2018, for me, has been the year of realisation. Realisation that I really, really do need to start taking some responsibility for my time here on the beautiful planet Earth, and that means making some proper changes to how I’m living my life. This wasn’t a drastic awakening, I haven’t suddenly seen a light that has prompted me to ditch my current lifestyle for a wild and free existence in the middle of the woods, it was more just a creeping feeling that passive attempts to be eco-conscious just aren’t good enough any more and it’s time to take an active role in saving the world.
The problem I had, though, was that so many of the places that I turned to for advice had a frosty, all-or-nothing approach to the changes I wanted to make. Be vegan. Use no plastic. Create no waste. Boycott palm oil. There was no safe haven for those new to the whole subject, those who had certain trade-offs to make or had to do things gradually, and even less information for those who were torn between the pros and cons of each change. It was then that I really though about documenting my journey into Taking Responsibility; if I could work out a way to take small steps every day, then surely I could share them and become a resource for others that I’d always needed but couldn’t find. That’s where this guide comes in – here are my top 12 habits that I’m wanting to adopt for 2019. They’re not in any order, none or more or less important than another, they’re just a few small changes I want to make – consider this my attempt to hold myself accountable.
1 – Reduce & Re-use Plastics
I didn’t want the headline to read ‘Stop Recycling So Much’, but in essence, that’s exactly what I want to do. Not in a rubbish way, like just binning everything without a care in the world, but in the sense that recycling is not the best solution. I read an article earlier this week from Annie Leonard, the director of Greenpeace USA, who used a nice analogy – if your home was flooding because you’d left the tap on, your first thought wouldn’t be to start mopping, it’d be to turn the tap off. This year, I’m going to focus on reducing the plastics I use – reusable bottles and cups, shampoo bars instead of bottles, beeswax wrap instead of cling film, canvas bags, cutlery, straws, packaging.. and if I can’t reduce, I want to make sure I can re-use.
2 – Eco Bricks
Speaking of re-using plastic.. what about all of those irritating un-recyclable bits? Wrappers, film lids, linings and other fiddly bits? Introducing Ecobricks, a reusable building block created by packing our empty plastic bottles to the brim with other waste plastic. These bricks can be used all over the world to create buildings, structures and furniture, and serve as an innovative way to imprison plastic that may otherwise end up in our water, our land, our bodies and our animals. It’s not as simple and just stuffing bottles with rubbish though, there are set guidelines on how to properly produce these wonderful bricks. It can seem a little daunting, but fortunately, there are so many online communities both local and wider that can help guide you through the process, offering hints and tips on the best way to do things. I’d recommend looking up Ecobricks UK on Facebook as a start, but you can search for local groups in your area too.
3 – Reducetarianism
Note: I attempted to spellcheck but my brain can’t even comprehend the complex arrangement of letters. If it’s wrong, please give me a gentle telling and I’ll change it before more people notice. Also known as flexitarianism, this is a habit I’ve already adopted: the act of reducing the amount of meat and dairy products I consume. It’s not vegetarianism, it’s not veganism, it’s somewhere in between – a first step into reducing the impact my dietary choices have on the lives that go into my food, and the environment that supports them. It’s a good halfway house for those who have arguments against a strictly vegan lifestyle, too. If you’re not a fan of long and complex words, it’s also known as ‘just eating less meat and dairy, really’.
4 – Going Local
In addition to generally reducing my animal-related intake, I have another dietary change that I feel is just as important – locally sourced food. No matter what I’m eating, I want to try and reduce the air miles that my food travels, and I also want to support smaller, more local businesses, rather than giant companies. This is also true of everything else that I buy – less mass manufactured items, more homemade. I’ve even attempted to try and make and repair things myself to bring it all even closer to home, but my eye for fashion design in terrible and my current to-do list and academic life are a frequent block in the creative process. For now, I’m just going to make sure that I put a bit more thought into what I’m buying and where from. In the words of Anna Lappé – ‘every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’
5 – Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings
Inspired by this Christmas season, next year, for all birthdays, celebrations and gift giving occasions, I’m using no un-recyclable wrapping paper. None. Instead, I’m using brown paper, and typing up these packages with string. Maybe even hemp cord. I’m also going to branch out into more inventive packaging – eco-friendly ink for stamping, and I’m also looking at dying my own plain canvas bags to give out as presents. This also stands for as many different forms of packaging as I can think of – I’m wrapping my sandwiches in beeswax wrap, gifting cookies to my friends in re-purposed containers, and searching for an alternative for bubble wrap.
6 – Deliberately Not Boycotting Palm Oil
Boycotting palm oil is not the answer. I’ll write a more comprehensive post to explain in full detail, but here’s a nice summary of the conversation that we should be having instead of boycotting. ‘Instead of simply turning our backs on palm oil – which will only displace issues – we can make more impact by working together to make 100% sustainable palm oil a reality.’ Chester Zoo have compiled a useful guide to help us suss out the sustainable stock in your supermarkets, and they’re updating it regularly with every advance in information. You can even help expand the list!
7 – Charity Shopping
Fortunately for me, I dislike going clothes shopping. I always end up leaving unflatteringly-lit fitting rooms feeling bloated and disheartened, and my bank balance can rarely support the ever-increasing prices of clothes. However, I have an innate ability to ruin jeans beyond repair, and although I have a full wardrobe, I never have anything to wear. In earlier years, I tended to shop at low cost online retailers where I could pick up a wafer thin pair of leggings for £3, but more recently, I’ve been taking to the charity shops, and for a very good reason. You may have seen Stacey Dooley: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets – but if you haven’t, it explores the problems that our giant need for clothes can produce. From the vast pollution to the chemical waste, it highlights the effect that fast fashion is having on our world, and is definitely worth a watch. When you’re charity shopping, you’re helping to give new life to clothes and helping a cause at the same time. It can take significantly more time to find the specific things you’re looking for, but a fabulous bright side to this is that it takes significantly less time to find things you weren’t looking for. I’ve searched through so many charity shops looking for a nice pair of jeans and ended up coming out with a nearly new coat and several cosy jumpers, and found so many little bits and pieces that I’d forgotten I even needed. They’re also perfect places to take things you no longer wear or use so that somebody else can enjoy them.
8 – Every Day is an Opportunity To Know More Things
This one is a super easy one. There’s no limit on learning new things! As you’re scrolling through your news feed and you see somebody share a picture of an absurd fact, go research it! Is it true? What’s the actual story? But wait, There’s More!! Do you think space is cool? Go google some stuff about it! Maybe you could learn morse code? Maybe you could learn to knit!? I’m learning to crochet! New things are cool to learn, and there’s so many ways to do it. Challenge yourself. Learn things for the sake of learning, and because you might accidentally learn how to make a lamp out of a chainsaw.
9 – Take Things One Day at a Time
To finish this list, I’d like to put forward the habit of taking care of yourself. Saving the world can feel overwhelming, it can seem like there’s so much to do and so little time and sometimes, you feel like you’re the only one who cares. Caring so much can be tiring, and compassion fatigue is a very real issue. It’s so important to look after yourself whilst you’re on your quest to look after everything else – you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to do everything, you don’t have to build Rome in a day. These things take time, and no effort is wasted. Even when you’re feeling like your tiny contribution won’t help, just remember: ‘small acts, when multiplied by millions, can transform the world’ – Howard Zinn.
So there you have it, nine habits to adopt in 2019. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d be very interested in hearing your suggestions! Drop me a message in the comments or on social media and we’ll tackle this world-saving business together – let me know what works, what doesn’t work, and anything else you can think of!