As a student, cheapskate and part-time eco warrior this felt like the perfect article for me to write. I wanted something to help people make a real difference to their carbon footprint, without spending a lot of money or going to a niche hippy shop in the back of the local shopping centre. So, I give you my 5 top tips for being eco-friendly on a budget!
Eat less meat and dairy
Now I’m not saying go full on angry vegan overnight (although if you do, you know who to call). Eating less meat and dairy is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help preserve the world resources. It is estimated that if everyone switched to a plant-based diet there would be a 49% reduction in CO2 production, 50% reduction in acidification, 49% reduction of eutrophication and we would require 76% less land (1). Animal agriculture is also a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction (2). So yeh, all the bad stuff!
Chances are meat and dairy are also the most expensive items in your weekly shop, so by swapping out your mince for green lentils or quorn mince you're saving your budget as well as helping the earth. There are loads of great recipes out there for meat free recipes on a budget, but Minimalist Baker is a favourite of mine as many of the dinner recipes are simple and quick to make – not to mention delicious!.
I think if this lockdown has taught us anything, it’s to appreciate the beauty of the natural world that’s right on our doorstep. You don’t have to drive long distances to see natural beauty, there are so many lovely walks where you live. With your daily hour of exercise try just going for a wander. Why not try simply finding a green blob on Google Maps and walking to it – you might have just discovered a hidden gem nearby.
Once lockdown is over, if you do need to travel somewhere farther afield, double check that you really need to drive and couldn’t take public transport. In cities buses are easy, but in the countryside the one bus a day won’t really take you where you want, but if you're commuting there’s often many others making the same journey so try car sharing. Split the price of petrol or buy them a pint when the pubs are back open, either way the planet will thank you.
Make your own lunch
This might sound like an odd one, but bear with me. If you’re buying your lunch from a shop every day it's taking a lot of air miles, not to mention the plastic packaging and contributing to something that creates a huge amount of food waste. In fact the average ready made sandwich will take 1441g of CO2 to produce, which is the equivalent of driving a car for 12 miles (3). Homemade sandwiches on the other hand produce 50% less emissions, and have the added bonus of you being able to choose your sandwich filling into whatever weird combination you like (chilli and marmite sandwich anyone?) (4). By making your own packed lunch you could make a real difference to your carbon footprint, because if you have a sandwich every day over your working life that's over 40 years of sandwiches, and an average saving of around 2,755,200g of CO2 saved.
Make simple swaps at home
This one’s about plastic, and thanks to a big campaign about reducing our plastic usage I don’t think I need to stick a picture of a turtle with a straw stuck up its nose for you to know how important this is. But how do you actually do it, and without breaking the bank? The key for this is to do one swap at a time, spreading the cost. One of the best swaps I've made is to use reusable pan scrubbers and cloths, coconut scrubbers being particularly good. These last much longer than a regular dish scrubber, so whilst being a little pricier they pay for themselves in time. Other valuable swaps include bamboo toothbrushes, choosing groceries that are packaged in recyclable material and plastic free toiletries like deodorant. These are all available online or in alternative or zero waste shops, with even shops like superdrug and boots now beginning to offer zero-waste and biodegradable products.
Buy second hand or recycled
Once something is in circulation, you can’t erase the carbon footprint it has taken to make it. So the best course of action is to pass it on to someone else to use, or if really worn out then recycle it at the closest clothes recycling point to you. If you have something specific like shoes or bras that still have use in them, donate to charity or find one of the many organisations donating to those less privileged than ourselves. It’s a pretty stark figure that 300,000 tonnes of clothes are dumped in the UK every single year, some of which are burnt and release greenhouse gases, whilst the dyes and micro-plastics can cause all sorts of environmental problems (5). However, second-hand clothes aren’t perfect as they release far more microplastic when washing. Thankfully there’s a solution to this too! Washing bags for synthetic clothing are easy to use and long lasting, easily catching microfibres and helping stop them getting into the water course. Try a guppy bag which I can vouch for, or similar microplastic filtering system to help keep our environment healthy and happy (https://en.guppyfriend.com/).
Poore, J., Nemecek, J. 2018. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumer. Science, 360 (6392), pp.987-992.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. [Online]. FAO. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e.pdf [Accessed 8th May 2020]
Rebecca Smithers. 2018. Scientists calculate carbon emissions of your sandwich. The Guardian, 25th January. [Online]. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/25/scientists-calculate-carbon-emissions-of-your-sandwich [Accessed 8th May 2020].
Espinoza-Orias, N., Azapagic, A. 2018. Understanding the impact on climate change of convenience food: Carbon footprint of sandwiches. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 15, pp. 1-15
Manji, Z. 2019. All washed up: uncovering the hidden environmental cost of second-hand clothes. Prospect, 18th September. [Online]. Prospect. Available from: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/second-hand-september-clothes-fashion-environmental-impact [Accessed 8th May 2020]