Four Realistic Ways to Reduce our Waste

Photo by Raquel Reyes.

Photo by Raquel Reyes.

A few simple swaps and accessible adaptations can make much more of a dent in your environmental output than you realise.

In our current age of political unease and climate devastation, it can be hard to avoid a crushing sense of anxiety at the state of the world around us, and panic that we as individuals are not doing enough to prevent this decline. While the Attenborough Effect — a drastic reduction in single-use plastic consumption following naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s documentary on pollution — signals positive change and more and more corporations are switching over to paper bags and reusable cups, it can feel impossible to make a lasting or meaningful impact on the world, let alone reduce our climate footprint to the extent that all the most vocal online campaigners would prefer. Unsurprisingly, guilt has become our frequent companion, peeking out of the recycling bin as we discard a draft at university or berating us for indulging in the paperback planners and print magazines that make our day-to-day lives a little bit more manageable. 

whether tight finances prevent a long-awaited bulk market shop or impaired mobility stops us from attending the latest protest, it’s all too easy to feel beset by judgment and consumed with guilt

But sometimes total sustainability just isn’t compatible with our lives; whether tight finances prevent a long-awaited bulk market shop or impaired mobility stops us from attending the latest protest, it’s all too easy to feel beset by judgment and consumed with guilt when we realise we’re far from the (possibly unsupportable) ideal of fitting years’ worth of non-biodegradable waste into a single mason jar. While you may feel like giving up, feeling that the Instagrammable ideal just isn’t for you, a few simple swaps and accessible adaptations can make much more of a dent in your environmental output than you realise — if everyone made their own imperfect effort and started with some simple substitutions, it is theorised that the global economy, temperature, and pollution levels would vastly improve: for example, if everyone recycled one aluminium drink can, 295 million more could be made, and greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by the equivalent of taking 6,750 cars off the road or saving the energy equivalent of 80,000 barrels of oil.

Here are some things you can do: 

Red Box Project and Toxin-Free Period Products:

One of the least-discussed but most important ways that menstruating menschen can reduce their environmental footprint is to change up their monthly routine when Aunt Irma comes calling — either by switching to a menstrual cup or, if that’s not possible for you, investing in organic, chemical-free alternative brands to your standard pads and tampons. Examples of some fail-safe brands that won’t hurt the planet or your bank balance include Grace & Green’s biodegradable applicator tampons, TOTM Organic’s sustainable subscription service or OHNE, the only organic tampon delivery service in the UK to have been certified by both the Soil Service and Global Organic Textile Standard. If you’re impatient to go toxin-free but at a loss when it comes to disposing of your non-sustainable shark week stash, you can donate to The Red Box Project, who campaign for and provide free period products in schools so that children aren’t forced to skip school due to their period, or ActionAid, who send unneeded period supplies to women and girls in developing countries, warzones and refugee camps so that every menstruating person has access to the dignity and necessities they deserve even at times of worldwide crisis. For North American readers, MaskIT is a disposal brand that creates eco-friendly wrappers to dispose of products without wasting paper, while brands like Lola and Cora make organic period products with recyclable materials and plastic-free options like cardboard applicators, and provide them to women in need for free. For those looking to change completely, Thinx offers period undergarments to replace disposable products altogether.

When Necessary, Shop Smarter:

The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one already sitting in your wardrobe. If you must let it go, make sure it no longer fits or that you have used it to its full potential. If it is still wearable, try to find it a good home, either in a charity shop, clothing swap, or reselling app. I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but one goal that I set earlier this year and have really enjoyed sticking to is to only purchase clothes second-hand or from independent makers when I really need them, donating things that no longer fit or spark joy, and keeping a relatively minimal year-round wardrobe. To that end, if you must buy, be strategic in your shopping endeavors — independent businesses can be fulfilling investments, but if you must go secondhand or high street, keep a list on hand and be specific to avoid overshopping, and care for all clothes as best as you can so that they last. Any garment you can hand wash is more environmentally friendly than a designer frock with a label of “dry clean only.” While I’m far from the pristine, four-piece ideal advocated by Bill Gates or your staunchest Konmari practitioners, decreasing the amount of clutter on my clothes-rail has helped my flat feel peaceful and brought an element of fun back into getting dressed every morning. Gone is the option-paralysis of overspilling drawers and, instead, I mix and match old favourites with charity-shop bargains, discovering the limitless possibilities of matching block colours and a black-and-white stripe, or a Victorian blouse with my trusty Doc Martens. If you want to use your flair for found fashion to promote awareness, the Mary’s Living and Giving store in London — one of the only second-hand shops to donate 100% of their profits to charity, in this case Save The Children — originated what they call a “no fast fashion” policy as a way of highlighting the benefits of secondhand and that one doesn’t need disposable fashion to look their best, while also raising money for disadvantaged children in the process. 

Swap, Don’t Shop:

While this mantra goes for clothes as well — often that outfit of your friend’s that you covet is the very one they’re tired of wearing and ready to give away — I’m actually referring to some little swaps that can be made from the comfort of your own home, without spending money or even leaving bed. Many of the products we use for facial cleansing, makeup removal and food packaging can be replaced with reusable alternatives, without needing to shell out on the newest bamboo-fibre zero-waste products brought to your screens by targeted advertising. One of the sustainable switches that’s made a big difference to my life is making my own cotton rounds to replace disposable makeup remover pads: follow these simple steps to make your own today, and get creative with design:

  1. Select and wash a soft towel or dishcloth that you no longer need/are willing to sacrifice for the good of the planet.

  2. Using a pencil, draw as many pairs of circles as you like, each about 5 cm in diameter (if you’re a sewing wizard, feel free to experiment with other shapes such as stars or flowers. If, like me, you are textile-averse, try squares for a simpler pattern).

  3. Cut along the pencil lines and thread your needle. I’d recommend a thicker needle to ensure you can easily pierce the towel, and a length of dark-coloured, doubled thread that will pop against the lighter fabric. 

  4. Using blanket stitch carefully sew around the edge of your circles, starting about 5mm from the edge (you will not be turning your rounds inside out, so keep it neat or as neat as possible). 

  5. Once finished, go over your final stitch a couple more times to prevent unravelling, cut, and tie off your thread. Your new makeup removers are suitable for use with cleansing milks, micellar water or just plain soap, and can be thrown in the washing machine with your weekly wash and used again and again until they wear out.

Other easy swap ideas:

cut up old tee shirts to clean counters instead of purchasing disposable wipes, bring your bookshop tote to the grocery store, pick up a mason jar from oxfam and bring to the coffee shop for to-go orders.

Let It Grow:

While it might seem like a treat for you rather than Mother Earth, investing in a houseplant friend or planting a wildflower garden will positively affect more than your air quality and emotional wellbeing (and yes, both of those are proven side-effects of a horticultural companion). If you’re lucky enough to have some outside space, why not buy or make a seed bomb out of some supermarket seed packs, compost-rich soil and biodegradable oils to attract butterflies and bees to your garden?  If you struggle to keep plants alive, why not invest in a terrarium? More than just a beautiful addition to the home, these jars contain their very own ecosystem; once corked, they self-nourish and regulate, with withered leaves decomposing into food for the plants, moss flourishing with nutrients and the heat of the jar and moderate sunlight causing water to evaporate and ‘rain’ back onto your plant. 

Photo by Georgia Andrews.

Photo by Georgia Andrews.

Ultimately, while all fixes may not be accessible for everyone, for those of us who can, it matters not only to help the planet but also for those who can't to be able to retain access to the things they need: the solution isn’t to ban but to balance each other out. Additionally, if you are interested in doing more, there are apps you can use like Good Guide and Good On You that make eco-friendly shopping easier to achieve, as well as numerous other easy fixes such as shopping locally, using public transport or walking instead of driving, switching to electronic billing, cancelling catalogs and buying local produce if one is able. 

What are some easy changes you have made or would like to? Share with us below!

Georgia Andrews is a freelance actor, writer and facilitator currently based in East London (via Helsinki, Philadelphia and the Midlands). When not writing, acting or embracing “funemployment”, she can be found tending to her fifteen houseplants or curled up with a book.