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Taking stock of how you could be kinder to the planet can be a confronting task. From the way you cook and clean to the clothes and groceries you buy, deciding to reduce your environmental footprint can feel overwhelming. That said, adopting even a handful of sustainable living tips can help you to live a greener lifestyle straight away. The main goal is to reduce and replace the natural resources that you use in order to protect the planet. Here, we’ve pulled together ten simple sustainability hacks to help you do your part today.
Did you know that most teabags contain plastic? Because only the paper component of the tea bags can eventually break down, tiny bits of non-biodegradable plastic are left behind with every cup. Not exactly environmentally friendly! Go for loose leaf tea instead. Unlike tea bags, loose leaf tea doesn't require trees to be cut down to make bags and can go directly into the compost making it better for the environment. Plus, loose leaf tea is generally of higher quality which means it has more flavour. (Tea bags tend to be made up of smaller, broken leaves that don’t steep as well).
If you haven’t yet invested in a reusable coffee cup, now is the time. There are hundreds of designs available in all sizes, many of them made by coffee connoisseurs to ensure the perfect cup. When buying takeaway food, you can also provide your own containers and cutlery to cut down on disposable plastic. Some food outlets even offer a discount if you bring along your own Tupperware. Reusable plastic is preferable to disposable but if your budget can stretch to metal or glass containers with silicone lids, so much the better.
Possibly the easiest sustainability tip on this list, bringing along your own reusable produce bags to the grocery store is something just about everyone can do. Often, the hardest part is remembering to take them – keep a bunch stashed in the boot of your car or tucked away in your handbag and you’ll never have to pay for emergency plastic bags again. Opt for a sturdy jute, canvas tote or – if space is limited – try foldable bags. For bonus points, get yourself some cotton mesh produce and bulk food bags to skip packaging altogether.
Most of us think we’re recycling correctly, but often we’re getting the basics wrong. Unfortunately, chucking even one non-recyclable item into your yellow bin can cause an otherwise-OK batch of recyclables to go to landfill. First, check your council’s website for info on what can be recycled. Most of the time, it’s packaging, paper, cardboard and aluminium foil. (Tip: rinse food containers before you throw them in.) Clean, dry, soft plastics can be recycled through the REDcycle program – many supermarkets have REDcycle-friendly bins, including Woolworths, Coles. Find out more about REDcycle bins here.
If the idea of composting food scraps has you scrunching up your nose, you’ll be happy to know there are a few non-stinky ways to do it. While a traditional compost bin in the backyard can work for families with enough space, Bokashi compost systems are designed to be used in the kitchen. To use one, you fill a small bin with fruit and vegetable scraps, then layer over Bokashi mix to eliminate odours. You can also try a food disposal unit which dry, grind and reduce food scraps into odourless chips that can be used on the garden.
Australian households throw away roughly one in five bags of groceries. That’s a lot of food being binned! To cut down on wastage, start by planning meals and only shopping for what you know you’ll be making. Before you head to the supermarket, check what’s in the fridge and freezer, so you don’t end up with multiples. A big part of reducing waste is finding creative ways to repurpose your leftovers so they don’t go into the garbage. Googling ‘what to do with leftover ham/rice/stale bread’ will bring up a lot of recipes ideas, so start there.
Consider the sustainability measures your favourite clothing brands are taking within their businesses. Have they committed to using ethical materials? Do they design their clothing to last? If you can, buy from brands that demand transparency across their production and supply chains to help ensure the welfare of people and the environment. If budget is an issue, consider buying second-hand or commit to shopping your own wardrobe instead of buying one-off outfits.
The first thing to know is that it’s unlikely you’ll find a single beauty brand that ticks every box when it comes to planet-friendly practices. That said, there are lots of ways for brands to create more conscious products, from refillable containers, vegan formulas and fair-trade ingredients to carbon-neutral production and delivery. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the green marketing promises, choose a few things that are genuinely important to you (for example, no animal testing and recyclable packaging) and let that guide you.
Before you hit the bottle shop, research your favourite vineyards and learn about what they’re doing to reduce their carbon footprint. Look out for things like using solar power or reusing wastewater. Aiming to reduce food miles is another way you can drink responsibly. Opt for local brands where you can to cut down on the fuel that’s required to transport alcohol great distances. A beer fan? We’ve got good news. Aluminium cans are easier to recycle and cheaper to freight than glass bottles - just remember to recycle them properly.
Many mainstream cleaning products contain harsh chemicals (think: detergents, preservatives, and foaming agents) that can be harmful to the environment. One of the easiest eco-friendly swaps you can make in your home is to sub in green cleaners where you can. There are dozens of brands that make effective, plant-based cleaners for every part of the house. Things to look for are: biodegradable, grey-water and septic-safe, free from dyes, masking agents, synthetic perfumes, chlorine, bleach, sodium laurel sulphates and phosphates.