Written by Laura May Bailey
It’s that time of year again—people are picking new diets, pledging to run a marathon or planning to read more books. New Year’s resolutions can be useful ways to kickstart a new habit or give up an unwanted one. Having a more sustainable and eco-friendly 2021 is something worthwhile you can do both for you and the planet. Here are several small steps that can put you on the right track of reducing waste and shopping greener, without putting too much strain on your budget.
- Shop mindfully.
One of the easiest ways to cut our carbon footprint is through the food we eat. Take a moment when you’re shopping to study the details. How far has your food travelled? Is it seasonal? What problematic ingredients does it contain? For example, the devastating impact of palm oil has been well documented. While it can be hard to completely remove palm oil from your shopping, as it’s sadly so prevalent, being aware of how much you’re consuming can be a great start in cutting down.
- Limit your food waste.
It is estimated that the average UK household throws out £700 worth of food every year, amounting to 4.5 million tonnes of waste. This amounts to 10 billion meals wasted in the past three years, which is heart breaking when you think of those going hungry every day. The best, or worst, thing is that it’s entirely preventable!
One major way to limit the amount of food we throw away every week, is to create a detailed meal plan before you go shopping. This way you know exactly what food you’ll need and won’t end up with mouldy bread heading for the bin, or potatoes that start growing in the back of the cupboard.
- Get help from social media.
Lagom Chef is the name of Martyn Odell, a food waste warrior who posts a great range of delicious looking recipes, with a focus on how to make the most of your ingredients and limit your food waste. As well as fantastic recipe tips, he also posts food waste statistics, and even really helpful cooking skills. Lagom Chef acts as a great reminder on my Instagram feed about the sheer amount of (unnecessary) UK food waste and how to take concrete steps to avoid it.
Another organisation I find incredibly useful is Too Good To Go, another key campaigner against food waste. The Too Good To Go app allows you to look at which businesses and shops in your local area have surplus food. They advertise this at a discount to avoid it going to waste! Their Instagram account posts a wealth of tips too. From what fruit and vegetables are seasonal, to how to create delicious meals from leftovers.
- Be a smart gift giver.
Using plastic-free wrapping paper and ribbon, and avoiding glitter-laden cards, is one way to prevent non-biodegradable waste around Christmas and birthdays. (You could scrap card giving altogether and try e-card alternatives, like Moongpig.) Thinking more carefully about the gift itself is perhaps even more important. During the holiday season, the volume of waste produced by countries such as Britain and the USA rises by up to 30%. This is in part due to food waste from uneaten Christmas dishes, but gift wrapping, and sometimes the gifts themselves can contribute too. Next Christmas think about buying a gift card instead of a novelty present, or wrapping in brown paper, to make a small difference.
- Avoid following fast fashion.
As students, we can’t usually afford to shop in high end, sustainable fashion shops, when you can get similar items for a fraction of the price in Primark. However, some estimate that the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions every year, not to mention the concerns over child labour and working conditions.
One answer to this is making a switch to the ‘capsule wardrobe’, which Queer Eye’s Tan France has had a hand in popularising. This concept suggests centring your wardrobe on fewer than 50 high quality, classic items that you can adapt to most situations. This limits the amount of new items you have to buy every year, and by buying a few high quality pieces you limit the amount you buy and waste. A slightly easier alternative is to take advantage of charity shops. It can also be much more fun hunting through charity rails and finding a treasure.
- Treat meat as a treat.
Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can also decrease your carbon footprint and help you live more sustainably. Research by the University of Oxford shows that eliminating meat and dairy from your diet can reduce your carbon footprint by almost three quarters. Farming livestock uses so much more water and land than growing crops. Plant based agriculture also produces much more calories and protein per acre.
While becoming fully vegan isn’t an appealing option for many, even giving meat and dairy a miss for a few days a week can have a positive impact. You could swap a chicken curry for a chickpea curry or try plant-based sausages and burgers. Even something as simple as using Quorn mince in your Bolognese can help reduce your meat consumption.
(As a bonus, buying more vegetables and beans and less meat can be good for your bank account as well!)
- Grow your own.
While it isn’t common for student houses to have gardens big enough to start a vegetable patch, placing a few herb plants outside your kitchen door, or growing a small pepper plant on your windowsill is achievable. I’ve found that growing my own herbs improves my mental health as I tend to them and watch them grow, as well as limiting the amount of plastic herb packages I buy and discard from the supermarket. By the summer I may also have two small peppers ready to harvest. This won’t contribute much to limiting my purchase of peppers from the supermarket, but it has increased my appreciation for the work that goes into growing vegetables and encouraged me to make better use of scraps and the product itself.
As 2021 begins, many of us will still be recovering physically and mentally from 2020. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make big changes straight away, but even making one or two of these small alterations can leave you feeling a sense of achievement and add up to a big change for the planet.
Laura May Bailey is a master’s student of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. As well as having a passion for museums, she is also interested in traveling, history, and literature. You can find her on Instagram here: @laura_may_bee
Images from Unsplash