Over the last one-hundred years, the human species has developed some truly incredible things. We have made some of the most extraordinary technological advancements in a relatively small time-frame.
While these advancements have allowed us to maximise our efficiency in certain business and professional settings, and have certainly enabled us to get the most out of our leisure time, they have also brought with them a number of obstacles which serve to complicate our relationship with our environment and the natural world.
As we come to depend more on the technological advancements that have come to define our evolution in recent decades, it is important that we understand what measures we can take personally to reduce the impact these advancements have on the natural world, and how we are able to implement them into our daily lives and live more sustainably.
Using Public Transport
The movement of populations towards cities, and now the national, and sometimes international, nature of modern work has forced people to incorporate more motorised means of travel into their working day. In many cases, travelling by car would appear to be the most comfortable way to travel: you are not bound by strict departure times, you are less likely to be hampered by potential delays, and you are able to travel more directly to your desired location. It is this convenience that has driven most working individuals to travelling by car over public transport.
However, the more congested our roads become, the more harmful gases we are releasing into our atmosphere. Motor vehicles regularly release air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and a number of other volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, all of which contribute to the irreparable damaging of the o-zone layer, and rising global temperatures.
Of course, modes of public transport like buses and taxis also release these damaging gases into our atmosphere, yet it is the fact that they are able to do so whilst carrying a significantly larger number of passengers that makes them more effective modes of transport than personal vehicles. Using public transport can reduce our carbon footprint by reducing the number of vehicles on our roads.
Exclusively relying on public transport may be a difficult transition for those whose workplace is difficult to reach using this method alone, therefore it may be easier to make this switch where you can. Planning is key, as it keeps costs down on things like train tickets (which can soar in price the closer you get to your day of travel), and reduces the likelihood of any potential delays.
Carry a Reusable Coffee Cup
The prevalence of coffee shops like Costa and Starbucks means that grabbing a quick caffeine boost on your way into work has never been as convenient. Our love for coffee has naturally stimulated a surge in the number of disposable coffee cups we are using and then throwing away. In fact, in the United Kingdom alone, 7 million disposable coffee cups are used every single day – this amounts to around 2.5 billion cups every year!
Ordinarily, this would not appear to be a huge problem: coffee cups are made of paper, therefore they can be easily recycled and our continued dependence on disposable cups will to very little towards damaging the environment, right?
Well, the composition of disposable paper cups includes 5% low-density polyethylene plastic, which complicates the recycling process and often means that the standard disposable paper cup will go to landfill. On top of this, Starbucks have pledged to double the recycled content of their disposable coffee cups after it was revealed that they had been using paper cups with less than 10% recycled content since 2006. This suggests that not only are our disposable coffee cups incredibly difficult to recycle effectively, but they are also very regularly composed of materials that have not been recycled themselves. Our consumption of coffee within these disposable coffee cups is therefore becoming a process which will only encourage further deforestation and the disruption of natural habitats for animal and plant life.
Incorporating a reusable coffee cup into your travel bag is therefore a must in cutting our carbon footprint. Reusable cups, which cost usually around £2 from any local shop or supermarket, carry with them the added benefit of allowing you to keep your coffee hot, or cold, for a longer period of time. They are easy to differentiate, meaning that there will be no more discrepancies over whose coffee cup is whose. Some more environmentally savvy coffee shops also like to encourage reusable cups by offering discounts to customers who are able to provide their own.
This relatively simple switch can really contribute to a sustainable lifestyle and cut our carbon footprint drastically.
Try a Plant-Based Diet
By far the most significant way one person is able to cut their carbon footprint is by adopting a plant-based, or Vegan, diet. It is estimated that livestock and their byproducts, without factoring in the vast amount of grain that is needed to farm these animals, accounts for at least 32 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide per year, or 51% of all worldwide gas emissions. Remarkably, the collective emissions produced by the animal agriculture industry globally surpasses the also destructive and still incredibly harmful amount of Carbon Dioxide and greenhouse gases produced by any and all other industries.
Conversely, producing plant-based meat and meat substitutes emits up to 90% fewer greenhouse gases than producing conventional meat. Translating this to the impact our own individual efforts could have on our carbon footprint, just one plant-based meal can save the same amount of carbon emissions it takes to drive a car across the United States! Naturally, the potentiality for real and significant change adopting a plant-based diet can introduce is not explicitly evident until we explore just how harmful to our planet our reliance on animal agriculture is becoming.
Of course, this may be the first point on our list that may seem incredibly difficult to switch. Many, or perhaps most of us, will have grown up eating meat, therefore our consumption of animal products has become a very regular and almost subconscious activity in our working day. This makes this transition inherently difficult, as it encourages to actively go against the routine that has brought us into adulthood.
However, the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are so definite, that even a gradual transition is still cutting your own personal carbon footprint by a significant margin. Small things like having a ‘Vegan night’ at home, where you replace your regular meat products with plant-based alternatives, can have a very big impact both in the short- and long-term.
Avoid Single-Use Plastic Altogether
This simple switch relates partially to our previous point about reusable coffee cups. Single-use plastics can be found and purchased in most places, however it is most commonly utilised in the plastic shopping bags we use whenever we complete our weekly shop. Some supermarket have already agreed to cut down their production and implementation of single-use plastic bags, which for some customers may appear to be abandoning convenience in favour of ‘greenwashing’. So, why is it that supermarkets have chosen to take this important step – what makes single-use plastic bags so harmful?
Essentially, disposable plastic bags, and single-use plastics more generally, do not biodegrade; they break down into micro-plastics which seep into our soil, contaminating the food and water we consumer. They are not only damaging to our environment, they are also damaging to our personal health and wellbeing – but they are easily cut out of our daily routine.
Already, we have seen the growing popularity of ‘bags for life’, reusable and amore sturdy shopping bags that eradicate the need for their single-use plastic counterparts. Carrying wooden cutlery and a metal straw, both of which are reusable and can be washed easily, serve as effective replacements for the plastic cutlery we often find inside food packaging, and the plastic straws we use at many food restaurants.
These incredibly small changes can help you cut down your use of single-use plastics and contribute to living more sustainably.
Switch Your Lights Off!
Our simplest ‘switch’ of all reminds you that turning off your lights in your home when you are not in the room is another effective method for both saving your environment, and cutting costs at the same time. With the days steadily growing longer and warmer as we move into the summer months, there is no need to have lights on in the home throughout the day.
Make the most of natural light, spend time with friends – now that summer is on the horizon, we have so much more opportunity to go out and enjoy the sun. Switch your lights off, save the planet, and save yourself a bit of money at the same time.
For more content on living sustainably, check out another one of our articles here