2020 is finally coming to an end and most of us cannot wait to see it go. The end of the year for many signals a time for New Year’s resolutions. This means a time for change and growth. So, how can you make 2021 your most planet-friendly year on record?
In 2020, research found that 80% of people believe that we are heading towards environmental disaster if we do not change our habits1. It is up to every global stakeholder (governments, businesses and individuals alike) to change their ways. Most importantly, any progress towards sustainable living is a success. Climate antagonists are likely to argue that by one individual changing their ways, no good will come to this world. However, this is inherently not true. If everyone had this mindset, how would any progress be made? If everyone takes one small step in 2021, it will do the planet a world of good!
1: Reduce Plastic Consumption
This can be a really easy one where small swaps can make a big difference. A particular focus here is focusing on a reduction in plastic use.
Plastic doesn’t degrade like organic material. Some types of plastic can degrade into smaller and smaller particles but others can stay intact for millennia. By 2050, the total volume of plastic in the ocean will surpass the number of fish and 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic. Humans consume micro plastics too, roughly 39,000-52,000 particles of plastic per year1.
Small swaps can be as simple as using reusable tote bags, instead of plastic bags. Or swapping a plastic disposable toothbrush for a bamboo one. Swapping a plastic water bottle and single use coffee cup for reusable alternatives are again easy, yet effective swaps. A final suggestion is swapping shampoo and conditioner bottles for bars. They are usually packaged in cardboard and last for just as long as a bottle!
2: Feminine Hygiene Products
On average, a woman will use over 11,000 sanitary items in her lifetime, which can take centuries to biodegrade, leaving a footprint much longer than her lifespan2.
In both sanitary pads and tampons, the largest global warming impact was found to be LDPE (low-density polyethylene, a thermoplastic). The processing of LDPE is a fossil fuel intensive process, and therefore contributes to global warming. A typical year’s worth of feminine hygiene products holds a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2. Cotton also makes up the basis of most menstrual products, considered the worlds ‘thirstiest crop’, taking six pints of water to grow one cotton bud.
One alternative option is to use plastic-free, organic, natural products like those by Natracare and DAME. Conventional products like those by Always and Tampax have been found to contain carcinogens, toxins and irritants. Bleach is also used in conventional pads. By switching to natural options, the ingredients are much safer and the environmental impacts are much more minimal. Natracare products were found to produce a carbon footprint of 3.4 kg CO23. Much lower than that of conventional products.
A second option is moving to menstrual cups. From personal experience, they do take a cycle or two to get used to but wow is it worth it! Menstrual cups are a green alternative. The lifespan of a cup can save up to 2400 menstrual products per person4. Cups are typically made of medical grade silicone, derived of silica, which is not hazardous to the environment. They also offer many health benefits in comparison to conventional products.
3: Look at What You Eat
What does your diet consist of? Where does your food come from? What country was your food produced in? Do you eat out often? These are all important questions to ask yourself when looking at what food you eat.
40% of our food goes to waste, learning how to store and manage left overs will lead to much less waste and a more sustainable lifestyle.
- Invest in some good glass or bamboo containers and beeswax wraps to avoid plastic containers and cling film.
- Label food items. Particularly meals you put in the freezer and the date which the meal was originally made.
- Store food in portions so it can be defrosted and none wasted.
- Have an ‘eat me first’ shelf in the fridge of food with the shortest dates.
- Invest in a home compost, it can be small and just sit on a windowsill if you life in an apartment.
Another thing to consider is food miles. This is the journey that your food has travelled to get to you. For example, blueberries in winter may come from South Africa or Chile, and Asparagus from Peru. But in Summer, it is much easier to get berries and asparagus from the UK. Growing food abroad can cause a strain on local water use in areas where produce is grown, and subsequent food miles from shipping which produces greenhouse gases. Eating locally can support local farms, boost the local economy, lead to less waste in distribution and less travel from farm to plate.
A final suggestion when talking about diet is to decrease consumption of meat and dairy products. Research in 2019 found that avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth. Poore and Nemeek (2019) found that meat and dairy contributes to only 18% of average daily calories and 37% of protein but takes up 83% of farmland. This paper looked at 40,000 farms in 119 countries, assessing the full impact of meat and dairy from farm to fork.
Across research, beef has been consistently found to be the most environmentally degrading meat product of all. If one change is made to your diet, reducing or cutting out beef is the way to go!
I hope these suggestions are of some help to live more sustainably this following year. Here is to a successful and sustainable 2021!
1: Cox et al. (2019). Human consumptions of microplastics. Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517#. Accessed on: 27/12/2020.
2: Lunapads.com. (2016). Available at: http://lunapads.com/learn/why-switch?geoip_country=US. Accessed on: 27/12/2020.
3: Shreya. (2016). Available at: https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/the-ecological-impact-of-feminine-hygiene-products/. Accessed on: 28/12/2020.
4: Organicup. (N/A). Available at: https://www.organicup.com/environmental-reasons-to-switch/. Accessed on: 28/12/2020.
5: Poore, J and Nemeek, T. (2019). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Available at: https://josephpoore.com/Science%20360%206392%20987%20-%20Accepted%20Manuscript.pdf. Accessed on: 28/12/2020.