During the recent G7 summit, seven world leaders met in Cornwall to discuss different pressing matters, including climate change. Pledges were made to cut out coal-fired power generation and raise $100bn a year to help poor countries cut emissions. The UK is also to donate £500 million to the Blue Planet Fund to protect marine diversity, while the G7 group as a whole pledged to a nature compact treaty that aims to reduce biodiversity loss by 2030.
With world leaders placing emphasis on the environment, it’s more important than ever that we do all we can to protect its future on an individual level. Here are five easy ways you can reduce your own carbon footprint and help the planet out.
1. Minimise e-waste
A sculpture of the G7 leaders made of electronic waste and shaped like Mount Rushmore was erected in order to highlight the damage caused by the disposal of electronic devices. The sculptor Joe Rush told The Guardian that he hoped it would show that these items need ”to be repairable or made to last longer because the stuff is going into landfill”. In 2019, more than 53 million tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide, and less than 40% was recycled. This is an issue as devices end up in landfill, with waste management experts Bywaters noting that: “WEEE (Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment) waste contains components or substances which can pose a serious threat to the environment, including ozone-depleting substances, asbestos, fluorescent tubes and nickel cadmium batteries.”
As such, it’s essential you create less e-waste and properly dispose of any you do create. When debating whether to buy electronics, ask yourself if doing so is necessary if you already own something similar that works fine? And reduce the possibility of needing to buy new technology by trying to extend the life of your devices through caring for them correctly — buy a case, keep it clean and ensure you don’t overcharge the battery. You can also donate unwanted electronics to charities and social programmes, or get your old devices fixed rather than buying a new version.
2. Create an inventory of items you already own
We live in a world of overconsumption. From clothing to food to home comforts, everything is so readily available to us. With just one click of a button, you can own a new tech gadget. However, all of our purchases create carbon emissions and we’re devouring the planet’s resources at a rate 1.7x faster than it can generate.
To avoid any irrational purchases, take stock of what stuff you already have. Clear out your wardrobes, storage and any nooks and crannies, and you’ll likely find things you’d forgotten about that are still in great condition. Knowing what you have can help you make better decisions. For instance, do you really need to buy new shoes when you have many perfectly good pairs already? It may also encourage you to be more creative as you can take the opportunity to alter and jazz up the clothes you already have by embroidering onto them, for example. By reducing how much we buy, clothing in particular, we’re not contributing to the fast fashion industry and help emissions drop.
3. Practise home-cooking
Every year in the UK, the equivalent of 320 million meals are chucked out by restaurants and cafes, which is enough to feed the nation five times over. What’s more, these premises also use plenty of unnecessary plastic packaging which contributes to waste and pollution. As a result, cooking your own food at home from scratch is much better for the planet than eating out at restaurants all the time.
So, make sure to home plan your meals, reducing food waste further by writing a shopping list and taking stock of your food cupboards before shopping. You’re also less likely to create food waste if you shop locally sourced, organic produce, buy in bulk and make a habit of using up scraps. Home-cooking also gives you more control over where your produce is sourced from, as you can purchase sustainable ingredients and know the origins. For example, potatoes from your local pick your own farm, and fruit and veg from a farmers market. Cooking at home also uses less energy than a commercial kitchen.
4. Rewild your garden
Gardening with wildlife in mind has many environmental benefits, such as reversing biodiversity loss, preventing soil erosion and tackling climate change. And a key way of achieving this is through rewilding, which is defined as “a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes.” This approach to gardening puts nature and natural processes first.
There are many ways to rewild your garden, including avoiding using harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. Be cautious about the paint you use for your shed and fences too as the fumes can be dangerous, being sure to swap these for organic alternatives. Another place to begin is by encouraging as much wildlife to settle in your garden as possible. You can do this by planting pollinator plants, having a pond, and building boxes. Another important thing for rewilding is embracing the mess. Your garden will not be neat and tidy — basically forget everything you understand gardening to be. Although you might think a pile of leaves is messy, it’s actually a great home for hedgehogs, while a compost heap is a perfect habitat for many other creatures.
5. Switch to sustainable alternatives
Plastic is used for so many of our everyday items, from bags and meal packaging, to food wraps and cleaning products. One slow but steady way of reducing your carbon emissions is by swapping these products for more sustainable ones. While this is beneficial for the environment, it doesn’t mean you should empty your entire home of everything that’s bad for the planet. Always use up what you have first to avoid unnecessary waste. Once something becomes empty, like your shampoo, you can swap it for a shampoo bar or a refillable bottle.
Although some sustainable swaps can be expensive, there are affordable ways of switching too. For example, using reusable waxed cloth wraps instead of cling film, glass or stainless steel containers rather than plastic ones, and menstrual cups to replace disposable sanitary towels. The key is to always opt for reusable items wherever possible, such as tote bags for your grocery shopping and a refillable flask for your daily coffee.