The five best things you can do to help the Planet

Charlie Webb

We know that when it comes to doing your bit to help the Planet and ensure our future, the information can be overwhelming. So, here are our top five things you can do right now which will have the greatest impact.

1: Switch to a green energy supplier and cut your energy usage

Did you know that this is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint and possibly your bills too? Some of the cheapest energy suppliers are green ones. 

Green energy is generated from natural resources like sunlight, wind and water. Unlike traditional fuel sources, these are renewable, so they will never run out, and they cause less pollution.

And it’s so easy to switch. With most green suppliers, it is just a case of entering your postcode and a few details about your home. Then you can simply choose the best deal for you. Most of the time, you can switch straight away.

Our recommendations for the top green energy providers in the UK today are:

Bulb
Octopus Energy
Green Energy UK
Ecotricity - they are the only energy company in the UK that has the Vegan Society’s stamp of approval. They are expensive, but if you care more about being ethical than cost, they are a great choice. Ecotricity funds and supports anti-fracking campaigners in England, and has followed in the footsteps of Extinction Rebellion to declare a climate emergency.  

You can also reduce your energy usage in your home:

Switch to LED bulbs. They are better for the environment, cheaper in the long term, last longer, are more energy efficient and can even be beneficial for your mood.
Insulate your home. One-third of heat escapes through your walls.
Break the standby habit. The Energy Savings Trust states that up to £80 a year is wasted in the average home due to appliances being left on standby. That's a lot of electricity (and money) wasted. The worst standby offenders to look out for are: Televisions, Mobile Phone Chargers, Stereos, Computers, Games Consoles (these guys are particularly bad, consuming almost the same power as when they are being used), Lights.

 

2: Save water

Humans depend on the tiny percentage of water on earth that isn’t contained in the oceans (97.5% and too salty for us to use) and in the ice caps (most of the remaining 2.5%). We use this for drinking, washing, cleaning and in farming and production. This all puts a great strain on our water resources.

One of the biggest contributors to water shortage is climate change. And this will only get worse. According to the UK Environment Agency, we, in England, are facing shortages by 2050 unless we save water fast.

Here are 13 ways that you can start saving water, and as water becomes more and more expensive, money too. 

  1. Turn off your taps. You can save 6 litres of water a minute just by turning off your tap while you brush your teeth. Leaky taps can also mean 60 litres of water wasted every week.

  2. Eat better and seasonally. Rearing animals for meat and certain crops like avocados are very water intensive. Eat less meat and instead consume more seasonal veggies.

  3. Save in the shower. A power shower uses up to 17 litres of water a minute! Take shorter showers and/or switch to a water-saver shower head.

  4. Save up your dirty clothes until you have a full load.

  5. Get a low-flush toilet or a water-saving bag for the cistern cutting your flush from 13 litres to 4-6 litres. With the average household flushing the loo 5,000 times a year, that’s a lot of water saved.

  6. Boil only the water you need in the kettle.

  7. Steam your veggies rather than boiling. Cut your water waste and retain more nutrients. If you do boil, you can use the leftover water as a stock for soups or let it cool and water your herbs and plants.

  8. Reduce your food waste. Your food has used a lot of water to get to your plate. More than half of the 7 million tonnes of food and drink binned in the UK every year could have been consumed. Plus this could save you £540 a year.

  9. Time your gardening. Water your garden in the early morning so the water doesn’t evaporate and water at the roots. Make sure you leave out a water container with stones in it for the birds and bees.

  10. Install a water butt. You could catch 5,000 litres of free rainwater a year.

  11. Use a dishwasher instead of washing up. A filled-up dishwasher uses less water than doing it by hand.

  12. Check your pipes. Especially in the kitchen and for slow leaks.

  13. Don’t fund the water-grabbers. There are companies and investors who buy up land and deny local people access to water, pollute the waterways and cause pollution. Be aware about where your savings and pensions are invested.

 

3: Eat less meat and fish

Greenpeace International say in countries like the UK, we need to be eating 70% less meat and dairy by 2030 to prevent climate breakdown. The vast majority of meat bought in the UK is produced in intensive factory farms. Many of these are owned by one company who supply supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, as well as fast food chains like KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s. This industrial meat system requires a huge amount of land to feed billions of farmed animals.

If you love meat, simply cutting down the number of times you eat meat a week has a positive effect. And when you do buy meat, avoid “industrial meat” - the type you buy in the supermarket or at fast food restaurants, and try to find locally-produced meat. If you live in a rural or semi-rural location, this should be easy. And, delivery services such as The Ethical Butcher, Abel & Cole and Riverford all offer British meat which is sustainably-farmed and delivered to your doorstep. Put simply, buy better, buy less.

The production of industrial meat is responsible for:

  1. Deforestation and forest fires – Industrial meat farming is the single biggest cause of deforestation in Brazil. Forest fires are also deliberately set to clear the land for cattle or to grow animal feed.
  2. Climate change – carbon emissions from the meat industry are enormous.
  3. It’s responsible for human rights abuses and land-grabbing.
  4. It’s killing wildlife - Clearing forests, destroying habitats and using toxic pesticides to grow animal food is leading to a rapid loss of biodiversity.
  5. It’s increasing the risk of future pandemics like coronavirus – Three quarters of new diseases affecting humans come from animals. Deforestation is bringing humans and animals into ever closer contact increasing the risk of diseases jumping from one to the other. Not to mention industrial meat farms, where huge numbers of animals are crammed into small spaces, again increasing the risk of disease.
  6. It’s an inefficient way to eat – if everyone ate a plant-based diet, we’d need 75% less farmland than we use today. It takes less land to grow food directly for humans than to feed animals for humans to eat.

 

4: Cut your food waste

WRAP research shows we now (2018) throw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year in the UK. Of the 6.6 million tonnes we throw away, almost three quarters (70% of the total) is food we could have eaten (4.5 million tonnes).

  1. Make a shopping list and stick to it, planning your meals. Make a note of any food you do not eat and throw away.
  2. Re-purpose food. Don't bin your wilting veg. Use them for soups, sauté them with herbs/spices, make a curry or stew, add to smoothies. Make a stock to use later in the week.
  3. Use your freezer. You can freeze almost everything! If something is about to 'go off' then pop it in the freezer. Pop it in a silicone bag or whatever you use and label it so you know what it is and the date.
  4. Challenge the 'Sell by' Date. Sell by dates are not a strict deadline for consumers - if it smells and looks fresh you can still eat it!
  5. Compost. 20- 30% of the waste we currently throw away could be composted at home instead of piling up at landfill? At landfill all of that potentially compostable waste gets buried under lots of other rubbish. The lack of oxygen means it can’t compost and instead decomposes releasing methane, a harmful and potent greenhouse gas. Plus your compost will break down into a dark, fluffy substance rich in nutrients which you can then use for your garden and potting plants. This also means you won’t need chemical fertilisers.

 

5: Reduce your plastic waste

Plastic production requires an enormous amount of energy and resources. This causes carbon emissions and contributes to global warming.

We use around 4% of the world’s petroleum to make plastic, and another 4% to power plastic manufacturing processes. It might sound like little, but from 1950 to 2012, plastics production increased – from about 1.7 million tons to nearly 300 million tons per year.

Worldwide, an enormous amount of plastic waste is disposed of in landfills, where it takes valuable space.

What’s even worse, a massive amount of this plastic waste (~40%) is single-use packaging. So, we waste tons of resources and energy to use things ONCE and to dispose of them afterward.

None of the mass-produced plastics biodegrade, so they are usually collected in landfills, dumped in the wild, or floating in the ocean. The sunlight weakens the materials, which causes fragmentation into particles known as “microplastics”.

The only permanent way to eliminate plastic waste is by thermal treatment, such as combustion. However, the impact of waste incinerators is often inefficient because it produces hazardous and toxic gases.

So, the most common methods of dealing with plastic waste, result in 1) microplastics, that impact human & animal health and 2) air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

 

But what about recycling?

Recycling plastic is not efficient – only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. About 60% is discarded in landfills and oceans. There, it stays for thousands of years, transforming into “microplastic,” leaching into our water supplies and food.

MATERIALS - Current packaging materials often include several different layers. Each layer has special properties, which makes it much harder to recycle.

REQUIREMENTS- Each recycling facility has specific requirements that most of us don’t know about and don’t follow. For example, separating the waste properly or cleaning the packaging from food. If items are contaminated with food, then this makes the whole recycling process gets lots more complicated. It is even possible to contaminate the whole batch and to ruin the recycling process.

RESOURCES - Plastic waste recycling systems need to be more complex than  - traditional waste processing systems, which leads to higher waste management costs.

Conventional mechanical recycling methods such as sorting, grinding, washing, and extrusion can recycle only 15–20 % of all plastic waste.

To sum up, recycling is not as effective as simply reducing (as much as we can) plastic waste.

 

How plastic waste affects animals

Marine wildlife is especially vulnerable to plastic pollution because approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

 Animals such as seabirds, whales, and dolphins can become entangled in plastic matter.

Moreover, some plastics float on seawater, and sometimes animals eat it because they confuse it for food. 

Once plastic reaches the ocean, it does not go away.

It breaks down into small pieces that are eaten by sea life furthermore transferred up the food chain, carrying synthetic and toxic pollutants.

 

How plastic waste affects humans

Local air quality and pollution can directly impact the quality of life of people.

Lacking technical health standards exposes people and workers (in recycling facilities) to a range of pollutants, injuries, infections, and other severe health problems that contribute to low life expectancy.

Plastic additives- Some plastics are known to be dangerous and toxic for humans, such as #3 (PVC), or Bisphenol-a (BPA), which is a chemical that disturbs hormones. In fact, plastics can include hundreds of additives (PDF source), and the worst part is that manufacturers are not even required to reveal this.

Any plastic is possible to leach into your food or even skin, depending on the conditions (light, heat) and the additives that it may include.

 

Plastic in our freshwater supplies 

Microplastics have been detected in wastewater, fresh water, air, and drinking water (both bottled and tap water).

What is more, studies also found microplastics in foods such as fish, shellfish, honey, beer, sea salt. 

However, we should consider that human health is under risk from microplastics in drinking-water and our food chain.

For example, a study suggested that microplastics can cause physical damages, biological stress & leaching of additives.

Another research suggested that microplastics may also serve as vectors* for harmful organisms.

 

How to reduce your plastic waste

Reduce your plastic usage, by bringing your bag in the shop, buying loose produce and in bulk whenever possible & visiting your farmers market.

Find package free and more environmentally friendly packaging alternatives. Nowadays, you can discover ALMOST anything in sustainable packaging, that can be reused and recycled endlessly (such as glass and aluminium).  

 

Image by purwaka seta from Pixabay 

 

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