updates on energy usage so you (and dad) can see how you’re getting on, as well as transmitting that data straight from your home to the energy network. That makes them a crucial component in creating a smarter grid, which can make the best use of sustainable energy sources.
Mind your beeswax
Supermarkets’ love of food packaging may be abating all too slowly, but there are things we can do in our own homes not to add to the waste. Store leftovers in a pot with the lid on, or place them in a ceramic bowl with a plate over the top, and if you really need a clingfilm alternative, try reusable beeswax wraps, which form a breathable layer, so food stays fresh. Just use the heat of your hands to shape the wrap and seal in place, then compost at the end of its life. Simple.
Choose your hobbies wisely
Far be it from us to tell you how to spend your time, but if you *were* picking pastimes based on environmental impact, it’s worth considering that some tread more lightly on the earth than others. Hitting the countryside on foot or bike? Go forth, frolic – enjoy the views and fields of wheat. Strap a set of golf clubs to your back, however, and things become a bit more complicated, what with all the herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides used on greens. Come winter, it’s also worth considering the effects of global warming; shortened seasons mean many resorts depend on snow cannons, which use a huge volume of water to create fake snow. According to Snowmakers.com, it takes 282,392 litres of water to cover 61 square metres with 15cm of snow. Anyone for tennis?
Recycle in the bathroom
Now we’ve more or less mastered kitchen recycling, the bathroom is the next frontier for the future of the planet. According to the latest figures, 30,000 tons of recyclable waste needlessly goes straight from bathroom bins into landfill every year. If all of us in the UK recycled one empty bathroom bottle, we’d save enough energy to vacuum 82,460 homes, according to the national campaign Recycle Now. As well as plastic bottles, we can recycle loo roll tubes, moisturiser jars, single-use contact lens dishes and cardboard toothpaste boxes. And while you’re adding that extra bin to your bathroom, consider your water use: taking shorter showers and turning off the tap while brushing your teeth can all make a difference.
Eat less meat – and talk about it (yes, really)
Cutting out meat and dairy can reduce your carbon footprint from food by 73%, according to a recent study by Oxford University. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” says researcher Joseph Poore from the university. If it feels daunting, start with meatless Mondays, buddy up with a friend, or sign up for support (check out the 30-day Vegan Pledge); the fact is that you’re more likely to make a lifestyle change if you do it in a sociable way and sharing your enthusiasm might inspire your friends and family to follow suit.
We all want to make big changes to help our planet, but sometimes to make big changes, we have to start small. Smart meters can’t solve the climate crisis on their own but with the smarter, more energy efficient grid they help to create, they’re a start. To find out more about installing a smart meter in your home, search “I want a smart meter” or call 0300 131 8000*.
This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB, a government-backed organisation tasked with informing Great Britain about the smart meter rollout.
* Eligibility may vary. Available in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020. Calls to this number from UK landlines and mobiles are charged at the standard rate (i.e. the same as calls to 01 and 02 numbers), and may be included in your usual call allowance. Please check with your provider.
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