The 2010s marked the decade when the impact of climate change became undeniable. As carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere rose, so did global temperatures, sea levels, and the rate of climate-related disasters.
Ocean plastic pollution soared, reaching the equivalent of a lorry-load’s worth of plastic entering the ocean every minute. This could increase to two per minute by 2030, unless we take action.
It’s clear that we need to do far better this decade — rather, as soon as possible — to reduce carbon emissions and take control of our waste. Here are 27 things you can do to reduce your impact this year.
1. Switch to green energy
Electricity and heating account for nearly a quarter of all human greenhouse gas emissions. According to green energy supplier, Bulb, you can lower your carbon impact by 3.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by switching to green energy. That’s the equivalent of approximately 1,770 trees! Check out T3’s guide to the best green energy suppliers (UK) to help you make the switch.
In the meantime, small actions can help save energy. One way is to only fill your kettle with the exact amount of water you need. OVO Energy has lots of great suggestions for how to save energy.
2. Eat less meat
Last decade, veganism went mainstream — for very good reasons. As well as health and animal welfare benefits, switching to a meat-free diet is a significant way to reduce your carbon footprint. A quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food. 58% of all food emissions come from animal products, and half of those come from beef and lamb. So whether you fully embrace veganism, or just cut down on beef this year, you’re doing a great thing for the environment.
3. Waste less water
It’s easy to forget the impact of water usage on the environment. But when water goes down your drain, energy is required to treat it and transport it around the country. This accounts for nearly 1% of the UK’s total carbon emissions.
Can you believe that a running tap wastes approximately six litres of water per minute? So, follow some age-old advice and turn off your tap while brushing your teeth! Saving water also means that we can minimise the amount taken from rivers, which helps protect wildlife. Water Wise has lots of excellent tips for how to save water.
4. Arrange a stay-cation
We all need to limit our air travel this decade. In the UK, we’re lucky to have many lovely destinations to visit without leaving the country, many of which are accessible by train. So if you’re a frequent flyer, be that due to work or family commitments, why not consider a stay-cation for your holiday this year?
We also need to reduce our reliance on cars. As well as using public transport when you can, consider lift-sharing, cycling (or electric bikes if you’re worried about hills), or simply walking when possible!
5. Reject junk mail
Approximately 17.5 billion pieces of junk mail are produced every year in the UK. That translates to 550,000 tonnes of paper and 16.5 billion litres of water in resources. If more of us opt out of receiving junk mail, companies will have to listen and change their tactics. Citizens Advice has excellent tips on how to stop getting junk mail in the UK.
6. Plan your food shops
On average, every person in England produces seven times their own weight in food waste each year. When food goes into your general waste bin, it ends up in landfill sites. Here, it rots, to produce potent greenhouse gases such as methane. Plan your food shops carefully this year to minimise overbuying, which can lead to waste. A weekly meal plan is a great way to set off to the shops with a carefully considered shopping list.
7. Love your leftovers
Leftovers are inevitable. Storing them properly and reusing as much as you can is crucial for limiting food waste. You can freeze most things, from meats, to cheeses and vegetables. You can even turn leftover gravies and red wine into ice cubes to use in cooking! Do the same with fresh herbs by adding water.
Bread is the most wasted food item in the UK. Why not freeze it, or turn stale bread into croutons, breadcrumbs, or bread and butter pudding? River Cottage has more ideas for how to reduce food waste.
Did you know? You can prolong the life of broccoli, sprouts, carrots, and rhubarb by wrapping the veg in a damp towel in the fridge. 1 Million Women has more great tips for how to keep vegetables fresh for longer (without plastic!).
8. Consider composting
If you can’t store or reuse your leftovers, you should ideally compost them. Composting turns food waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your garden. According to Recycle Now, composting at home for one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces annually! If your council doesn’t collect food waste, Recycle Now has extensive information on how to compost at home.
9. Grab plastic-free fruit and veg
Opt for unpackaged fruit and veg to reduce food packaging waste. Many supermarkets now sell them without packaging. Just make sure you avoid the single-use bags on offer and take your own produce bags instead. There’s also no harm in putting them straight into your basket (you’re probably going to wash, peel or cook them, anyway!).
Shop here: Produce bags
10. Shop at fresh counters
Shopping at fresh food counters is another way to purchase unpackaged food. Many supermarkets now allow you to bring your own containers for meat, fish and cheese, and some deli products. Money Saving Expert even found that fresh counters offer “hidden” discounts of up to 40%. Win-win!
11. Shop locally
If you have access to local produce stores or farmer’s markets, then even better. Many sell produce without packaging, and also allow you to bring your own containers. Shopping locally also reduces the carbon footprint of your food, as it requires less transport. Plus, buying from local outlets helps support local jobs!
12. Eat seasonally
When you eat foods that are in season, you reduce the demand for produce that needs to be shipped from overseas, or grown out-of-season in the UK. This reduces the vast emissions produced by aeroplanes and refrigerated lorries. It also saves the pesticides, fertilisers, lighting and heating needed to grow produce out-of-season. Only eating strawberries in summertime is one way to eat seasonally. See The Vurger Co’s list of seasonal fruit and veg for more.
13. Grow your own
There are many benefits to growing your own veg. Fresh produce tastes better and is packed with nutrients. And no transport emissions are produced. Of course, not everyone has the space to grow their own vegetables. But we can all grow our own herbs! Herbs grow very happily on windowsills and require very little maintenance. You’ll lower the carbon footprint of your food, and save packaging and money. Another win-win!
14. Can you reuse it?
Before you throw away or recycle something, consider if you can reuse it. Glass jars, metal cans, and even plastic food punnets can make for handy storage or fun upcycling projects. For example, we use jars to travel with soup, snacks and salad dressing, and punnets to organise loose items in our fridge. Tins and punnets are particularly useful for growing your own herbs! Get more inspiration here.
15. Shop second hand
Buying something second-hand saves the resources required to make something brand new. You can upcycle furniture to add unique pieces to your home, opt for second-hand books, and discover amazing items of clothing. Before you buy something new this year, why not challenge yourself to find a pre-loved alternative first?
16. Forget fast fashion
Fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth, second only to oil. It’s responsible for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, partly due to the extortionate amount of resources required to make just one garment. For instance, more than 2,600 litres of water are required to make just one cotton shirt. You know the drill. See if you can reduce your dependency on fast fashion this year. Shop second-hand, borrow from friends, rent items (such as a one-time dress or suit), and embrace what you already own!
17. Keep a bag in your bag
We’re doing well at reducing plastic bag usage here in the UK — sales have fallen by 86% since the 5p charge was introduced in 2015. But it’s easy to get caught out from time-to-time. Keep a foldable reusable bag in your handbag or pocket to ensure you never have to ask for a plastic bag again.
18. Avoid plastic bottles
1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. That’s 20,000 every second. Disassociate yourself from that statistic by keeping a reusable bottle with you. Refill’s handy mobile app can help you locate free water refill points when you need a top up. If you fancy a different type of drink when out-and-about, opt for a canned one. If you can stick to this, you could save 175 plastic bottles this year!
Did you know? Aluminium is infinitely recyclable, whereas plastic can only be recycled two or three times.
19. Ditch cling film
Cling film is as single-use as it gets. No councils in the UK collect it for recycling, making it one of the most wasteful items in your kitchen. Avoid it by covering bowls with plates, or reusing tupperware and jars. If those options don’t suffice, reach for aluminium foil instead — you can easily recycle it, or reuse it after giving it a rinse! A pack of reusable food wraps can also stop you from ever having to reach for cling film again.
Shop here: Beeswax wraps
20. Give up kitchen roll
We need to spare trees more than ever. Think about the single-use paper items around your home, like kitchen roll — can you avoid it? Last year, we cut old tea towels into quarters to mop up spills, and invested in cloth napkins. We haven’t had to buy kitchen roll since! Not only will you save trees, you’ll save plastic wrap and money in the long run.
21. Use recycled loo roll (it’s not as bad as it sounds)
Just like kitchen roll, most loo roll production contributes to vast amounts of unnecessary deforestation. Save trees by switching to loo roll made from recycled paper. We’re subscribed to Who Gives A Crap, the eco-friendly loo roll subscription company. To top it off, the packaging is plastic-free! You can also check out The Cheeky Panda.
22. Make your own cleaning products
With just a few simple ingredients, you can make your own cleaning products, which saves you from buying a new plastic bottle or container each time one runs out. Simply reuse the packaging for your own concoctions! We’ve shared a few of our favourite homemade, natural cleaning products below.
Did you know? Most commercial cleaning products contain phosphates. Phosphates act like fertiliser, so if they escape into natural waterways, they can encourage a rapid increase in the growth of algae (“algal blooms”). This can pose a huge risk to aquatic life, by using up oxygen supplies.
23. Switch to soap bars
Soap bars (that come wrapped in paper) can replace many plastic-packaged goods — the two obvious ones being hand soap and shower gel. Just think of how many plastic bottles and pumps you could save this year by switching to bars! Bars also last considerably longer than liquid soap, and require five times less energy to produce.
Shop here: Paper-wrapped soap bars
24. Wave goodbye to wipes
Wipes may be convenient, but they couldn’t be less eco-friendly. We use 11 trillion wipes each year. Many are made with polypropylene, which means they don’t break down. Replace face wipes by pairing a zero-waste makeup remover with a soft flannel or reusable makeup rounds.
Switching to reusables is a common theme here — it saves resources and prevents needless pollution. So, the more reusables you can embrace this year, the better!
Shop here: Zero-waste makeup remover kit
25. Opt for natural sponges
Most kitchen sponges shed tiny plastic fibres. These fibres go down plug holes and escape into natural waterways, where fish mistake them for food. When a synthetic sponge is thrown in the bin, it sits in a landfill site for thousands of years. In other words, switching to a natural kitchen sponge is a fantastic way to start your year! Opt for materials such as hessian, coconut coir, or luffa.
26. Recycle correctly
Now’s a good time to brush up on your recycling knowledge. Many recyclable items end up in landfill sites because households still don’t know what their council collects. On the other hand, putting the wrong thing into a recycling bin can lead to entire lorries of recycling ending up in landfill or incineration. Enter your postcode into this website to find out what your council recycles. Print it out and stick it on the fridge to get your whole household onboard!
Read more: Recycling symbols explained
27. Rinse your recycling
One of the easiest ways to improve your recycling efforts this year is to ensure that your recyclables are clean. Soiled items are less likely to be recycled, and can contaminate other items in the recycling bin. Contamination rates are as high as 20% in the UK, meaning tonnes of plastic is rejected from recycling facilities and sent to incineration or landfill sites instead. So, give your recycling a rinse before you chuck it in the bin!
Read more: The reality of plastic recycling
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