Small changes that can make a big difference
Apr 22, 2019 - 5min read
Earth Day rolls around once a year on April 22nd, but at Tonik HQ we think every day should be an Earth day - and there are lots of easy steps we can take to lighten the strain on our planet.
We’ve put together a list of 10 measures that don’t require you to buy any major additions for your home, and the most that’s required of you is to switch to an alternative product or to change certain behaviours ever so slightly.
In short, these are the simplest ways to significantly reduce your impact on the environment, without significantly impacting on your comfort or your bank balance.
No more throwaway cups
Okay, so we’re kicking off with a purchase - but this is one that can actually pay for itself relatively quickly now that so many coffee shops are offering discounts to customers who bring in a reusable cup for their hot beverage. Pret, Costa, Starbucks, Greggs and Cafe Nero are all giving money off for the environmentally-minded - with Pret leading the charge at 50p off per purchase.
It’s easy to see why they’re making the effort; 2.5bn single-us coffee cups are thrown away each year - enough to circle the entire planet five times - and not even 1% of all that plastic and cardboard ends up getting recycled.1
Buy local - save on food miles
With our food travelling 23% further than it was 30 years ago, the vehicle emissions produced by getting food to our supermarkets adds up to 17 million tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere every year - with food transport accounting for 25% of all heavy goods vehicles movement in the UK.2
This means that each person in the UK is producing 0.3 tonnes of CO2 just by buying food that has been transported over a significant distance, and estimates suggest that 0.25 tonnes of this are avoidable.3
The solution? Buy local. We don’t mean cutting out your favourite foreign foods entirely, but buying from farmers’ markets whenever possible, for example, helps ensure that your food hasn’t travelled any further than necessary. Here are some great resources for finding local produce.
Buy naked fruit and veg
As a society, we seem to have developed a bit of a psychological block to buying any fruit or vegetables that don’t come in plastic packaging - and supermarkets certainly don’t make it easy to buy fresh produce that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic.
Now, though, the world seems to be waking up to just how big a proportion of discarded waste plastic that packaging makes up - seven UK supermarkets surveyed last year were producing a total of 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging per year, and that’s in addition to the 1.2 billion plastic produce bags given out annually by the top 10 supermarkets.4
So what can you do? In supermarkets, buy unpackaged produce wherever possible, and avoid using the plastic produce bags on offer - there are actually a wide variety of reusable fabric bags that you can buy cheaply to take with you when you go shopping. It’s also worth bearing in mind that smaller greengrocers tend to sell their produce loose - so you can support the environment while supporting local businesses too!
Moderate your meat and dairy intake
The environmental impact of meat and dairy has become a hot topic of late, with more people subscribing to a greater variety of dietary options than ever before - if not for the purposes of reducing their carbon footprint, then for ethical reasons. It’s no longer just carnivore, vegetarian and vegan - now there are flexitarians, fruitarians and, as a seasonal treat, Veganuary.
The point is that there are plenty of ways to reduce your meat consumption without having to commit to ruling it out entirely. Just having one or two days each week without meat is enough to make a difference - particularly when you consider that beef, for example, produces a staggering 105kg of greenhouse gases for every 100g of meat farmed.5
According to the European Tissue Symposium, the UK uses 1.16bn tonnes of toilet paper annually, meaning that each person flushes 17.6kg - or 110 rolls - of toilet paper every year.6 Worldwide, we sacrifice 27,000 trees every day on the altar of keeping out backsides sparklingly clean.7
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. One option is to make sure you’re buying toilet paper that is made from a high proportion - ideally 100% - of recycled paper. This is one of the offerings from new kid on the toilet paper block Who Gives a Crap (who also sell a premium loo roll made from 100% bamboo - no trees needed at all) and donate 50% of their profits to building toilets for the 2.3bn people on the planet without access to basic sanitation.
Turn down your thermostat by 1 degree
What if we told you that you could save 340kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere - and £75 from entering your energy bill - just by rotating your hand slightly to the right? Turn down your thermostat by a single degree and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing - and with the warm feeling you’ll get from doing the planet a favour, you probably won’t even notice the change in temperature.
Invite bees into your garden
The global bee population is dwindling; a 2015 report by the UN found that 37% of bee populations are in decline, which is a major concern when you consider that animal pollination is responsible for 5-8% of global agricultural production8 and is estimated to add £600m to the value of UK crops alone.9
So if you’re lucky enough to have a garden - or, if not, maybe an allotment or a community garden - you can be part of the fight to save the bees. All you need to do is plant a few wildflower seeds in your green spaces (foxgloves, honeysuckle and daffodils are particularly effective) and sit back and watch as the local bee population enjoy your efforts.
Cut down on cut flowers
We admit - this one might be hard to give up. Everyone loves a bouquet of flowers, and from time to time it might seem like the best possible way to say “thank you”, or - more crucially - “sorry”.
But consider this: the UK spends £1.35bn on cut flowers every year, and 80% of these are imported from the Netherlands.10 That’s not where their journey starts though; many of those are imported to the Netherlands from countries all over the world, and then auctioned off once they’ve arrived. So not only is there the aviation miles needed to get flowers across the planet before they start fading, but the 20% of flowers grown in the UK have a carbon footprint too thanks to the energy required to heat greenhouses.
Standby? Stand down!
Most of us, if we’re honest, will admit that when we’re done watching TV for the evening we just turn it off with the remote and leave it on standby, switched on at the plug. It’s just the easiest thing to do. But add up all the other devices you leave plugged in and on standby - your computer, hi-fi, gaming console - and the environmental cost is not insignificant.
In fact, leaving appliances on standby has been calculated to account for 9% to 16% of our total energy bills,11 and 1% of all the world’s carbon emissions12 - an incredible 370 million tonnes of CO2.
Holiday in the UK
This one could be the biggest ask on the list - but it’s also one of the biggest positive impacts you can have on the environment as an individual. In 2017, journalist Jack Miles calculated that a couple of long-haul flights can as much as double or triple a person’s carbon footprint over the course of a year.14
Air travel actually makes up 5.5% of all carbon emissions in the UK, and is the fastest-growing of all the factors contributing to global warming.15,16 So as hard as it is to resist the siren call of foreign lands, have you really seen all of the beautiful spots that your home has to offer? (Take a quick look at some of our favourite green spaces and forests in the UK if you’re stuck for ideas).
In the end, a staycation can be just as enjoyable as a foreign excursion - all while being much kinder to your wallet as well as the planet.
- Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups, House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. 2017.
- Food: An Analysis of the Issues, Cabinet Office Strategy Unit. 2008.
- Carbon Independent
- Checking Out on Plastics, Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace. 2018.
- The Guardian
- The Telegraph
- National Geographic
- The Guardian
- The UK Bee Population, House of Commons Library.
- The Guardian
- The Guardian
- Environment and Energy, The Cambridge Green Challenge.
- World Resources Institute
- The Washington Post
- Aviation Environment Federation
- Cutting Aviation Pollution, WWF.
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