Sustainability is more than reducing plastic waste

 “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Robert Swan, Author

If I’m being completely honest, I first began thinking about this title months ago but never knew exactly how I wanted to approach the topic. Admittedly, I’m also not entirely sure where my seemingly overnight drive to reduce my carbon footprint has come from; however, I think it’s due to having been vegetarian for ten months and enduring the sight of horrendous amounts of food waste after picking up many more shifts in my catering role. Secondly, I continue to be well too aware that living a wholly sustainable lifestyle is far from my reach. Nevertheless, recent conversations with my best friend about all the little changes she has made, and the desire to share ideas that have recently inspired me, have enabled me to compose this blog post (and plan how I will achieve this goal).

In the first instance, I want to highlight the problem of food waste which arguably, is mainly associated with consumerism. However, I am beginning to ask whether such practise is wholly to blame or whether people are just choosing to buy all products (from food to deodorant) in non-sustainable forms.

Sustainability is defined as “the quality of being able to maintain the same state of being over a period of time” and often incorporates “causing little or no damage to the environment” when used in day-to-day speech. Other words that I associate with sustainability are fairtrade and global warming, but neither of these are what I want to focus on here (maybe another time). Whilst using public transport is often considered a way to encourage sustainable practises, we all know how unreliable this can be – that said, if you can plan it into your day, I advocate doing so!

I particularly enjoyed reading that, in Sweden (and Cambridge, so I’m told!), they have designed wide cycle pathways to discourage cars being driven through towns and on this front, I must applaud Sweden for initiating carbon tax way back in 1995! As it stands, I will be cycling to the little coastal town of Hammarby Sjöstad to set up camp at this rate.

What I hope to achieve here is to make you aware of how you could adapt one or two of your daily practises to contribute to reduced carbon footprint whilst sparking your own desire to aim for a sustainable lifestyle.

“Growth for the sake of growth, is the ideology of a cancer cell” – Edward Abbey

  1. Use less water

Like most people, I’m guilty of having a 45-minute shower (especially on a Sunday) and always appreciate a warm bath, especially in cold and windy Scotland. I’m also guilty of leaving the tap on, particularly when I am cleaning dishes or brushing my teeth, even though I manage to temporarily stop this habit when living on a boat (more because you must, rather than any actual change in behaviour).

Access to warm, clean water is something that most of us take for granted (maybe because it should be a staple of life, although still isn’t in many countries). However, the habit of using gallons of warm water and washing up liquid in the kitchen or contaminating rivers with all the chemicals that constitute our hygiene products is unrequited and needs to stop.

  1. Embracing your “au natural” self

For anyone who has sensitive skin (like yours truly), I completely empathise with the demand to invest in plastic-free, chemical-free, and fragrance-free products (are there even such things?) Whilst Lush may be plastic-free, it’s not chemical free and whilst The Body Shop may be cruelty-free, I haven’t had much luck with their sensitivity ranges (but they may be alright for you, so don’t dismiss them!). I know you can get shampoo bars, but a good friend recently told me, lavender is often an irritant for people with sensitive skin so those are out too.

All I can share is that I intend on trying cardboard-packaged natural scented roll-on deodorant and have found that using a basic moisturiser (Simple) and ENJO skincare products works a treat. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything about sustainable make-up products (as I don’t wear make-up at all nowadays) but I would recommend following a few brands like Peace With The Wild, which Emma (who edited this post) has said she loves too. I would also recommend a cheeky scroll through Plastic Freedom’s instagram account for inspiration!

  1. Go to the local markets (and opting for organic foods)

Interestingly, recent weeks have included multiple occasions between different friends and I, where we have discussed the practicality of owning our own allotments. Admittedly, I might just be fantasising about the practicality of growing my own food as I walk past allotments irrespective of the route I take to university in the morning. Nevertheless, I wanted to address the importance of supporting your local fruit and vegetable markets and the difference that buying organic foods can make for sustainability.

An interesting talk by Olivia Tyler entitled, “A complex path to sustainability,” discusses the lack of transparency in the product supply chains. Over half (54%) of company leaders have minimal insight into their supply chain which is by far the most concerning claim I have heard in recent months (even with Brexit going on!). I recommend that you listen to her talk, which asks us to reconsider how we conduct ourselves as corporations and consumers. On this note, I want to reiterate that the excuse, “it’s not my job (to recycle),” or, “it’s not in company policy,” are no longer valid reasons for practising unsustainable habits. We as a race are simply not trying hard enough. End of.

  1. Adopting a minimal-plastic mindset

Despite being one of man’s most readily available, durable and cheap inventions, plastic (and marine pollution) continue to dominate headlines, fuelling activists to promote an idealistic image of a plastic free world. However, I would argue that continued research into creating biodegradable plastics would offer an alternative practical solution. Consider how beneficial plastic has been in cases where alternatives (i.e. cardboard) have been dismissed for reasons such as building design, research laboratory work, or drinking straws. Yes, I hate and therefore refuse to use cardboard straws, but meanwhile, yes, I do recycle the plastic ones!

Truly sustainable products need to be environmentally friendly but more importantly need to be fit for purpose. Recycling is all well and good as a theory however I would advise you to read an article, written in New Scientist, which explores the economic and environmental implications of recycling in an attempt to promote healthy conversation about how to make a sustainable lifestyle…well, sustainable.

“If you’re not buying recycled products, you’re not really recycling.” –Ed Begley, Jr.

Finally, I wanted to share a few personal things I will be doing in over the next few months, in addition to adopting the daily practises mentioned above, in order to develop my appreciation for living a sustainable lifestyle.

  1. Buying my first menstrual cup (boys, you might as well start being comfortable with talking about periods for now on)

Right at this moment in time, I am trying to choose which brand of menstrual cup I want to invest in by doing some research (mainly on YouTube) and having the highest quality girly chats I’ve initiated in a long time. Both tampons and sanitary towels continue to fill landfill sites but (for obvious reasons) us women can’t just simply stop using sanitary products. I also want to highlight the economic benefit of having a reusable menstrual cup – if I was being honest, the idea of saving up to £10 a month on sanitary towels might be just as motivational as saving the planet one sanitary towel at a time. Any girl who says she’s only doing it for the planet is probably lying. . .

  1. Vintage fair anybody?

Undoubtedly, I continue to be that girl who has her favourite brands, but, like most students who are financially unstable, I have grown to love the products that can be found in charity shops more than I ever believed possible. I know I speak for many ladies when I say some of our favourite items have been bargain buys and although shopping at charity shops may take a little longer to find your desired product, I promise it is worth it when you do!

Luckily for me, my best friend recently started her own little sewing company and is really into creating homemade products from high quality fabrics. I can’t wait to attend a sewing workshop where I hope to start making my own quilt. . . I most certainly sound like a Granny, don’t I? Either way, designing your own clothes is yet another way to live sustainably whether it be to sew that old dress up or patch that old pair of jeans, every little practise contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle. Why wait?

All-in-all, I think it is important we acknowledge the fact that leftover produce/energy supply is inevitable but to undermine the need to avoid creating waste is a choice. Food can make compost and recycling coffee cups or purchasing bamboo toothbrushes would minimise the need for incineration of landfill and reduce emission of carbon-based gas. The world provides us with so many resources, from food to shelter and protection, so why are we humans so ignorant as to ignore the importance of replenishing or replacing what we use? I hope I have sparked a metaphorical fire or planted a seed in your mind as to why YOU should start practising more sustainable habits – I am always happy to discuss new ideas and can’t wait to see a global revolution for sustainable living come to be a reality.

Featured image by Annca, on Pixabay

Published by Holly Leslie

Full-time Cancer Researcher + Freelance Science Writer | MRes, BSc | Since discovering my passion for science writing during my final year of undergraduate study, I've written articles for University newspapers, The Gaudie and Redbrick and two Science magazines, Wonk! and the Glasgow Insight to Science and Technology (GIST)

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