Big journeys happen through small steps. Sometimes 'The Environment’ seems like such a huge problem that it's impossible to know where start - or what to do. Oh, and then of course there's the small problem of being just one person in a very big world.
We've got your back. There's enough ideas here to help you make just one small change a week - every single one of which will help you live more sustainably.
Some of these changes will have more impact than others; some may not suit you; and you’re probably already doing some of them. But that’s kind of the point. It’s about more than the change itself - it’s also about the mindset we develop along the way. By getting into the mindset of small changes, we become more thoughtful and aware of our decisions - and we can all look back in 12 months and realise what a big impact our small changes are making.
#1 Put a brick in it. Your old loo, that is. If your loo is more than a few years old then it probably has a much bigger cistern than it needs. Adding something that takes up space in your cistern will reduce the amount of water used for every flush. There are plenty of gadgets you can buy to do it, but a plastic bottle (with something to weigh it down) or a half-sized brick will do the job.
#2 Take the pushchair out of the car. Yes, the car boot is a seriously useful storage area for pushchairs, slings, wellies and the charity shop bag that’s been sitting there for six weeks/months. But the extra weight increases the amount of fuel you use. Oops.
#3 Go sustainable. We’re all aware of the issues with palm oil, but that doesn’t means we should all stop using it. Sustainably produced palm oil is a real thing, and to stop using it would jeopardise the livelihoods of fair trade farmers who work in harmony with their local environment. And it’s not just palm oil we need to be aware of. As the popularity of coconut oil continues to soar, it’s always worth checking if it’s from a sustainable source.
#4 Switch to steel. Ditch the disposable razor and opt for a stainless steel one instead. (Au naturel is also an option.) As simple as 1-2-thr-eeeek.
#5 Home ‘improvements’. DIY and house improvements are a national obsession - but they carry a big carbon footprint. Next time you’re thinking about an upgrade, be honest about whether you really need it. Would you rather spend the time and money with your family instead? Is the change really worth it’s environmental impact? If you really do need it, opt for materials that have less environmental impact, and consider offsetting your carbon footprint.
#6 Choose pre-loved clothes for your little one. There is a plethora of ways to buy clothes that are as good as new - still cute, but reduces your baby’s environmental impact. Facebook groups abound for local groups and specific brands (or groups of brands); NCT and local sales allow you to touch and feel before you buy; and of course sites like ebay always have plenty of choice.
#7 Get to grips with your tissues and loo roll. You can of course opt for reusable toilet roll and hankies - but for many of us that’s a step too far. If that’s the case, opt for recycled options - and consider options made from alternative materials like sugar cane or bamboo. Compostable and recyclable packaging is also available, despite what it sometimes looks like on the supermarket shelves! (See #31 if you’re wondering about kitchen roll.)
#8 Give the gift of a tree. Quite possibly the most under-rated gift possible. Such a beautiful gift for a new baby or a special occasion/birthday, as the tree grows and matures with person. If the recipient doesn’t have space to plant their own then the Woodland Trust will plant a tree on your behalf in one of their woods, which you can visit.
#9 Revisit your reading habits. It’s very easy to see a book; go online and buy it new. Easy, but not very green. There are a LOT of books in the world, sitting neglected on charity shop shelves and in the warehouses of resellers. Instead of automatically buying new, think about buying pre-loved; using ebooks; or supporting your community by borrowing from your library.
#10 Adopt this mantra, courtesy of the fantastic 1 million women. One of the most significant changes many of us can make is to buy less. Shouting out about this means we sell fewer nappies - but that’s fine with us because we know first hand that buying less is not only vital for our planet’s well-being, it’s a lifestyle choice that makes families happier as well.
#11 Use Ecosia for your internet searching. Ecosia works like any other search engine. The difference is it that it uses its profits to plant trees. What’s not to love
#12 Have a light bulb moment. Take some time to look investigate your light bulbs. When they blow, aim to replace them with LEDs, which are the most eco-friendly bulbs - if your budget doesn’t stretch that far look for CFLs.
#13 Grow your own. Think of those pre-packed salads, that have often travelled thousands of miles to reach you. Now imagine you could get them with ten times the taste; zero food miles; and from pot to table in under five minutes. Oh, and a summer’s worth of fresh green goodness for about 99p. Leaves like rocket, mizuna, radicchio and chard are quick and easy to grow in a pot in your kitchen or on your doorstep; radishes are also super-simple; and herbs like parsley and basil will brighten your kitchen as well as your meals.
#14 Invest in a programmable thermostat. If you have this already then you probably don’t know how you’d live without it. If you don't have one then this easy investment will save your money AND make your home more comfortable. The idea is simple - instead of having the heating come on at certain time, it will just come on when the temperature drops below the level you set it - and will turn off automatically when it’s warmed up. It’s not as much fun as shampoo bars or gardening with the kids; but it’s an important one.
#15 Turn off your phone. (And your laptop/tablet/charging cables.) Yes, sleep mode is so much easier than actually pressing and holding for ‘power off’. But if everyone simply took 30 seconds to turn everything off before bed, huge amounts of energy would be saved. Alternatively, you could combine this with #37 and have an unplugged day at home with your family...
#16 Buy a bokashi bin. For most families, food waste makes up the biggest proportion of their throwaway waste - and as it produces a LOT of methane, it’s a real problem in landfill. A bokashi bin is an alternative to traditional composting because you can add all your food waste (meat, dairy, bread etc), not just your peelings.
#17 Use cloth nappies. Oh wait, you do that already? Then can you make even more of a difference? Could you try using them when you’re out; or at nursery; or overnight? If you’re already maxed out on your cloth, what can you do to spread the fluffy love?
#18 Opt for reusable make up pads. Ideally made from planet friendly materials like organic cotton. (Rather like these ones, in fact.)
#19 Minimise your meat. Whether it’s shifting to meat free Monday; going veggie; or opting for veganism, changing our eating habits is a step we all need to take to avert global warming.
#20 Choose ocean friendly sun cream. Some chemicals - including oxybenzone, which is found in most sun screens - are now thought to be a major threat to coral reefs, and are being banned in Hawaii and parts of Mexico. Badger has a great page with more on how to choose a skin safe, reef friendly sun cream.
#21 Buy a barrel. To store rainwater, obvs. It’s estimated that around 24,000 litres of water can be gathered per year, per household, by collecting the run off from your gutters into a water butt. Added bonus: it’s better for your plants than tap water.
#22 Say no to hangers when you’re shopping. You don’t need them; the shop will reuse them. Simples.
#23 Switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier. This is a biggie in terms of environmental impact - and it might save you a LOT of money. Renewable tariffs were originally thought of as super-expensive; but when Which looked into this in 2017 they discovered the cheapest tariff anywhere was just £20 cheaper than the best renewable deal - and that a standard renewable cheaper was, on average, £115 cheaper than a standard variable tariff with the ‘Big Six’.
#24 Deal with those bread ends. Hands up who buys a loaf of bread...and throws away the ends (or maybe more.) Instead of binning the ends, whizz them with a food mixer to make bread crumbs (store in the freezer); or store enough ends in the freezer to make a bread pudding.
#25 Plastic free shampoo. There’s a plethora of shampoo bars on the market that mean you can wash your hair without the plastic packaging. If you can’t get on with a bar then there is a growing number of stores offering refills.
#26 Return your unwanted packaging. If you stand at the end of the check-out removing packaging, you’re giving the supermarket a real headache. You’re slowing down the check-outs (they HATE that). You’re making them spend their time and money on disposing of the waste. You’re highlighting the excess to other customers, which makes the retailers worry about their all-important ‘brand image’. This is more effective at getting the packaging message across to the supermarket than buying loose veggies.
#27 Switch to reusable wipes. As with so many things, once you switch, you realise the reusable option was better all along. It’s a constant source of amazement to everyone who switches how much better reusable wipes are - and they’re perfect for sensitive skin.
#28 Ask for plastic-free/minimal packaging. We’ve written about this before, but it’s worth saying again. Reduce your packaging AND show retailers you care by asking for plastic free and/or minimal packaging when you order online.
#29 Choose something packaged - and make it yourself. In a house of fussy children it can be ‘challenging’ to achieve a plastic-free food shop. Instead of trying to tackle it all, look for one item that comes in plastic that you can make yourself. Hummus, sugar-free flapjacks - and even bread - are all quick and easy wins.
#30 Deconstruct your bin. It’s easy to look at your overflowing bin and wish you could cut the amount of waste you’re producing - but until you actually know exactly what’s in it you’ll struggle to sort it. Have a good nosey through your bins - recycling as well as non-recyclables - to work out what the biggest source of waste is. This will help you decide what area to tackle first.
#31 Wave goodbye to single use kitchen roll. You can buy rolls of reusable kitchen roll; the simple fact is that most of us would just call these cleaning cloths. A selection of cloths under the sink will achieve virtually everything you need to use kitchen roll for; if you use kitchen roll to spread oil then you may want to invest in a pastry brush as well.
#32 Use peat free compost. If you’re sprucing your garden, don’t just pick up the cheapest compost you see. Many garden composts are 70-100% peat. Which is crazy. Peatland is a crucial part of the UK’s ecosystem - as well as being important for biodiversity they are a vital carbon store and water store - but 94% of the UK’s lowland raised peat bogs have been destroyed.
#33 Give your car some TLC. Under-inflated tires affect your car’s fuel economy; regular oil and oil filter changes increase your fuel efficiency; and tires that aren’t aligned do you no favours either. Whilst that may not be overly exciting, knowing that excess speed can reduce fuel efficiency by 33% is a handy fact for anyone who enjoys a little in-car ‘banter’.
#34 Clean green. ‘Eco’ washing powders, dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid etc are normally derived from plant-based materials, so are generally kinder to produce and dispose of. Many are available in refills. You can also make your own cleaning materials and concoctions from bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, vinegar etc - online recipes are plentiful.
#35 Be forceful with your fridge. Busy lives - and the fact it’s a bit boring - means that cutting food waste is probably one of the hardest things to tackle. Take a long hard look at your fridge and be honest with yourself. What’s the one thing you find yourself throwing away week after week after week? Once you’ve found the culprit, you’re halfway there, because next week you’ll be on the look out for its naughty habits. The next step is to decide what to do about it - buy less? Grow or make your own (eg if it’s always the over-sized tub of pre-bought hummus)? Freeze it before it goes off? Simply take that item off your shopping list?
#36 Build a beach clean-up into your family traditions. Spend an annual day out - or even make a weekend of it - walking and playing on the beach, all whilst helping your little one experience the importance of community and our environment. A quick Google/Ecosia search for ‘beach clean up UK’ will give you lots of options, both near and far.
#37 Take a hike (or bike). It might look like a boring/hard/unattractive change, but opting for one car-free day a week doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. Taking the bus can be a huge adventure for a little one who is used to the car; and for journeys of less than a couple of miles then your physical and mental health will thank you if you walk. Or, by staying at home, you might simply come to treasure that special day where you devote yourself to a slow, relaxed and intentional day with your little one. Travel is one of our biggest polluters - it’s a small change that really does have a big impact.
#38 Say no to junk mail. In a post GDPR-world, it’s astounding how many ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ companies have decided that if they can’t email you, they’ll send you a whacking great snail mail brochure. Reject these, either by email or by returning the mailing and asking the company to remove you from their mailing list. Citizens’ Advice also have a great resource on reducing your junk mail.
#39 Switch to a bamboo toothbrush. Plastic toothbrushes end up being thrown away; bamboo can biodegrade. There are some lovely soft options for little mouths, as well as adult versions.
#40 Take the tat out of birthday parties. Whether it’s reusable dishes for party food; ditching the single use plastic table cloth; or opting for paper party bags (filled with non-tat), there are so many ways to make children’s parties less wasteful.
#41 Switch to cloth sanitary products. One of those reusable switches that isn’t simply better for the environment - they do the job better too. More comfortable than single use; without the leaks; cheaper; and no ‘oops I’ve run out’ moments. Wait - you didn’t realise we have five star rated CSP in some gorgeous designs?
#42 Check your settings. Take 15 minutes to go online or look at the manuals of your dishwasher and washing machine, and adjust the settings and programmes you use. Switching your dishwasher programme could save thousands of gallons of water a year; and a LOT of electricity.
#43 Ditch the cling film, kitchen foil and freezer bags. Everything you can do with these products, you can do with reusable products. Beeswax and cloth covers will replace the cling film; you can get a washable sheet to replace the kitchen foil if you use it on the grill (or simply opt for extra elbow grease); and there are a host of washable containers for storing food in the freezer or lunch boxes. This is a little change that you’ll notice every day; and it will make you feel Zen.
#44 Insulate, insulate, insulate. Imagine you’re a heat sensitive camera...what would your house look like? Loft insulation is an obvious way of keeping the cold out; but there are other ways to keep warm without turning up the heating; like adding a thermal lining to your curtains or placing heat reflectors behind your radiators.
#45 Choose one plastic product from your weekly shop and swap it out. Could you get your cheese from the deli counter and transport it in your own container? Or perhaps simply reject the meat in plastic packaging and eat something else (see #19)
#46 Opt for zero waste make-up. The zero waste make-up industry may be niche, but it exists. Lipstick in recycled (and recyclable) aluminium tubes, refillable mascara and bamboo brushes are all alternatives - and many of the companies that care about zero waste also make sure their products are organic and/or vegan.
#47 Ditch the single use wipes. If you’re already a convert to reusable wipes then you’ll know why we love the idea of giving them as a gift - they’re an ideal first step into a reusable lifestyle. Why? Well, basically because they do the job so much better than their single use alternatives. Whether it’s for bums, mucky faces and hands, or all those places that never needed a wipe pre-children, these really are the bees knees.
#48 Wrap gifts in reusable gift wrap. We’ve written about cloth wrapping before, and you loved it. Anyone who finds present wrapping a pain will love this approach - it really is super-simple and so quick.
#49 Cotton buds. Mainstream cotton buds are made of plastic - but biodegradable bamboo buds are increasingly easy to get hold of.
#50 Plastic free deodorant. You can get deodorant in glass bottles or as a solid bar. If you’re feeling creative, there are plenty of recipes online for homemade deodorant - and it’s surprisingly easy to make.
#51 Consider your home decor. Assuming your ideas for the nursery update have passed the ‘do you need it’ test (see #10), think about your materials. Can you get it second hand? If not, how far has it travelled? Is it made of sustainable materials? How will you dispose of it? If you’re updating with paint, do a little research as all eco-paints are not created equal.
#52 Tell your local representatives what’s important to you. What small steps do you think your elected officials should be making? Separate recycling bins to improve recycling efficiency? A voucher scheme to promote reusable nappies? Recycling bins in the street? A food waste composting collection? Take 15 minutes to email your council. You really can be the change - but only if your council knows what you think.
-What other small steps are you taking in 2019? Tell us in the comments, we really want to know!