Easy guide to improving your footprint
A lot of people would like to do better by this planet but do not know where to start. We have compiled this guide so that you can see what you can do to minimise your footprint on this beautiful planet and actually aid the repair of soil, air and water that this planet so desperately needs.
1. Stop buying clothes.
The “fast fashion” industry is churning out more clothes at cheaper prices than ever before. This means people buy more, some people only wear their clothes once or a couple of times, before they end up in the bin or the opp shop. The reason fashion is so cheap is usually because it is produced in less developed countries by child labour and/or sweat shops. Companies pay their workers a pittance and do not look after them. Clothes need to be transported to your country, your town, your shops, using fossil fuels to do so. This is on top of the fossil fuels used to produce the clothes. A lot of clothes are made with artificial materials (polyester, nylon and acrylic) which are a derivative of petroleum and do not biodegrade for at least 1,000 years! These artificial materials end up as micro plastics in the water every time you wash your clothes. Fast fashion is the second largest polluter in the world (after oil). Click here for some more information on Fast Fashion.
What can you do?
- Stop buying clothes. The clothes currently in your wardrobe should last you for at least the next few years.
- If you must buy something (eg for a special occasion), buy clothing made from natural materials in the opp shop (secondhand shop). Cotton, wool, bamboo or hemp are all natural alternatives that biodegrade quickly. When you no longer wear something return it to the opp shop. Be careful you don’t go overboard buying from the opp shop (they have some great stuff and it’s cheap!) Rather determine what you need beforehand and only buy what you need.
Rayon is usually made from plant or wood fibre (cellulose). Other names for rayon are lyocell (tencel), or modal. It is a manufactured cloth which requires fossil fuel intensive processing. The manufacturing process creates a toxic byproduct which can harm the people making the cloth. The toxicity is gone by the time it comes to the consumer, but I would urge caution buying rayon articles, as they are not totally sustainable / environmentally friendly although made from (initially) natural materials such as wood. (more about rayon on Wikipedia)
- When you have worn your clothes to death, use them as rags for cleaning. Then they can be composted (if they are natural materials).
- I understand you would like to buy new underwear when you need it. When you do, support companies doing the right thing: buy organic cotton or bamboo undies. They wear so much nicer and they breathe, minimising sweat and smell issues.
- Socks are another clothing article that you may need more regularly. Try and bring back the art of yarning (fixing holes in your socks with needle and wool or cotton) if you can. When buying socks, again look for wool, cotton or bamboo. They wear nicer, are able to breathe thus minimising sweat and odours, and you will be able to fix them if needed.
2. Minimise your car use
The oil industry is the world’s largest polluter. These days almost everyone drives a car, and most families in developed countries have at least 2 cars per family. A new car consumes on average about two years worth of petroleum in its manufacture. That is if we are talking about a conventional petroleum driven car. Hybrid or battery driven cars consume more in its manufacture, as they also require more rare minerals. Rare minerals are hard to mine, come at a great humanitarian cost and are another resource being depleted.
What can you do?
- If you live in a city, which most people do, there is no excuse to keep using your car. Most cities have more than adequate public transport, if not in your area, start lobbying your local council. Get a folding bicycle and ride or just walk (if close enough) to your closest bus stop or train station, take public transport to wherever you need to go (or as close as possible to) and then ride your bicycle or walk to where you need to be. This has a double effect. You reduce your carbon footprint at the same time as getting some exercise into your day.
- Only have one car per family. Time your outings so that you do not need more than one car. Drop each other off on the way to somewhere and pick each other up on the way back.
- Shop locally and get there by walking or by bicycle (there are now many bicycle trollies available, to transport children and shopping!). Electric bicycles are an option also, if you live in a more hilly area or a bit further away from shops. Shopping locally has more benefits also, as per below.
- Make a list so that you can get away with using your car only once a week or so. Things usually do not need to be done right away, so save them all up for one trip.
- Use ride share / car pool for longer trips. I mean proper ride share, people that need to go somewhere and are offering a seat in their car, not things like Uber or Ola. You can also offer a seat in your car whenever you go somewhere! coseats.com, craigslist, ridejoy and carpoolworld all offer ride share services and connect you with like minded folk.
3. Say no to single use anything
Single use plastics are a major environmental polluter, but it doesn’t stop with just plastics. Everything you only use once is not sustainable. There are many alternatives on the market now, or you can get inventive by re-using and recycling. Single use plastics are causing major issues not just to the environment but also to the creatures living in this environment. Most animals are now found to have plastic in their gut, some so bad that it actually kills them. There is research out there that shows that our own cells have microplastics in it!
What can you do?
- Carry your own water bottle everywhere, preferably a long lasting metal or (protected) glass bottle. Most cafes will be happy to fill it up should you run out of water. Some councils are now putting in water refill stations on the side of walkways or bicycle paths, which is a great initiative!
- Carry your own go cup. Most cafes are offering go cups for sale. Try to only buy one good quality re-usable go cup and remember to take it everywhere. Some cafes now offer a discount on your daily brew if you bring your own cup.
- Going somewhere where you will be eating on the go? BYO plate and cutlery.
- If you have plastic bags, wash them and re-use. They wash fairly easily. Dry them by hanging them out and when the outside is dry turn them inside out and hang it again to dry. They dry fairly quickly and then can be re-used again and again. Just ensure you make an easy knot when you close the bag (eg for freezing) so you can easily undo the knot and open the bag without ripping it.
- Going shopping? Try to get your fruit and veg from a local fruit and veg shop, not a supermarket. Local fruit and veg shops usually do not pack their produce in plastic and you are supporting the small retailer rather than the big multinational. You can just select what produce you want (don’t put it into a plastic bag) and take the produce home loose in your re-usable shopping bag, or in re-usable produce nets etc. At home you can put them straight into the vegetable drawer in the fridge if you need to.
- Left overs? Get re-usable containers that close properly. You do not need to plastic wrap food! Use sturdy sealable containers to store leftovers, and to take your lunch to work.
- Do you have small kids? There are now many fantastic re-usable cloth nappies on the market that don’t leak and look great! Gone are the times where you had to use towels and the baby’s bottom was red and raw! Cloth nappy pants are soft, look incredibly cute and are easy to use.. and use… and use again!
- Women: No need for tampons and pads that need to be thrown in a bin after single use! There are now cloth pads, menstruation pants, cups and all sorts of awesome, inventive and secure ways to have your monthly cycle which you can use and re-use, over and over. Wash your pads and put the water into your garden, your plants will love it! Besides the environmental benefit, imagine also the benefit to your bank account if you don’t have to buy pads or tampons every month! Within one or two years you will have paid off the initial outlay of your moon cycle panties or cups! And you will feel a lot more comfortable during your cycle as well!
- Got a cold? Use (and re-use) hankies, not tissues.
- Need to wash dishes? Old holy cotton t-shirts or towels you would otherwise put into the bin can be re-used as rags for dishes or cleaning. Don’t worry about buying dish cloths or sponges, they are usually made from petroleum derived artificial materials.
- Newspapers (if you still read the paper thing) can be used for many things. One of those is to wet a newspaper and wrap greens in it in the fridge. This will keep them fresher longer. Newspaper also makes great mulch in the garden.
- If you have to smoke cigarettes, use rollies. Roll your own without filters, as the filters do not break down very quickly and a lot of them are found in our waterways and oceans. Loose tobacco is cheaper anyway and contains less chemicals than ready rolled cigarettes.
- Use cake soap. Those fancy pump or squeeze bottles look great but they create a lot of pollution and most cannot or are not re-used. Small companies are now starting to produce shampoo cakes instead of bottles, which is fantastic! Most come wrapped in biodegradable cardboard wrapping, so these are definitely low impact options. Try and choose soaps that are natural and only have ingredients that you know. Most commercial soaps and shampoos contain petroleum derived products, which cause further environmental issues when they get into our waterways. Any ingredient that you do not know or cannot pronounce, is usually an issue.
- Buy wooden toys for kids! Usually plastic toys are cheaper, but kids get bored with plastic real quick, plus it can be toxic, especially if it is made in certain countries overseas! Wood gives the kids a more natural learning experience, it lasts a lot longer, can be used and re-used and if it ends up in landfill it will break down and actually feed the planet (as long as there are no toxic paints used on it…). Books (cardboard and paper) are also great presents for kids. It is really important that we teach our children early in life to look after this amazing planet of ours, so start with giving them natural play materials. Opp shops are usually treasure troves of recycled kids goods as well, including books. Kids do not need to have something brand new every time, it is new to them so that’s great!
- Did you know that plastic is a byproduct of the petroleum industry? And most plastic does not break down in a natural environment for many, many years. When it does break down it just becomes smaller and smaller particles, which eventually get absorbed by living beings, like us. Hence we apparently all have tiny plastic molecules in our cells. So do not buy plastic, avoid it, stand your ground! The more people do, the less plastic will be manufactured!
4. Grow your own or support your local grower
The best way to create a revolution is by growing your own food. Even in apartments and small areas, you can grown bench top greens and other vegetables. If you cannot grow your own food, your can always source food from local growers. Beware though, even organic shops and resellers will buy in produce that has to travel long distances and can be gas ripened! Do your research and support truely locally grown and holistically managed food.
What can you do?
- In urban areas there are community gardens or rooftop gardens. And if they are not in your area, set one up! Try and source local heirloom seeds to plant, compost all your organic waste so you can build soil, and replace any grass with edible plants or trees. Grass is the world’s largest monoculture system and it does not do much to sequester carbon unless it is properly managed with animals. Restaurants are usually charged to dispose of their food scraps, so see whether you can get their scraps for free and create a composting system to build soil. In urban situations you also may be able to run small animal systems (chickens, pigeons, guinea pigs or hamsters, rabbits etc) which offer a great source of manure. You can also grow bench top greens in your place of residence.
- Source locally grown food grown on holistically managed farms, if you are really unable to grow your own. Call around to local farms and ask how they manage their farms, their animals and their produce, and what they use as fertiliser and pest deterrent. Beware that artificial fertilisers are petroleum derived! If a system is healthy and diverse, it should not need any herbicide or pesticide. Preferably the goal of the farmer is to farm soil, not produce or meat. If the farmer farms soil, they will look after the land well, and look after all that dwell on the land well. Soil farmers do not use any -cides or fertiliser, and they produce healthy abundant food.
- Despite all the vilifying of cattle, cattle only contributes a small portion of greenhouse gases (manufacturing processes and broad acre agriculture individually produce more, as do car exhausts). Cattle can however have a very positive impact on soil and grass land improvement, if they are managed properly. Properly managed grazing cattle will improve the carbon sequestering capacity of the soil, and are an essential part of the solution to climate change. Buy your meat from farms that grass feed their cattle, and do it holistically (mob grazing, holistic management, natural grazing etc). This means that cattle is moved on a daily basis. Do your research and support farmers who are trying to turn things around for the planet.
- Start a food co-op, so you can promote these practices to your friends and family, and provide them with good food. Try and do low food mileage (locally grown) and seasonal food. You do not need to eat an apple in the sub tropics in summer! If you want to live in a climate that doesn’t grow certain things, you cannot expect to eat it without a tremendous cost to the environment. Eat local and seasonal, which may mean you will no longer be able to eat certain foods. This is a trade off for a more sustainable and better planet that we may be able to continue to live on! Don’t become a vegan, vegetarian or adhere to a “diet”, unless it is the local real food diet! Any diet of choice is only made possible by the fossil fuel industry, especially diets that are largely dependent on grains and legumes, as they are mainly grown in industrialised mono-culture crops. These large areas of land planted out with just one type of plant species cause soil erosion, top soil loss and loss of bio diversity and ecosystems. On top of that it needs to be planted, maintained and harvested with large machines (running on fossil fuel), and farmers will kill any and all animals that threaten their harvest, so it is not animal friendly at all (and that is on top of killing the entire ecosystem when moving to monoculture cropping). Usually these crops then need to be processed and transported long distances, again using fossil fuel. The only sustainable diet for the future of the planet is local real food!
- Only eat whole foods, or homemade, home baked goods (not wrapped in plastic or other wrapping). Any processed food is packaged, any packaging is single use.
5. Stop flying
Yes, we all want to see the world, but maybe we need to do it a bit slower. It is ridiculous how cheap flights have become over the past few years. It is great for those of us who have families across the world, but it is costing the planet more than just pollution from flying. Tourism is starting to take a huge toll on cities all around the world, especially since the advent of AirBnB. Residents of some cities are no longer able to afford to live in their city due to it being more lucrative to accommodate tourists. Cities are losing their appeal as they are just becoming a tourist stomping ground. We all need to take a step back.
What can you do?
- Take the train or bus instead of flying
- Carpool or catch a lift with someone. There are loads of ride sharing apps now.
- Go slowly. Go by train or bus, hitch a ride on a boat (or work your way across the ocean). Take you bicycle everywhere with you, on the train or bus, and ride where you can.
- Camp instead of promoting the get rich quick scheme of AirBnB and such. Take your own tent and camp stove, and really slow down and relax, enjoying nature.
- Slow down even more and walk. See nature, hike, enjoy your local environment! A holiday in your own “backyard” can be even more relaxing, as you don’t have to worry about all the travelling!
6. Minimise internet play
It is great that we can look up anything we want nowadays and get the answer instantly! And we can stream any series or movie, post on our blog, read interesting articles, scroll through our friends posts…. on and on it goes. But what is the environmental and humanitarian cost? Huge. All our devices need rare minerals to function. These are usually mined in poor countries where they enslave the poor and the young to work in atrocious conditions. It takes a lot of energy and fossil fuels to create the devices we so cherish. And then when we use them, it takes a lot of energy and fossil fuels to enable our searches, our streams and our social media presence.
What can you do?
- Minimise your searches. There are now search engines like Ecosia that plant a tree for every search you do. So that somewhat offsets it.
- Don’t stream or use digital tv that much. Make it a treat, once or twice a week, with the family. All other nights, play games or read books. Remember those things? They are still around, and libraries are usually accessible in most places.
- Buy a good quality device (phone etc) and look after it. Update it whenever required and keep looking after it. If another model comes out, don’t be tempted, just look after your old one. Buy a good one initially and keep looking after it so it lasts you a long time. Until it no longer functions, then bring it to a recycling centre.
- Try and see your devices as tools, not entertainment. Connect with your kids and family for entertainment, not your device. This will actually improve your quality of life!
These are all steps that can be undertaken to minimise your impact on the world (the planet and the people on it). The only way to be completely sustainable on this planet is to not partake in any modern technology (cars, devices, trains etc) and eat what you grow (or trade locally). For most this is simply not possible. So do what you can, but understand that the party cannot keep going. The party is actually already over, most of us are not quite aware of it yet though. We need to install old values into the next generation and make them see that these new ways of ours have destroyed our home. We can turn it around now if we stop everything, all manufacturing, all production, all consumption, all spending and start planting lots of trees, manage the land holistically and live with nature. But until we are ready to do that, you can follow the guidelines above to minimise your foot print, and to prepare you for the future. Best of luck to you and to us all, we will need it in the years to come!