It’s a new year, a new opportunity to be better versions of ourselves. You’ve probably reflected on last year, and made a few resolutions for this year. But, have you included ones that will commit you to reducing your carbon footprint, plastic packaging, fast fashion, air travel… ones that are carbon neutral, litter-free, and regenerative?
To limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels while addressing equity and wellbeing requires individual and systemic change. The sheer magnitude of change required can only be achieved through a combination of system-wide changes and a groundswell of actions from individuals and households, according to the Cambridge Sustainability Commission.
Lifestyles are how we consume, and also how we relate to one another, what kind of neighbours, friends, citizens, and parents we are, what kinds of values we nurture, and how we let those values drive our choices. – 1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards A Fair Consumption Space for All
Sustainable living looks different for everyone. Some people might want to, or already do, live off-grid, grow their own food, build their own homes, while others might choose to buy sustainable eco-certified lifestyle brands, actively recycle and compost their waste, stop taking international flights or have one fewer child. We propose aspiring to a “fair consumption space” which, 1.5 Degree Lifestyles says “recognises the need to simultaneously address both underconsumption, which results in unmet human needs, poor health, and limited freedoms, and overconsumption, which harms planetary systems disproportionally.”
The combined emissions of the richest 1% of the global population account for more than the poorest 50%. – Cambridge Sustainability Commission
In 2020, the average carbon emissions per South African was 7,62 tonnes. WHO reports that global experts call for a target limit of approximately 2 tonnes per person per year. Currently, the global average is 4 tonnes per person, with wide variation between countries. Approximate national average for the United States of America is 20, United Kingdom 9, China 3, and India 1.2. Individual activities are estimated to contribute around 45% of your “footprint”.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. [You can measure your footprint with this footprint calculator.] – Nature
Inside Climate News reports that there are many steps an individual can take to reduce their carbon footprint: eat less beef, switch to a renewable energy source such as installing solar panels, driving less, driving electric or hybrid cars and washing clothes in cold water. “In reference to a carbon footprint study, the actions that caused the biggest reduction in carbon footprint, in order, were having one less child, living car free, taking one less transatlantic flight, buying green energy, and eating a plant-based diet.”
A daunting prospect? It doesn’t have to be if you take a few easy steps. Given the importance of individual and household actions, here are a few ideas for changes you can make to your lifestyle which will go a long way in having a positive impact.
This is where the bulk of domestic activity happens: it is where you cook, generate waste and clean. Considering it’s a high impact area, it’s also a place where much can be done to reduce your carbon footprint. Try these tips:
- Switch to eco-friendly cleaning products. You can source these from your local earth-friendly grocer (try NUDE FOODS, The Refillery and nationally, Faithful to Nature). You can also make your own. You’ll be amazed at how effective baking soda and vinegar are for deep cleaning. Also, you’ll love how much better your house smells – no more toxic fumes from toxic cleaning materials.
- As far as possible, buy in-season (reduce your food’s carbon miles) and organic produce (better for the environment). Buy from local farms or farmers markets whenever possible. This contributes to shorter supply chains and reduced carbon emissions.
- Try to eliminate processed foods from your diet, which harm your health and the environment.
- According to the report titled ‘1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Towards A Fair Consumption Space for All’, meat in South Africa contributes heavily to the food footprint (72%), due to the relatively high share of beef (30%) of the total meat consumption and notably carbon intensive livestock farming compared to other countries. Cambridge Sustainability Commission reports that the optimal diet for human health and what is required for environmental sustainability, requires that we need to cut the vast majority of meat out of our diet by 2050. For now, commit to reducing your meat consumption by a few meals per week. Try it out.
- Avoid food waste. According to WWF South Africa, each person in South Africa is estimated to waste about 210 kg of food each year: “Most food loss or waste occurs even before it reaches retail or your fridge. About 49% is lost during processing and packaging, while 18% of waste occurs during the consumption stage. This results in one-third of all the food produced never even being consumed, which amounts to 10 million tonnes every year.” Besides the actual food that is wasted, think of all the water and energy required to grow this food that is wasted. When this waste is in landfill, WWF reports, “it leads to the production of methane gas and carbon dioxide. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas and has 28-36 times more impact on the environment than carbon dioxide.”
- To avoid wasting food, plan ahead. By simply planning your meals, you will keep better track of what you have in your kitchen and prevent forgotten foods going off before you even use them. You can do this by making sure you keep older items near the front and making meal plans that use up all of your food items. You will also save money.
- Compost organic waste generated in your kitchen. Use a bin and add some activated bokashi bran to start the composting process and to avoid nasty smells.
- Buy misshapen foods. Large amount of edible fruits and vegetables get rejected from supermarkets and end up being wasted purely because they are misshapen and considered too ugly for purchase.
Our clothing habits are becoming increasingly unsustainable, due to rapid trend cycles, endless calls to consume, and an extractive fashion industry. Fast fashion has created a culture of disposability in fashion, which means that we buy and discard clothes far more frequently than we used to. So instead:
- Buy good quality clothes: new or secondhand. Making an investment, whether it costs a lot or not, means you’ll take care of it better.
- Keep your clothes for longer. Buying “fast fashion” – buying cheaper clothes more regularly – results in many clothes being thrown away within a year. Inevitably, this puts pressure on resources, pollutes the environment, creates waste and increases global carbon emissions. By using and keeping your clothing for longer, your use increases and your clothing purchases decrease, which reduces your carbon footprint whilst saving money in the long run.
- Organise a swap with friends or participate in a local swap where you can update your wardrobe for free.
- Learn to mend, repair and restyle your clothes.
The bathroom is another hotspot for using precious resources (water) and for pollution (plastic). We recommend the following very easy steps:
- Use eco-friendly face and beauty products, including eco-friendly sun creams. Many sun creams contain Oxybenzone which has been found to contribute to coral bleaching which kill corals and is toxic to other marine life, such as algae, fish and mammals, according to Ocean Service. See our list for eco alternatives which both protect your skin and marine life.
- One of the very easiest beauty switches to make is to use an eco-friendly bar soap and shampoo. Finding ones that suits your skin and hair type will simplify your life dramatically. You’ll save money, time and reduce the waste you generate.
- Take shorter showers. Cutting back on the length of your shower, will save water and reduce your carbon footprint. Most electricity for heating water our water in South Africa requires fossil fuels.
Getting from home to school, to work, to shop and back home requires us driving and using public transport. This transport is responsible for 14% of global carbon emissions. To reduce your footprint here, think of lift-sharing, driving more efficient vehicles, cycling and walking, which will produce much less carbon. Try to limit your air travel too. Here are some tips:
- One of the only good things to come from the pandemic is that we don’t travel to work as much as we used to. Working from home has saved many carbon miles. If you do still travel to work, ask for flexitime so you can avoid traffic. Being stuck in traffic, increases your car’s emissions. By avoiding rush hour, you save yourself carbon, time and stress.
- If you’re driving your own car, check your tyres once a month. Tyres that are under-inflated use more fuel.
- Whenever you can, bike or walk where-ever you need to be. Better for the planet, and good for your health. Just beware of the traffic and avoid highly polluted areas.
- If you’re in the market for a new car, investigate an electric option. These are not very popular yet, but as infrastructure improves (batteries and clean energy supplies) we’ll all be driving electric cars.
- When flying check the carbon footprint of your chosen airline here.
Every phone call, every email, every download has an environmental impact. Be mindful of this and avoid unnecessarily impacting the planet. Here are some ideas:
- Keep your smartphone for longer. The majority of your communication emissions are from the production process of the phone which includes the sourcing of precious metals including gold, silver, yttrium and palladium along with many others materials which are rare and difficult and expensive to mine. Replacing your phone every one or two years puts a huge demand on these precious materials.
- Save your battery life by lowering the brightness and using Wi-Fi when you can.
- Can you believe that only 10% of phones are recycled? By ensuring to recycle your old phones you can help reduce the demand for materials enabling the reuse of those rare metals and reducing the need for mining.
Poor waste management contributes to climate change and air pollution, and directly affects many ecosystems and species. Landfills should be the last resort for waste. Before then, focus on reducing, reusing, repairing, rotting and recycling. To recycle, you need to understand what can be recycled. For this information, contact your local municipality or a private recycling company. You can either deliver waste to the closest recycling centre, or contract a company to do it for you. You can try to:
- Ensure that recyclables are clean – you can give them a quick rinse in your dish washing water. Don’t send dirty dairy or meat containers to be recycled. The recycling is sorted manually.
- Buy products that are packaged or made from recycled or recyclable materials.
- As far as possible use reusable packaging and take your own bags to the grocery stores.
- Avoid buying disposable goods.
However big or small your garden is, love and nurture this space for the bees and for your well-being. There are simple ways to help regenerate your soil and to ensure that you are not depleting resources:
- Be water-wise. Ask your local nursery for advice on which indigenous plants are best suited for your area, and which don’t require too much watering.
- Invest in a water tank for harvesting rain water for your garden.
- Plant flowering plants that attract bees.
- Grow vegetables where you can. It’s satisfying and can reduce your carbon footprint and the need for plastic packaging. You can use pots for vegetables.
- Reduce your carbon footprint by composting. When organic waste decomposes anaerobically (without air) it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But when composted, these emissions are significantly decreased. In addition, you will have great fertiliser for your garden.
South Africa relies heavily on fossil fuels so our collective efforts should be in protesting against large petro-chemical and fossil fuel companies and calling on government to facilitate a just transition to renewable energy. “Even the most extreme individual choices don’t put a dent in our overall global emissions in a way that they should because we are all operating within a system that’s built on fossil fuels. So the only way that you change things systemically is by collective action,” Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, told Inside Climate News. Participating in collective action is one of the most important things an individual can do, he said. This means voting, running for office, contributing to nonprofits or participating in an activist group. In the meantime you can:
- Turn off appliances when not using them. At night ensure you lights are off and that you’ve switched off appliances.
- Invest in solar panels when and if you can.
This guide is in no ways fully comprehensive, but we hope it will inspire positive change in your life. We have kept to lifestyle changes, ones that are within your power to effect. Take it one step at a time, one room at a time. We have a way to go to achieve our targets, but we’re in this together, for a better tomorrow. Let us know what else you’re doing that we can share with our readers.
Image: Laura Ockel / Unplash