5 Easy Sustainable Swaps
About 2 and a half years ago, I was waiting at an airport gate, sipping on a bottle of coconut water. I started reading the back of the bottle out of boredom more than anything else, and found out that my coconut water took the following steps: coconuts from Thailand, transported to the Philippines for processing, shipped to somewhere in Europe for bottling, then shipped to the U-K, stocked in Heathrow Airport WHSmith to end up in my hands and finally in the belly.
This struck me as absolutely ridiculous. What was even more ridiculous was that 5 minutes prior I stood there so casually deciding between a normal bottle of water and coconut water. The process behind it, the amount of hands, energy, kilometres and power that came together to bring me this bottle didn’t even cross my mind (let alone the journey the plastic bottle would go through after I was done with it).
That was more or less the start of my sustainable living journey. I’m definitely not perfect, nor am I a sustainability professional in any way, shape or form, however if I believe anything, it’s that we have the power to make a change. And by we, I mean every single one of us. If we were all to simply become a little more conscious of the effect of our decisions, the difference would be huge.
Living a more sustainable lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to wear nothing but linen skirts and grow your own food on a farm. There are so many ways for us to all be slightly more sustainable. Below are 5 easy things you can do right now.
1. Eat local, or at least close by
For a sustainability point of view, eating fully local would be ideal, however this is not possible for everyone. First of all, if you’re living in the northern hemisphere that would include living solely off carrots and potatoes for at least 3-4 months of the year which is far from ideal. The first easy step to do right now is therefore to read where your produce is coming from. That simple awareness might very well change your purchasing habits entirely. When there are two identical lemons, one form Argentina and one from Spain, pick the one that was grown closer by. And if you do notice that a lot of the produce you’re used to buying is from far away, start looking into what’s in season in your country and challenge yourself to having at least one of those in your basket a week.
2. Reduce your plastic, or at least buy a reusable water bottle
Living “plastic-free” or even “waste-free” is obviously the ideal here, however it’s not always realistic in our modern-day world. Once again, awareness is the first step. Start by finding waste-free shops in your area (if you live in Lausanne, find my Low-Waste Guide here). The next easy step you can do right now, is pick one item that you find yourself throwing out all the time. Is it cotton pads for your face? Is it yogurt pots, pasta packs or dishwasher detergent containers? Pick one and find an alternative. Waste-free shops have alternative for everything you can imagine, however your standard grocery store will also include certain products in glass jars, which you can then keep and reuse the jar to reduce your waste. If you can’t think of something to focus on, start with a reusable water bottle. Globally we buy 1 million plastic water bottles per minute, and 91% of these are not recycled.
3. Eat plant-based, even just 1 meal a week
Funnily enough as the vegan movement builds momentum, the anti-vegan movement seems to be also growing as a reaction. A few years ago when I stopped being vegan, I shared my concerns with the movement, one of them being that it breeds an all-or-nothing mentality. Being 100% vegan seems so restrictive to some, that they prefer to hop on board the anti-vegan movement. The truth is, when looking from an ecological stand-point, 100 people eating a little more plant-based makes a much bigger difference than one person being strictly vegan to the core.
A new study published in the journal Science discovered that eating a vegan diet is the “single biggest way” to reduce our impact on the planet. The effect has been said to be far greater than decreasing the amount of flights we take or buying an electric car. Even tofu, the “most polluting” plant-based food, still creates 96% less greenhouse gas than the same amount of beef.
Start by noticing how many of your meals include animal products. If they all do, start small. Begin right now by challenging yourself to 1 plant-based meal a week (no meat, fish, dairy or eggs). If you’re ready to level-up, can you have 1 plant-based meal a day, every day?
4. Make your own beauty products, or at least stick to the essentials
Similarly to what I said previously about food items, there is a huge disconnect between how we perceive the beauty products we buy and the process that brought them on the shelf. As shops get stocked with more and more stuff, things we need, things we definitely don’t need, things we might perhaps need at some point so might as well get, the actual products lose their value. It’s become so easy to buy, that we don’t even ask ourselves what’s truly essential.
When I decided to do “plastic-free September” almost 2 years ago, it made me completely reconsider the 12 bottles of random creams, soaps, lotions, exfoliators, gels, toners etc. sitting in my bathroom cabinet. What the hell is all of this and how did I even manage to hoard so much unnecessary stuff. In the end that’s all it is, stuff, stuff, and more stuff.
I stripped it back to the bare essentials and started making my own products. Toothpaste can easily be made with a simple combination of baking soda, coconut oil, mint essential oils and water. All-purpose cleaning products can be made with baking soda, vinegar, essential oils and water.
Of course we don’t all have the time to make our products, and I may very well be singing a different tune the day I end up having a family of my own one day, so let’s begin with one small step you can take right now. Strip it back to the essentials. What do you really need? Many of us think our 15-step night-time routine is saving our skin, but will it really change much if you simplify it? I discovered for myself that the only beauty product I really need is coconut oil. I use it as moisturiser, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, mouth wash etc.
That way I have one product, in a jar (no plastic there), less stuff, less time, more mental space for other things and more cabinet space, while it being a hell of a lot better for my skin health (your skin absorbs over 60% of what you put on it).
5. The first “R” is Reduce… and then seek sustainable alternatives
The running theme here as you may have already noticed it simply: less. Less buying, less consuming, less clutter, less stuff, less carbon footprint, less CO2 emissions. We often focus on the “recycling” part of the 3 “R”s, but the order of the 3 “R”s is no accident, it’s in order of focus; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Step one is always reduce. Even recycling requires energy, therefore recycling an unnecessary purchase is simply fuelling the problem.
The very first step is catching yourself before buying something and asking the eternal question “do I need this”. Of course there is space for “treating yourself”, but that’s where sustainable alternatives come in. With all the money saved from consuming less, you can spend a little more supporting sustainable brands who are putting in an incredible effort to do good, and reduce their impact on the planet.
Some of my favourites include…