It’s becoming more and more obvious that we need to change the way we do things if we want our planet to stay healthy. So here are eight easy ways to be more eco-friendly.
If you’ve been reading or watching the news, you’ve probably been seeing some unsettling things of late. The COVID-19 pandemic may have thrown our world into chaos, but nature seems to be healing in our absence. And no wonder, because whether through nuclear war, over-exploitation of natural resources or just sheer negligence, we humans seem hell-bent on pushing our planet over the edge. And the most depressing thing is that we’re all part of the problem.
But to paraphrase Al Gore in his eye-opening 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, there’s no point going straight from denial to despair without doing anything about it. I’m not sure about nuclear war, but we can definitely do small but significant things to help protect the environment on which we—no matter how much we deny it—depend. After all, if we’re all part of the problem, we can also all be part of the solution.
Most of us have probably encountered people who’ve said, “What’s the point in doing anything? What difference can I make, anyway?” We’ve probably even thought that ourselves. But, to counter a question with another one, “If I don’t do it, who will?” If all of us do our own little bit, then it adds up. And every little bit—every little bit—helps.
So here are some easy ways to be more eco-friendly that each one of us can incorporate into our lives and do our own little bit for our planet.
Also read: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller
1. Turn off a few lights
When you’re at home, save electricity by turning off a few lights here and there, especially in those empty rooms.
Most of the electricity across the world today is produced by large-scale thermal power plants that burn fossil fuels and pour countless tons of carbon-dioxide (CO2) into the air. And while the debate on man-made climate change still rages (though the number of climate scientists arguing against mankind’s role in global warming is tiny), the fact is that the correlation between rising CO2 levels in the air and rising average global temperatures is pretty solid.
I’ll be the first one to admit, though, that reducing electricity consumption doesn’t necessarily directly affect how much is produced. After all, thermal power plants produce a set amount of electricity depending on average demand, regardless of how much is consumed. But reduce the average demand, and the amount of electricity produced is lowered, saving thousands of tons of CO2.
So turn off a few lights at home, help bring down your area’s average demand for electricity, and you can eventually reduce the amount of CO2 going into the air.
2. Drive a little less
Whenever you can, share a ride, use public transport, travel by bike instead of by car, and walk if it’s close enough.
Vehicles are one of the top man-made sources of CO2, and a major contributor to global warming. The millions of cars crawling along our cities’ roads each day dump thousands of tons of CO2—along with lots of hazardous gases and particles—into the air. So, if even four people carpool on their way to work, that means keeping three cars off the road—and their emissions out of the air. And if we all walked a few kilometres each day instead of driving, not only would we not cause any vehicle emissions at all during that time, but we would be healthier. Everybody wins!
3. Use a little less plastic
Try and drink regular purified water instead of bottled water, buy food and drinks in glass or paper containers, and take your own bags to the corner shop.
The good thing about plastic is that it’s cheap, durable and extremely versatile. The bad thing about plastic is also that it’s cheap, durable and extremely versatile. Because it’s so versatile, we see plastic pretty much everywhere we look. Because it’s so cheap, we can make pretty much as much as we want. And because it’s so durable, it just doesn’t go away.
A recent report says that we produce the total weight of the human population in plastic products every year, most of which isn’t recycled but just thrown away. Another report says that we have produced around nine billion tons of plastic since 1950. That means that plastic weighing the same as tens of billions of human beings is just sitting around in dump yards and landfills, and finding its way into the deep oceans, dense jungles and towering mountains of the world. From there, it is finding its way into the stomachs of fish, animals and birds, and—finally—into ours. Plastic and its accompanying toxins are invading every corner of our world, and causing levels of damage that we haven’t even begun to understand.
So avoid those disposable plastic bottles, use your own takeaway containers, and carry your own grocery bag.
4. Use a little less paper
Whenever you can, take fewer printouts (or print on both sides). Use ceramic mugs instead of paper cups. And take notes on your phone instead of using a notebook.
We’ve all heard about how we should save trees by saving paper, but most of us don’t really know why. Almost 20% of the trees that are cut down to make paper come from virgin forests instead of tree plantations. These virgin forests absorb CO2, promote rainfall and provide a habitat for millions of birds, animals and insects. And they’re being cut down to feed the world’s increasing need for paper. Forests also hold the fertile topsoil in place and keep it from being washed away. Put simply, less forest means more global warming, less rainfall, faster extinction, and more barren land.
Besides, the paper production process is notoriously polluting. It releases toxic chemicals into the air, water and land. Transporting the trees and turning them into paper also uses a lot of energy, pumping more CO2 into the air and contributing to global warming. And lastly, paper isn’t as biodegradable as we might think. During a study by the University of Arizona, newspapers from nearly 50 years ago were found in a landfill, still completely legible.
So think twice before you print something out or before you use a paper cup for your coffee.
5. Use a little less water
Try and make your shower a few minutes shorter. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. And fill your bathtub a little less.
Most of us take fresh water for granted. What we don’t realize is that it takes enormous amounts of energy to purify it and transport it from its source to where we are. All that energy means—you guessed it— CO2 going into the atmosphere, which means more global warming.
Besides that, usable water is becoming more scarce in many parts of the world, and governments are dealing with that scarcity in ways that often harm the environment. Like building dams that submerge vulnerable ecosystems, and creating desalination plants that dump concentrated salt sludge back into the ocean, making the water in the vicinity too salty for marine life to survive.
So take quicker showers, turn off the water whenever you can, and fix that leaky tap. And think about installing a rainwater harvesting system, if you can.
6. Eat a little less meat
Once in a while, skip the steak in favour of the potatoes, and the Sunday roast altogether.
There is a growing realization that the meat industry is a major contributor to global warming. This isn’t just because of the clearing of forests to create pastures (and grow food) for the animals, but also because of the methane produced by the animals during digestion. And methane seems to be a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. That means even a small amount of methane can have a much more significant global warming effect than a much larger amount of CO2. So, any reduction in the production of meat can have an immediate effect in reducing global warming.
Aside: A large percentage of the land currently under cultivation is used to grow food for livestock. Imagine if that land were used to grow food for people instead!
So see if you can eat meat one less meal a day, and one less day a week. Our planet will thank you for it!
Also read: Ten tips on giving up meat, from a former carnivore
7. Reuse a few clothes
Think about turning old clothes into something else, giving them away, or just using them as dusters. And say no to disposable fashion.
Like everything else, manufacturing clothes takes energy (and water—see PDF) and produces climate-changing CO2, so the fewer we use, the less CO2 is dumped into the air. I’m not suggesting we try and do without! I’m just saying that, by thinking of ways to reuse them, we reduce the overall need to produce more.
In case you haven’t heard, ‘disposable fashion’ is becoming more popular. These are clothes that are specifically made to be worn only a few times before being thrown away! This is an incredibly wasteful use of the resources that went into making the clothes. Not just that, it creates demand for new ones (which is probably what the producers want), using up even more resources. And lastly, it puts extra pressure on waste management systems.
So before you throw away those old clothes you’re tired of, think. Think about giving them to someone who needs them. Think about reusing them around the house. Or just cut them into dusters.
8. Use a little less, waste a little less
Our way of life today involves a whole lot of environmental and ethical trade-offs. For example, you can save paper by taking notes on your smartphone instead of a paper note pad. But what about the electricity it uses? Or you can install solar panels on your roof to save electricity. But what about the energy that went into manufacturing them?
We will always be faced with these conflicts until we, as a species, can figure out a way to live that doesn’t cannibalize the earth that we depend on. But until then, the best each of us can do is do what we can, when we can; be mindful of the choices we make and their consequences; and use a little less—and waste a little less—of everything.
If we set an example, we might just be able to get more people to do a little more for the environment. And then we might just be able to save the world!
Also read: 21 simple tips to be a responsible traveller
Sustainable products we’ve used and liked
If you’ve read this post about easy ways to be more eco-friendly until here, you probably want to live more sustainably. Here’s some stuff that we’ve been using in our own journey to be more environment friendly. These aren’t affiliate links, and I won’t get paid anything if you buy something from them. They’re here because we really like them, and that’s it.
(Please note that most of these are made by small setups that might not be able to take orders because of the COVID-19 situation.)
- Bamboo toothbrushes by Terra: They have fully biodegradable bamboo handles, and partially biodegradable nylon bristles (I haven’t been able to find good ones with fully biodegradable bristles yet). I’ve tried their tooth powder, too, but it makes my mouth sensitive, so I don’t use it.
- Beeswax food wraps by Hoopoe on a Hill: These washable and reusable beeswax-coated cotton wraps are a great way to keep food fresh without using clingwrap (though they’re not as ‘clingy’).
- Sustainable sanitary pads by Carmesi: These pads incorporate bamboo fibre and corn starch, are packaged in paper, and come with fully biodegradable disposal pouches.
- Plastic-free soaps by Bare Necessities: These hand-made soaps are made with traditional, organic, local ingredients, and are packaged in eco-friendly and recyclable paper. They lather better than other soaps, so you don’t need to use as much of them as you would otherwise. And because they don’t contain any artificial preservatives, each soap is made-to-order.
- Plastic-free ayurvedic soaps by Looms and Weaves: These surprisingly economical soaps are plastic-free and hand-made with coconut oil and traditional ayurvedic ingredients. And they take the eco-friendliness one step further by coming in natural areca leaf boxes.
- Plastic-free shampoo bars by Earth Rhythm: These long-lasting, solid shampoo bars come without any plastic packaging. And if you travel regularly, you can even carry them in your cabin baggage. Our favourites are the anti-dandruff and silk protein bars.
- Colgate tooth powder: This is an alternative to the plastic tubes of tooth paste that are everywhere nowadays. Granted, there’s still some plastic on there, but at least it’s not all plastic. And you can carry it in your cabin baggage while travelling, if you like. But the quest for plastic-free oral hygiene continues.
Great post, Irfan. All your suggestions are really doable for anyone wanting to start switching their habits/role in it all. (Thank you so much for the list of sustainable products you recommend!) Some of the issues or problems you are responding to are going to be tough to roll back (such as the meat industry/consumption’s impact on the planet). It takes some solid campaigning – but your post is undoubtedly a *very nice* piece in that larger campaign!
Thanks so much! My objective was actually to highlight how much of an impact we can have, if lots of us just decide to make small changes in our lifestyles.
These are great tips. I will try to use them more in the future.
Thanks so much! I’m glad you think they’re useful 😊
Great post, Irfan. I might actually check out those shampoo bars. With regards to the recommendations, I think we are already following them, even though still lots of room for improvement. Oh.. and the rubbish in the streets in Thimphu, I remember we talked about them. Seems like Bhutan has made a fair bit of progress since your last visit. We found everything to be very clean. 🙂
Thanks, Stefan! I’m not sure if these small setups ship internationally, but there’s no harm in asking. About the everyday eco-friendly actions I’ve written about, we’ll always have room for improvement. I guess the trick is to start small and keep going. And that’s great news about Thimphu! So happy to hear that they’ve cleaned up (pun intended) their act there!
Great list of easy practical things we can do every day
Thanks, Karen! I seriously think each of us doing little things all adds up in the end 😊