Charlotte Willis shares 10 ways to live a more sustainable existence in addition to being vegan.
Sustainability: the latest buzzword to land in an earth-shattering fashion upon the ethical and conscious consumer’s radar. Our 10 steps to sustainability make living harmoniously within our environment a breeze (no energy-efficient light bulbs included!)
1. Vegan is not enough
We’ve never been more mindful and aware of our potentially harmful impacts upon the environment. Exposés, including The True Cost and Cowspiracy, uncover the hidden damage of our ‘I want it all, and I want it now’ mentalities. Images of floating plastic islands filling our oceans pop up on social media feeds. With the negative impacts on our ecosystem mounting, as we use and abuse our planet to a greater extent each day, is there anything more that we can be doing to reverse and amend our detrimental ways?
Veganism is a wonderful, ethical and mindful lifestyle choice. A diet so in tune with nature, you’d be hard pressed to find a more environmentally sound way of eating. With a list of global benefits as long as your arm, one may argue that adopting a plant-based diet is sufficient to ensure you are doing your part in the fight for better environmental health. But there is a definite need for all of us to go further, to step up our game, become more conscious consumers and take responsibility for the very planet we share.
2. Recycle smarter
You’ve become accustomed to recycling paper and cardboard, newspapers and magazines (indeed, perhaps the one in your hands is included!), but when it comes to other, less commonly collected materials, such as electrical devices, old household furniture, knick-knacks and clothes, you may well be lagging behind.
Globally, we waste 9.8 million tonnes of household furniture every year. Electrical waste (known as e-waste) tops the wastage charts with a whopping 49.8 million tonnes of old phones, fridges and appliances being discarded each year, a figure expected to rise annually by 5% should current habits continue.
As a consumer, it is our responsibility to recycle smarter. Your best option is to send your old electrical goods for a thorough breakdown. Opt to use responsible, e-waste disposal companies such as envirowaste.co.uk to ensure your goods are processed correctly. Old furniture can often be upcycled and reinvented with a sanding down or a fresh lick of paint. However, if you are parting ways with the item, be sure to donate and re-sell wherever possible.
3. Stop buying fast fashion
I don’t know about you, but I despair when I see items of clothing on sale for as little as £5. Just take a second to consider the processes that go into the creation of your £3 T-shirt. The cotton seed has to be sewn into the ground, watered, harvested, transported and processed before skilled workers cut, sew, dye and embellish the garment in factories, from where the items are transported to the UK. How can all of these complex processes result in an item that can be bought for £3, all while making a profit? There has to be compromise.
Fashion is the third most environmentally polluting industry, only trumped by the oil industry and animal agriculture. GM cotton growth is responsible for a quarter of our total insecticide use, with tonnes of polluted chemicals from detergents, dyes and bleaches running into our rivers and destroying our ecosystems every day. Not to mention our obsession with trend-seeking, which sees the average consumer waste 82 pounds of clothes per year.
In order to prevent such gross wastage, we must make conscious purchasing decisions. Before you decide to buy, think to yourself do I really need this? How durable is the fabric? How much use will I get out of this? Be wary of fast fashion outlets with prices too good to be true, instead focus on purchasing quality items from responsible retailers (a full list can be found at Greenpeace) and be sure to donate old garments.
4. Buy organic
Buying organic is a great way to increase your nutrient intake and ensure your foods are as sustainably grown as possible. Chemical residue and run-off from conventional farming can bio-accumulate in the ecosystem for decades. Choosing to buy organic produce reduces your exposure to chemicals and pesticides, but also reduces the amount of chemical run-off polluting the surrounding waterways and farmland.
Organically grown produce also prevents soil erosion from intensive farming, and allows healthy soil bacteria to establish, benefiting consumer and farmer in equal measure. Organic food can also be affordable if you approach sourcing it in the right way. Look for veg boxes, such as those sold by Wholegood and Riverford, who often have discounted prices for the first few orders. For dried goods, buy online and in bulk, to get the best prices.
5. Say no to palm oil
Palm oil is one of the most common ingredients in processed products such as cakes, peanut butters, spreads and confectionery. However, the palm oil industry’s practices are damaging to the ecosystem and communities that become involved in harmful, exploitative practices.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equivalent to 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This devastates the habitats of endangered species, such as orangutans and wild birds, who become vulnerable to wildlife smuggling practices. Employees are liable to exploitation and communities are forced into degrading and poor working conditions. Omitting palm oil from your diet is the most proactive way to prevent further damage.
6. Buy or make eco-friendly cleaning products
Switching to non-toxic, biodegradable and reduced-chemical cleaning products helps clean up your environmental act. Eco-cleaning products including Waitrose’s Eco-Logical range, Faith in Nature, Dr Bronner and Bio-D will prevent toxic bio-accumulation of harsh chemicals such as bleaches, ammonia, solvents, petroleum-based chemicals and artificial fragrances.
Conventional cleaning products may also contain ingredients tested on animals. You can create your own cleaning products using essential oils, vinegars, natural ingredients and baking soda. Fantastic recipes can be found at naturallysavvy.com.
7. Eat locally. Eat seasonally.
While I love to go supermarket shopping for all sorts of exciting, foreign and unusual foods all year round, I often stop myself indulging in favour of more seasonal produce. The problem with buying ingredients sourced from all over the world is the amount of air miles that come with them.
Try to limit your consumption of imported fruits, vegetables and staple foods in favour of locally grown produce. By choosing to buy local, you’ll also help sustain communities and farmers in your area, helping them secure the best possible price for their produce. Even if you begin by limiting one or two items from your shop, every little substitute will help aid your transition towards sustainable shopping.
8. Ditch the car
Believe it or not, car use in the UK is falling year upon year. An increasing proportion of commuters are opting to cycle, walk, catch the bus, tube or train to work and school, as opposed to commuting by car. You might even find yourself saving money in the long run, while the additional exercise, or much-needed time to yourself, allows for personal growth and additional head-space before your day at work. If commuting by car is your only option, choose to drive slower and with inflated car tyres to help conserve fuel.
9. Give personal care a greener perspective
By switching your personal care products to more natural, chemical-free alternatives, you’ll reduce the number of man-made chemicals that are emitted into the environment via the drain. What’s more, making your own personal products, such as facial oils and body washes, will help you control any potential skin allergies and ensure your products are 100% naturally derived, without the use of artificial chemicals and perfumes. Some brilliant recipes for you to get creative with can be found at dontmesswithmama.com.
10. Refuse single-use goods
The war on single-use plastic straws has officially been won. We now turn our attention towards single-use goods of all shapes and sizes. Reusable coffee cups should replace your paper cups with ease, water flasks are a fashionable and practical alternative to single-use plastic bottles and Tupperware can replace plastic take away boxes. When eating out, refuse napkins and take your own to-go box just in case.
Replace your disposable razor and toothbrush with a bamboo alternative, ditch the kitchen roll from your kitchen and go paperless with your bills. Why not choose to shop at one of the UK’s waste-free supermarkets? Take your own containers along to the store, fill them up with all sorts of delicious goods and simply pay by weight.
Charlotte is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with the Vegan Society and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise and interest include vegan nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness. She is currently researching and studying the various links between food and psychological health while pursuing a doctorate degree in counselling.