I often hear the argument that living ethically and sustainably is really only achievable if you’ve lots of free time and even more disposable income. I think this is often true, particularly if you’re measuring yourself against the picture-perfect lifestyles depicted on social media, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
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It’s very easy to fall into the trap of travelling miles by car to get package-free goods to display proudly in your shop-bought mason jars or creating tons of packaging and air miles to procure the perfect stainless steel water bottle. We need to be careful to look beyond the aesthetic aspects of sustainable living to the principles that underlie this way of living, which is simply to use less and to use wisely.
Thankfully there are lots of free and easy ways to adjust our daily activities so as to make them more sustainable. Here are a few that ;
- Ditch printed parking tickets and download the Parking Tag app. Tip: switch off the automatic text message alert or you’ll pay an extra 20cent on each ticket.
- Refuse receipts when possible and appropriate.
- Use existing tupperware to buy meat / fish / cheese. You’ll be surprised how many places take it now. Some places will Tare your container (take its weight away from total) while others will just use a plastic bag to weight it and then put it in your container. The second option is not as low-waste as I’d like but you got to work with what you’ve got. I stick the price label on my coat instead of the container because it’s a bugger to get off.
- Buy less meat, either by having one meat-free meal a week or putting less in a recipe. I find cutting meat into smaller pieces than normal makes it go further in things like stir fries. It also means it cooks quicker keeping down energy bills.
- Ask for no-straws when buying drinks in restaurants and bars.
- Message companies to congratulate them on their waste reduction efforts, or with suggestions on how to improve them.
- Switch to the search engine Ecosia; they plant trees with the money they generate from advertising revenue. Tab for a Cause uses the same model to raise funds for social, health and environmental charities around the world, and OCG supports the cleaning of oceans. Other search engines that donate to charities include Benelab and Every Click. There’s also a mobile phone app The Tree App that will plant trees in return for watching some ads, at no cost to you.
- Message public figures and celebrities to suggest that they encourage their followers to reduce their plastic consumption.
- Refuse all free samples, i.e. pens, lollipops, make-up samples. After all who really needs a new pen!
- Borrow books and DVD’s from the library instead of buying. I use the online search tool to find the book I want and order it to my local library. It’s so easy.
- View digital versions of your favourite magazine using your library card number!
- Put a ‘Addressed Post Only’ or ‘No Junk Mail sign’ on your letterbox.
- Switch to digital statements and bills where possible.
- Switch off laptops, tablets and phones when charging. They charge much faster, using less energy.
- Turn off wifi when not in use. Similarly don’t leave appliances on standby when not in use.
- Use ceramic cups in cafes instead of takeaway cups when sitting in.
- Give cash presents instead of gift cards, which are not recyclable.
- Give experiences over physical gifts.
- Offer someone a lift to work if you travel in their direction. You can find people using the sharing platforms getthere.ie, carpool.com or Liftshare.com
- Once a week aim to walk or cycle somewhere instead of driving or using public transport.
- Don’t weed your lawn. Lawns are like deserts for insects so allowing flowering weeds to grow helps bees and insects, which in turn help birds.
- Don’t clear leaves from your flower / veg beds in Autumn. It gives insects protective ground cover over winter.
- Leave one corner of your lawn uncut if possible, it offers good coverage for wildlife and food for insects.
- If you ever need to run a tap, collect the water in a container and use it to water plants or fill the kettle or for cooking.
- Turn your heating thermostat down by 1 degree.
- Next time you need to buy something use the following hierarchy; 1) borrow or reuse something you already have, 2) buy second-hand locally, 3) buy new from a local shop, 3) order from an ethical store abroad.
- Next time you order something online ask for as little plastic packaging as possible.
- Repair clothes and shoes rather than replacing them.
- Donate or sell stuff you don’t need. You can find a list of where to donate / recycle things in Ireland here
- Donate stamps to charities. The following charities take them Barnardos, ISPCC, NCBI, Irish Peatland Conservation Council
- Lend stuff to people. It saves them buying yet another item, which helps the planet.
- And most importantly consume less. You no longer need to feel guilty for sitting still and taking in the world, doing so is actively helping our world because it means for that brief period of time you’re not consuming!