Seven Simple Ways To Be Green in 2015
(This article originally appeared on Junkee.com)
The Bureau of Meteorology recently named 2014 as Australia’s third-hottest year since records began in 1910. Maximum temperatures were 1.16 degrees higher than average and it’s no anomaly either. As a nation we’ve racked up seven of our ten warmest years on record since 2002.
Climate change news is rarely ever good news and that’s hardly surprising, what with National MPs continuing to not only deny its existence, but publish books testifying as much and getting taxpayers to foot the bill. The gloom is often sidestepped with stories of scientific research continuing to enter wildly exciting and entertaining new realms, and yet the outlook remains very bleak.
Forget about all that though: it’s the new year. You’ve already battled your first hangover and you’ve begun plotting out all the wonderfully productive things you’re going to achieve. And while we all know, deep down, that a lot of your resolutions will be forgotten and left to die (statistically, you’re just not going to get washboard abs), conventional wisdom says living green should stay front and centre.
Here a few tips for a green 2015.
The Yellow Pages: Unsubscribe
If there’s one black mark everyone could do with removing from their environmental records, it’s the Yellow Pages subscription. All it takes is about a minute on Direct Select, who’ll gladly cancel both your Yellow and White Pages deliveries for free.
Speaking to the ABC in 2008, Karen de Villiers from Sensis estimated that while 72% of the ten million phone books in circulation were expected to be recycled with another 20% to be re-used within the home, it still left some 800,000 copies hitting landfill.
While you’re at it, opt out of as many paper bills and statements as possible: phone bills, internet bills, bank statements — they’re just more trees going in the bin.
Toilet Paper: Wipe Proud
While you’re online, head over to Who Gives A Crap? and order yourself as much toilet paper as possible.
Not only do they use 100% post consumer waste recycled fibres for their supremely comfy rolls, half of their profits go towards WaterAid, an organisation building toilets and improving sanitation in 26 impoverished countries across the globe.
A whopping 40% of the world’s population don’t have ready access to a toilet, giving rise to diarrhoea-related illnesses that “fill over half sub-Saharan African hospital beds and kill over 2,000 children under 5 every day.” More than that, their recycled paper utilises 64% less energy, 50% less water, creates 74% less air pollution and saves 17 trees per ton produced.
Also, 48 double-length (400 squares) 3-ply roles will only set you back $48. Bargain.
Plastic Bags: Seriously, Stop
While we’re on the topic of shopping: let’s all agree to forget plastic bags, once and for all.
According to Clean Up Australia, we use a whopping four billion plastic bags each year on average, throwing away about 7,150 recyclable bags a minute. The life cycle of a single plastic bag involves the equivalent of a teaspoon’s worth of crude oil in its energy consumption — and its life doesn’t end with the quiet asphyxiation of just one sea turtle or gull either. Once the animal decomposes, the plastic bag escapes back into the ocean, floating and waiting for another victim.
Overall, it’s estimated there are some 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean, each of them a tiny Jason Vorhees just looking for something else to strangle or maim. The kicker is: a vast majority of the plastic bags currently in circulation, your stock standard HDPE bag, can be recycled easily — if returned to a supermarket.
So, before you go grocery shopping, remember those goddamn reusable bags.
Shopping: Buy Sustainable
When you do eventually set foot in your supermarket, be sure to follow the WWF’s ‘Top tips for sustainable shopping’: buy local, buy recycled, dodge excessive packaging, buy biodegradable cleaning products, and seek out the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labels.
To help you navigate the fluorescent hell of your local, you can also download the Shop Ethical! app from iTunes or Google Play. It provides you with a breakdown of popular shopping categories and their environmental track records, helping you to avoid unsustainable or damaging practices. Basically, it lets you circumvent the insidious word-fuckery that comes standard on any product label, aiding you in making more informed grocery choices.
Also, lightbulbs! According to the U.S. Department of Energy, compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or light emitting diode (LED) bulbs use up to 80% less energy than your traditional incandescents, and last anywhere from 3 to 25 times longer. You can head to Ikea for all of your eco-friendly lighting needs too: they claim that their LEDs last 20 times longer than traditional bulbs.
Palm Oil: Harrison Ford Says No
Not sure if there’s any other way to put this: just say no to palm oil.
Used for its sheer economical value, this vegetable oil is said to be found in nearly half of the packaged products in your supermarket. This includes everything from shampoos to cosmetics to chocolates to soaps. According to the UN, palm oil plantations are “the primary cause of permanent rainforest loss”, posing fatal threats to the already endangered orangutan, Sumatran tiger and Asian rhinoceros. Shop Ethical! estimates the burning involved in deforestation in Indonesia contributes about 1,400 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere every year. The basic science has shown that tropical forests simply store up immense amounts of carbon over time, some 271 billion tons, and once their trees are burnt to the ground, the carbon is simply released back into the atmosphere. And yet, estimates show palm oil consumption is set to see a 50% increase by 2050.
The international effort to curb further palm oil production is ramping up, with more and more companies vowing to forego it altogether. Most companies aren’t in the clear yet, though. The tricky part is that, under Australian law, companies are not required to inform customers if their products contain palm oil, though activists are continually petitioning for a change. So you can either look for the rare Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) imprint or, better yet, try to avoid palm oil altogether (Again, Shop Ethical! can help out).
You can also check out Zoos Victoria for a brand-by-brand rundown, or watch Showtime’s Emmy-award winning (albeit, fairly condescending) documentary series, Years Of Living Dangerously, if you prefer your environmental education to be filtered through Harrison Ford.
Eating: Meat Free Mondays
Meat Free Mondays are a good thing. For one, they’re sponsored by Paul McCartney. More importantly, the livestock industry is reportedly responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to One Green Planet, if every American removed a single serving of chicken from their weekly menu, they would save the same amount of CO2 emissions as taking 500,000 cars off the road.
Go one further, why not include a Vegan Wednesday too? How about Insect-Only Sundays?
Everything Else: There’s An App For That
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to living greener is attempting to sift through the mountains of advice out there. Thankfully, there are environmentally friendly apps that can do some of that sifting for you.
Some are blatantly simple, such as the iRecycle app, available for both iOS and Android. It helps you avoid throwing recyclables like batteries and certain types of paper in the trash.
Other apps, like GoodGuide (for iOS and Android), help you tackle household purchases. Simply scan the barcode or search the item for scientific ratings of its production processes and environmental impact.
If you’re looking for a more holistic stocktake of your greenhouse gas, look no further than The Australian Greenhouse Calculator. The results may frighten you, but will also definitely serve as solid motivation for a more sustainable lifestyle.
When we face these kinds of lifestyle shake-ups, we tend to procrastinate, expecting the upheaval to require unimaginable sacrifices and effort (as the government often claims it will). And while that may prove accurate for the zero-trash Lauren Singer approach, the reality is that living greener will only ever involve making simple everyday choices, and taking responsibility when we don’t. For the most part, these choices concern mundane crap we don’t actually care about anyway, such as the toilet paper you use or the light bulbs you buy. Incrementally making more and more of these small adjustments to our cushy lives will eventually add up to the cultural shift we’ve been talking about for decades. The small choices still matter, regardless of how late in the game we already are.
More sustainable living tips can be found here.