How to reduce wastage and live a more sustainable life

With constant headlines in the news of toxic air, plastic in our oceans and mass habitat destruction it’s no surprise that more and more people are becoming concerned with their impact on the planet. While it can be easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that individual choices have little chance of effecting any change, even the smallest adjustments to our lifestyles can help. From the food that goes on our plate, to our homes and our travel habits, here we will look at some of the ways that you can lead a more sustainable life, starting today.

1. The three R's

By now the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is well known but what does it actually mean in a practical sense?

The first R for reducing is all about prevention. So many of the items we purchase in our day to day life are surplus to our requirements. How many times have you ordered a small object online and found the amount of packaging to be excessive? While those of us ecologically minded will make an effort to recycle any extra packaging, a great many people will not do so, which only further adds to the problem. It also extends to our own purchasing habits – do you have a regularly rotating wardrobe? Do you buy packaged fruit and vegetables from the supermarket? Buying less or higher quality clothes, loose groceries and cutting down on take-away packaging like coffee are all common ways that you can reduce your waste.

The second R is for reusing. There are a million different ways that you can reuse items that would otherwise go to waste. From using glass jars and egg cartons as storage to using paper waste in a wood burner, there are plenty of ways that you can divert your household waste away from landfill.

The third and final R is for recycling and is self-explanatory – if you can’t avoid it and you can’t find a new use for it then find a new home for it by recycling (or composting) it.

2. Travel

One of the biggest ways that humans damage the environment is through travel, whether that’s travelling to work and back, or travelling abroad for a holiday. Carbon emissions from transport are a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. So, if you’re looking to bring down your carbon footprint then adjusting your travel plans is a good place to start.

Similarly to the three R’s, your goal here is to either avoid, reduce or off-set your carbon footprint. You should look at your common contributors (i.e. driving the car to work) and decide which action you want to take to tackle them.

Let’s begin with avoid – which means avoiding adding to your carbon footprint. Avoid is the most extreme option on the table and it means avoiding the contributing action all together. In a practical sense this could mean giving up on holidays abroad if you have to travel by plane and working from home to cut out the commute. However, this is often easier said than done and while you may love the idea of working from home, your boss may not be so enthusiastic.

A more sensible approach may be to look at ways to reduce and off-set your carbon footprint, rather than avoid adding to it all together. In real life this may mean that you work from home a couple of days a week, take less holidays abroad and perhaps car-share, invest in a hybrid car or ride a push bike to work. If you do holiday abroad then be sure to be respectful of local habitats or nature and investigate ecotourism opportunutues.

3. Reduce your use of plastics

Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s a gigantic stretch of human waste, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, floating between Hawaii and California and made up of fishing nets, plastic containers, chemical sludge and other discarded items. Together with the dumping of waste into our oceans and overfishing, it’s predicted by some experts that we could sea fishless oceans as early as 2048. What’s more, every day marine life such as seabirds, turtles, and other mammals are killed by ingesting harmful plastics or becoming tangled up in waste. If you’re worried about the oceans, then there are lots of practical steps you can take to reduce the amount of disposable plastics you use on a daily basis. Here are just a few:

  • Bring reusable bags when you do your food shop (leave spares in the car so you always have one handy).
  • Bring a material bag with you when you visit a shop or shopping centres.
  • Avoid drinking out of single use plastic straws.
  • Avoid purchasing single use bottles such as for fizy drinks, fruit juice and water.
  • Carry around a refillable bottle or coffer cup.
  • Use matches or Zippos instead of disposable plastic lighters.
  • Don't use disposeable cutlery.
  • Choose reusable snack bags in your children's lunch box.
  • Purchase unwrapping food from supermarkets.
  • Buy products in bulk whatever possible.
  • Write to your online retailers to petition them to use less packaging if you feel they are excessive.

4.Cutting down on food waste

According to some research as much as a third of all food bought in Britain’s High Streets ends up in the bin and together with household food waste we throw away around 6.7 million tonnes of food waste every year in the UK.

Food waste has a serious impact on the environment as much of it ends up in landfill where it decays and creates greenhouse gases like methane, which are connected to climate change. It’s even thought that were we to bring levels of food waste down in the UK it could be as impactful as taking 1 out of every 5 cars in the UK off the road.

To cut down on your food waste, start small. When you visit the supermarket for your weekly shop, be careful not to buy too much food. It’s easier said than done, especially when you see a good offer, but give yourself a fighting chance by doing your shopping on a full stomach. That way you may be more realistic about your needs. When you cook at home, try and control your portions so that you have enough leftover to take to work the next day; you can achieve this by dishing up on smaller plates. Be crafty with storage and make sure that it is stored correctly to allow it to last the right amount of time – take a look at this infographic which outlines the optimum ways to fill your fridge.

5. Change your eating habits

Adjusting your eating habits can also have a profound impact on the environment. While supermarkets are by far the most convenient way to obtain food, they aren’t the most sustainable. It’s fantastic to be able to choose between a variety of worldly produce and exotic fruit and veg but unfortunately the environmental pay off is costly. Transporting fruit and veg from around the world burns a huge amount of fossil fuel energy and leaves a damaging ecological footprint. Instead, you should try and eat local produce, as not only does this reduce your carbon footprint, but it helps to support your local economy and can even have health benefits.

Beyond fruit and veg, there are other habits that you should consider tweaking too. If you are an avid seafood eater, then you might be alarmed to know that according to the UN ¾ of the world’s fisheries are currently depleted. 90-100 million tons of fish are pulled from our oceans every year and for every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species such as seals, dolphins and turtles are caught and discarded as by-kill. You can help change this by supporting sustainable seafood. Always check labels and look for approval from the Marine Stawardship Council (MSC) which sets requirements for sustainability.

By far the biggest impact on the environment comes from animal agriculture, which is the leading source of rainforest destruction, ocean dead zones and carbon emissions. According to UN studies animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the combined exhausts from all transportation (13%). What’s more, half the world's grain, which could go to feeding hungry mouths globally is instead used to feed livestock and 20-33% of all the planet’s fresh water is also consumed by them. Eating less red meat, buying locally and eating organically can all help to cut down on the impact on the planet.

Another ethical headache that you may want to tackle is the use of palm oil. Palm oil is found in a whole range of products from beauty creams and shaving foam to pizzas, crisps and pot noodles. It’s thought that one in ten products on supermarket shelves contains palm oil. But what’s so bad about it? Well, there is heavy evidence that palm oil plays a key role in deforestation and is driving the beloved orangutan to the brink of extinction. Over 98% of palm oil is currently sourced from South East Asia and the trade is therefore having a direct impact on the habitats that orangutans call home in areas like Sumatra and Borneo. If you want to help protect these creatures then simply check the ingredients listed on the back of your products, or do a quick Google search before you buy. Quite often you’ll easily be able to find palm oil free alternatives nearby and make your purchase with a clean conscience.

When doing your shopping always keep an eye out for the Fair Trade certification on products. This mark of approval is a sure way of knowing that products like coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, chocolate and fruit are ethically sourced. The Fair Trade programme has high standards regarding sustainability and makes sure that farmers are paid properly for the goods they produce.

Finally, if you would really like to ensure that your food has a low carbon footprint then consider growing it yourself. Click here to read our free and helpful guide on getting to grips with the basics and learning to grow vegetables all year long.

6. Save energy at home

How green is your home? Saving energy is something that has crept up the priority list for home owners in recent years with a study by The Telegraph confirming that 6 out of 10 people would like to save more energy at home.

As well as saving you plenty of money on bills, taking steps to streamline your energy output can really help to offset some of your other daily activities. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Improve insulation in your attic and walls to keep your home toasty for less.
  • Double glaze windows and apply weather proof seals to lock in heat.
  • Choose energy efficient appliances when making big purchases on things like cookers and washing machines.
  • Unplug appliances when they aren’t in use to save electricity.
  • Replace standard bulbs with CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs) to save up to 400 pounds of greenhouse emissions a year – per bulb!
  • Install a wood burner or multi-fuel stove – a carbon efficient heating source!
  • Make the most of natural light by opening curtains and blinds.
  • Opt for Bamboo flooring or furniture over other types of wood. Bamboo is fast growing and highly sustainable.
  • Compost leftover food to avoid it going to landfill.
  • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth, fix leaks and take brisk showers to reduce your water output.
  • Do you really need to use a tumble dryer? They are among the most energy heavy appliances and sometimes a simple hang dry will suffice.

There we have it! Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought when it comes to leading a more sustainable existence. Often it’s the small things that add up to make the biggest difference, so give some of these things a try and sleep well in the knowledge that you’re helping the planet. Don’t forget to let us know on Facebook or Twitter if you have any of your own tips that you would like to share.