The way you live has a profound impact on the environment. It affects the weather, the quality of air you breathe, the survival of plant and animal species, the amount of food there is to eat, and the economy to name a few. June 5 marks World Environment Day, the United Nation’s most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. Here are some small behavioural changes you can adopt to make a big change to reduce your carbon footprint.
Give up single-use plastic straws
This is a simple one and highly effective. Plastic straws have a hugely detrimental effect on the environment, particularly marine life. You use them for 10 or 20 minute and then they remain in the world forever – dumped in landfills or in oceans. If you haven’t already seen the viral – and incredibly traumatic – video of a team of scientists pulling a plastic straw from the nostril of an olive ridley sea turtle, we’ve linked it below.
Reduce your consumption of food and products in plastic packaging
While you’re at it, you might as well be more conscious of all the single-use plastic you purchase. Try minimal waste shopping which means shopping in bulk and bringing your own bottles and jars for grains, legumes and spices – and avoiding pre-cut plastic-packaged food products like the plague. Bring your own shopping bags too, of course. If you forget, try and buy foods packaged in cardboard instead of plastic. When you’re on the go don’t buy bottled water, and bring your own coffee thermos when you buy takeaway coffee at your favourite cafe.
Make your menstruation waste-free
One menstrual pad takes about 500 years to biodegrade. This means your pad will survive on earth longer than you will. Besides that, most menstrual pads – and even tampons – are packaged in plastic which is not ideal. There’s a host of non-disposable options available to cut down on period waste like menstrual cups and even reusable pads.
Recycle where you can
We all know that the earth’s resources are not infinite so we shouldn’t waste them. That being said, recycling can be a bit of a shlep. Try to sort out your trash into: metal, glass, paper, plastic, tetrapaks, and batteries. There are a number of places you can take your recyclables in South Africa. Fruit and vegetable waste, food scraps, and garden waste can be made into compost.
Consider a vegetarian diet or have meat-free Mondays
Cattle farming is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, producing large quantities of methane. The livestock industry is considered responsible for 18% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions – more than all of the world’s non-livestock-related transportation, including all cars, planes, and ships. Livestock also produce masses of fecal waste, which pollutes water supplies, and farming livestock uses a ton of land which contributes to mass deforestation. Eating less meat and animal products could do wonders for the environment.
Be energy – and water – efficient
Small energy and water-saving changes can save you money and precious resources. Turn off the light when you’re not in the room, use natural light whenever possible, and unplug the chargers or appliances when they’re not in use. Where you can, replace energy-inefficient appliances at your house with high-efficiency models and incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Install a solar geyser to provide your hot water.
South Africans (especially Capetonians) know that the drought is real. Save water wherever possible: turn off the water when you’re not using it, take shorter showers, install a water-saving toilet flushing system, reuse shower and bath water, wash your car with a bucket not a hosepipe.
Be conscious of your transportation
Reducing your number of car trips will reduce your fuel costs, wear and tear on your car, and be beneficial for the environment by improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Wherever possible, leave your car at home and walk, bike, or take public transport instead. Carpooling and combining your trips are also a great ideas. If you have the means, buy a fuel-efficient car to replace your most frequently used automobile.
Plant native, drought-resistant trees
Planting trees is a powerful and affordable way to make a personal difference for the environment. Trees build soil and help soak up stormwater before it can create a flood, they offer energy-saving shade that reduces global warming, create a habitat for thousands of species, and help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas. Despite their importance, we’ve chopped down half of all the trees on the planet so far.
If you can’t plant a tree where you live, there many local, national, and international organisations that plant trees that you can plant trees at or donate to.
Spread the word and conscientise the masses
Tell a friend (or ten) about how to be better and live greener, and witness the wave of change.