The Lazy Individual’s Guide to Reducing Your Environmental Impact

lazybear

Want to reduce your impact, but don’t have time to research everything you buy and everything you do?

So focus on the things that will make the most difference.

Eating

Eat as little meat as you can, and minimise food waste.

The crimes of the meat industry are too long to list here, but the reason it’s so destructive is because it involves the lot: huge greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water use and pollution. A UN report described the overall environmental impact of livestock activity as ‘enormous,’ and that’s before we even get on to animal welfare issues, the health impacts of eating meat, antibiotic resistance, or the small problem of how we’re going to feed everyone  if we continue to consume meat as much as we do. Meat production is so inefficient, it takes more calories to produce than it adds to the food system.

As for food waste, remember that whenever we throw food away, we waste all the water and greenhouse gas emissions that went in to producing it. So, for the UK (where 25% of all food bought by households is wasted) that amounts to 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year. So, do the planet a favour and don’t buy more food than you can eat.

What you can’t do: save the planet by worrying about the source of everything you buy.

Shopping

Minimise the amount of new stuff you buy, especially fashion, electronic gadgets, tat, or anything you don’t expect to use that much. Remember that most of the environmental impact of the stuff we buy happens before it reaches the store, and anything meant to be used for a short time then thrown away, is a crap design.

What you can’t do: heal the world by doing the recycling alone.

Decarbonising 

Use a clean energy supplier for your home, and get real about flying and driving.

No-one needs to use a dirty energy supplier. While many people have difficulty getting by without a car, or giving up meat, changing your energy supplier makes no difference to your lifestyle whatsoever and could even save you money. So what are you waiting for? And if you’ve done that, make sure your money is not invested in fossil fuels.

And yes, it’s magical thinking to imagine we can heal the planet without reducing the distances we travel by carbon-powered transport. Deep down we all know this.

What you can’t do: halt global warming by switching off all the lights and ensuring you don’t overcharge your phone.

 

 

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Please Stop Giving Me Stuff

Santa Landfill

I like to live free from an excess of Stuff. I’m supposed to grateful to receive things, I know. But I don’t like the way stuff clutters up the space. I’m disturbed by the impacts of manic consumption on people and planet. I live a full life and don’t have time to find new homes for things I don’t need and didn’t ask for. I can’t bear waste.

We urgently need to drop the collective delusion that the giving and acquiring of things, especially new things, is always good. Every unwanted or barely used gift, every piece of Christmas tat, is a theft of resources from future generations and an abuse of people today who experience the effects of environmental degradation more directly than we do. Our hyper consumption can be seen as an act of violence – against ourselves, against the people who make our junk for us, and to the children of today who will grow up to live with the mess we make.

Like most people who live in the global north, I have everything I need and much more besides. More is just burdensome.

Zero Waste Sunscreen

So the number one rule here is to put your health first. There are homemade sun lotion recipes circulating the internet, but personally I wouldn’t try anything experimental without running it past a pharmacist first to check it will actually protect you against sunburn and skin cancer. Anyway, if you live in the UK, how much sun lotion-related waste are you going to produce? I’m guessing not enough to break the planet.

Many people are concerned that the ingredients in conventional sun lotions are harmful. I’m not qualified to comment on that, but the products listed here are made from a small number of recognisable ingredients.

Lush ‘The Sunblock’ Solid Sunscreen Wash

This wins five gold stars for being packaged in biodegradable cellophane. It can be applied in the shower or directly onto the skin.

It’s certainly a very effective sunblock. I have fair white skin that burns easily, and I wore this for sunbathing in hot sun without a problem. It loses points though, on price – it works out around £3 per full-body application.

Note: it melts in warm temperatures! So store it in a liquid-proof container.

Lush Sunscreen in Recycled Plastic Bottles

Lush do Sesame Suntan Lotion, (SPF 10) which also functions as a bronzer, and Powdered Sunshine (SP15). I haven’t tried either of these, but the powder looks fun.

Sunscreens In Tins

There are several brands of sunscreen available plastic-free in small tins. I am not 100% certain that aluminium tins are better for the environment than a plastic bottle (especially recycled plastic) – but the empty ones could easily be reused for something, and as Shade point out on their website, it is easier to use all up all the product from the bottom of a tin.  These brands also suit people who like their ingredients list simple.

Shade All-Natural Sunscreen is tested to EU standards and contains only 4 ingredients. If you buy directly from the manufacturer they promise to post it in cardboard with biodegradable filling. Their website is also a great resource on sun safety. There’s also All Good Sunscreen Butter which is available at SPF 50. Shea Alchemy Suncream SPF 15 Sun Block is one I’ve used personally, so I can tell you that this is a very effective sunblock, although a bit sticky on application.

Conventional Sun Lotion

If none of the above suits, we won’t judge you if you go for this. Just buy only what you need (beware those 3 for the price of 2 offers) and send the empty bottles to be recycled.

Zero Waste Teeth


The first toothbrush you ever had still exists somewhere in landfill, and will still be there when your great-great-grandchildren are teething.

You probably want to see an end to this. In which case, you have three options:

1. Get yourself a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, of which there are many different brands. There is a bamboo brush for every mouth, but my personal favourite is Humble Brush. As well as being good to use, it’s available in adult and child sizes and comes in a compostable wrapper and a box made from recycled cardboard.  It’s available in some branches of Waitrose or Holland and Barratt, or order online.

Otherwise, there are many types of bamboo toothbrushes on the market –  google is your friend here. (Just be wary of brands claiming their bristles are biodegradable).

(Two things to note: the toothbrush won’t decompose if it’s put in the general waste bin. It should go to the compost pile or food waste collection, if it is ever to be returned to Mother Earth. Also, make sure you rinse and dry it when you’ve finished using it. A wet bamboo brush will do what it is designed to do, which is, to rot.)

2. If a biodegradable toothbrush doesn’t suit,  a conventional toothbrush with a replaceable head will still go a long way to reducing waste. Source make theirs from recycled materials, or Yaweco  do them for a lower price. Both of these are available in health food stores or online.

3. If neither of those suit, there’s always Preserve toothbrushes made from recycled yoghurt pots. You can even send your used toothbrushes back to the company in the US for closed loop recycling.

Toothpaste

Sigh. A tooth-friendly zero waste solution to the problem of toothpaste tubes still eludes me. There are a number of ideas popular with zero wasters, such as toothpaste in glass jars or recipes made with bicarbonate of soda. However I’m not sure these are good for your teeth – many of these don’t contain fluoride, and my dentist warns against brushing your teeth with bicarb on a regular basis. Personally I’m not willing to risk tooth decay in order to prevent a relatively small amount of waste.

Dental Floss

First, is it worth bothering about such a tiddly piece of waste?

Some people worry about animals or birds being strangled by waste pieces of floss (although I’m not sure how likely this is to happen if you dispose of it properly in a bin). You might also want to find a zero waste alternative if you’ve given up your waste bin and have no wish to hang on to pieces of used floss in your landfill container. Or maybe zero wasters are just perfectionists.

Whatever your reason, here are your options:

Another, more stylish option is Dental Lace, refillable capsules containing silk floss coated in vegetable-based wax. The packaging is designed to look good if you are carrying it with you.

For vegans, EcoDent  do standard floss in cardboard packaging, which can at least be recycled.

For interdental brushes, your plastic-free option are these by Dent-O-Care.

Otherwise, if sourcing zero waste floss seems like too much hassle, don’t worry. It’s just dental floss.

10 Easy Ways to Dramatically Slim Your Bin

Depressed by how much you throw away? Follow these 10 steps to shed unsightly waste.


  1. Ditch the paper towel habit

Nothing fills your bin faster than cleaning up with paper towels. Forests were cut down for this, and quitting is easy. Cloths, rags or reusable kitchen roll will do the job and they don’t have to be re-bought and schlepped home from the supermarket every week.

For a super skinny bin: Swap paper tissues for hankies (or, kindest on the nose, old t-shirts cut up into squares) and exchange your foam washing-up sponge for a reusable unsponge or biodegradable one.

2. Boycott superfluous sachets

Porridge in single-use pots, coffee pods, cubes of washing powder in individual plastic packets…..have these people never heard of spoons? And the cost! A recent survey* found that porridge oats in superfluous sachets costs between 4 and 10 times the price of the same bought loose or in a simple recyclable cardboard box. Someone is having a laugh. Let us reclaim our right to decide our own portion sizes.

3. Wash with……soap and water

Wet wipes can be really useful when outdooors without easy access to running water. When indoors, however, their utility is less clear. Packets of these things also take up storage space and have to be continually re-bought. If you use wipes to remove make up, using coconut oil and a washcloth will leave your skin feeling soft and lovely and also save you cash. If you use wipes to clean the house, a rag or a cloth with the eco-friendly cleaner of your choice will do the job, and costs less. Single-use baby wipes can be replaced with reusable ones  or use cut up towels (wet them before you leave the house and carry in a waterproof bag).

We are SO lucky to have easy access to clean water – let’s use it.

For a super skinny bin: You can also swap cotton wool pads for reusables and plastic cotton wool buds for biodegradable ones.

4. Get your milk and juice delivered

Rinse and return. It’s the zero waster’s dream. See that mountain of plastic cartons disappear from your life, and you don’t even have to wash the bottles yourself. If it comes in an electric van, even better.

These people do cow’s milk and a range of fruit juices in returnable bottles, or see what’s available local to you.

There’s also this map of places where you can get milk directly from farmers, many of which will allow you to refill your own bottles.

5. Beware the fruit and veg danger zone 

The fruit and veg aisle of your local supermarket is nothing less than waste central. Multipacks containing more than we can eat, all wrapped in voluminous plastic. Pointless stickers and, as you’ve probably heard by now,  mountains of fruit and veg are thrown away for failing to pass a beauty contest.

Enough is enough. The fightback against food waste and fruit fascism starts here.

1. Buy only what your household will eat. 2. Buy fruit and veg loose in your own reusable produce bags. 3. Learn to love fruit and veg in weird shapes, and support shops that sell them (which includes some supermarkets). 4. Remember that ready-chopped fruit in plastic tubs with plastic single-use cutlery is an enviro-crime. Refuse to be complicit.

6. Pay attention to the packaging, before you buy

As Bea Johnson puts it, paying for ‘disposable’ packaging is just investing in landfill – all we are really doing is buying poor quality bags and containers over and over again, and paying to have them all sent to landfill over and over again. Remember that plastic is rubbish, and ‘not currently recyclable’ should more accurately read ‘destined for landfill.’

For a super-skinny bin: See if there is anywhere local to you where you can take your own bags and buy goods loose.

7. Say goodbye to tampons

It’s not just the waste, but the carbon footprint of all that cotton.  And why continue to buy them and throw them away,  buy and throw away,  for years, when a menstrual cup can be bought just once and will save you £££s?  According to Mooncup, it pays for itself in 6-8 months. Available in pretty designs, what’s not to love about it?  And reusable pads are available everywhere.

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8. Detergent Refills

See what’s available in your local health food store. If you shop in a major town, there will be somewhere that offers refills of washing-up liquid, laundry liquid and fabric conditioner.  Or order refills online via Splosh.

For a super-skinny bin: Keep an eye out for places that refill other products, such as wine, olive oil and shampoo.

9. Just say no to crap

Don’t allow rubbish into your world in the first place. You are worth more than this. Leaflets and brochures you know you’ll never read, novelty pens, ugly merchandise you only accepted because it was free, the cheap-but-not-designed-to-last fashion accessory – our earth is being polluted and factory workers exploited so we can fill our lives with junk. Just say no.

10. Use the bin as a last resort

Only throw away what cannot be reused, donated, recycled or composted. And remember, recycling is for life, not just when you happen to be in the kitchen. So keep recycling bins in every place you currently have a waste bin (including at work). Eventually you will free your space of waste bins altogether.

* I made notes as I was going round the shops: 20p for 100g loose oats in my own bag from the health food store, 22p for the same in a recyclable cardboard box from the supermarket, 74.7p in non-recyclable sachets, and a full £1.91 for 100g porridge in a carton designed to be used once then sent to landfill.

About My Rubbish

IMG_1733.JPGSo I haven’t had a waste bin for nearly two years. This is easier than you think. I do this by cutting out single-use disposables, packaging, plastics, and by refusing to allow rubbish into my life in the first place.

Anything that can’t be reused, recycled or composted I keep in my landfill tin to keep track of it. This I empty every few months. It mostly contains fruit stickers, non-compostable cellophane wrapping,  chocolate wrappers and those little clear plastic seals from jars. Currently it also has a mascara wand and some out of date medicine.

I should say that I don’t include absolutely every last piece of waste in the tin. I don’t save every non-biodegradable teabag from social visits, for example.  I also made the decision not to include larger stuff that breaks and can’t be repaired, mainly because it’s just too annoying to keep those bits around the place. I don’t want broken umbrellas and knackered bike parts cluttering up my cupboards. There are good people in the world working towards a circular economy, but until then, the tidiest place for these rejects from the linear one is in the landfill.

Although it’s fashionable in zero waste circles to store one’s rubbish in a large kilner-style jar, I have resisted the temptation to buy something shiny and new. It feels more in keeping with the spirit of zero waste to repurpose this quite charming hot chocolate tin, and anyway, it’s refuse – it doesn’t require glamour.