(and other easy changes you can make to live more sustainably)
Right now we are in the midst of a climate-breakdown emergency. (To read more about this, check out Carine’s articles here and here). The whole problem can seem so scary and overwhelming that you may feel that you have no control over what is happening. You may also think that there is little point in making changes to your lifestyle because they won’t really have any impact on a global scale.
What you may not have realised is that this whole issue is about more than just you recycling at home. This is about a shift in mindsets and attitudes to slow down, to reduce our consumption, to minimise waste, to fix, reuse or repurpose rather than to discard and to refuse to buy items that are overpackaged, unfriendly to the environment or toxic to our own health. This is about us demanding more sustainable solutions from our governments and the big retailers. This is about education and grassroots community actions. The power is in our hands and our wallets (we choose where and how we spend our money)… and real change can happen from within the four walls of our own homes.
But where do I start?
Sitting down as a family and prioritising your collective needs is a good way to assess how you can make some initial changes. One of the easiest and simplest changes you can make is to get rid of single-use plastics from your daily lives. Single-use plastics are entirely unnecessary and there are now many affordable alternatives available that won’t hugely affect your lifestyle. In fact, you may actually find that they improve it!
Pick one of the seven below changes to make each week, and within a very short amount of time you will notice the drastic reduction in your plastic use. We promise, you will also feel pretty good about it!
7 ridiculously simple single-use plastic swaps that you can do. Really easily.
1. A water filter at home and a reusable water bottle for when you’re out and about.
Living in a hot country and considering the amount of bottled water we can get through in a single day, a water filter at home to provide clean drinking water from your tap has got to be the biggest change you can make this year! Plastic water bottles take over 450 years to break down in nature and they stick around even longer than that in the form of microplastics. (To read some shocking facts about plastic bottles, read Kat’s article here).
The energy it takes to make plastic bottles (from non-renewable sources) and the cost to recycle them is just out of proportion for a single use product that is entirely unnecessary in our homes. The same goes for when you are out of the house… a reusable water bottle carried in your bag means you can take your pure filtered water with you.
If every restaurant, café or workplace installed a water filter, refilling your reusable water bottle while out and about would be even easier! Imagine how great it would be if we had refillable water stations in major supermarkets and public places!
So, until this happens, install a water filter under your sink or on top of your kitchen counter (this actually works out cheaper than buying water bottles over the course of a year or two) and you can skip lugging heavy water bottles to your home on a daily basis and notice the drastic reduction in your plastic recycling from the very first week! (To learn more about the benefits of filtered tap water over bottled water here).
2. Reusable cups, straws, sandwich bags and lunch boxes.
A reusable coffee cup, a fabric sandwich bag and/or a metal/wood lunch container are all affordable and easy swaps for their single-use counterparts. Have you noticed that a lot of coffee shops locally have now got rid of proper cups for dining in and are instead serving you your coffee in single use cups? Even if these cups are recyclable (many are not!), water, power and materials have been used to make that one-use cup, and if it is lucky enough to get in to a recycling bin, that little cup is going to need to be transported to the recycling centre and then be sorted and processed. That’s a lot of energy wasted for something that will only ever be used once in its lifetime!
If you’re eating lunch at work, keep a set of proper cutlery in your office desk, or pop a lightweight bamboo cutlery set and reusable straw in your bag. Getting takeout? Take your own containers with you and ask your favourite takeout place to use those instead… if you’re a valued customer, we can guarantee they won’t turn you down!
3. Reusable bags
We were amazed at how quickly the population has shifted to now carrying reusable shopping bags with them once the plastic bag tax was introduced. Keep heavy duty bags in your car for when you do a big shop, and keep a couple of cloth bags in your (hand)bag for those small purchases. Go one step further and take reusable net produce bags with you. Buy (there are a few places now that stock these locally) or make ones that have space for the weighing label to attach to and you’re sorted. You can store your loose produce in these bags, they’re washable and last a long time – they’re great! Having these bags with you may even encourage you to buy your produce loose rather than heavily pre-packaged items! (Check out our Step 02: Plastic Bags article in our “How to reduce your plastic use” series here).
4. Buy loose fruit, veg and other items
On that note… try to minimise packaging waste by buying loose items as much as possible and taking them home in your own reusable containers/bags… you can easily buy beans, lentils, eggs, bread, dried fruit, nuts, olives, dairy, meat, fish and all fruit and veg this way.
5. Repurpose old glass jars
Why buy expensive Tupperware when you can repurpose glass jars and store your leftover food in those? It’s much healthier than keeping or reheating your food in plastic and a varied assortment of glass jars look much better on your kitchen shelf! Buy those stretchy silicone covers or beeswax wraps for covering irregular shaped items, and you’ve also managed to ditch clingfilm and foil from your weekly grocery list!
6. Switch over to cloth
Replace baby wipes (they are actually a type of plastic that can’t be recycled or broken down– did you know?) with biodegradable or cloth alternatives. While you’re at it, you might as well replace disposable kitchen cloths and sponges, paper napkins and kitchen towel with cloth alternatives (google: scrubbies; uncloths; reusable wipes; unpaper towels etc). They are easy to pop in the wash with any laundry load and last for years. We’ve had some on the go for 10 years and they’re still growing strong. A few less bulky items to remove from your weekly shop!
7. Switch back to real soap
We have drastically reduced our plastic use by switching from liquid hand soap, body wash and shampoo to real soap. Such a simple change. There is now a large range of beautiful eco soaps available – for all uses and in all price ranges, scents, ingredients and many made locally.
We are the key!
Remember, us women are key influencers in society – both in terms of educating our families and in often being the ones to manage the family finances… we can choose to raise our family ethically and sustainably and we can vote outside the home with our wallets. We have more power than we think!
Even though the mindset shift isn’t happening as quickly here as it may be in other countries, it is actually easier in Cyprus to live more sustainably than it would be in a big city like London or New York! With such a short distance from farm to table in Cyprus and with a long growing season most of the year round, there is really no need to eat out of season or to buy imported fruits and veg. A lot of locals in Cyprus have access to agricultural land, even if they live in the cities, so it’s very easy to buy locally made honey in glass jars, eggs from a neighbour and get refills on your olive oil from your friend who makes their own.
It is also still possible to buy from small local shops rather than large chain supermarkets where packaging tends to be overused. You can still buy your bread from the bakery, get fresh fruit and vegetables, dried goods (beans, lentils, fruit, nuts) and eggs loose from your local fruiteria… you can even take your own containers to the psistaria if you need to get takeaway lunch!
Now that you’ve taken those first steps, here are a few more you can take…
Once you’ve made the above simple changes (trust us, you’ll do it really quickly and easily once you’ve got in to the habit and started feeling those happy-hormones when you see how much less plastic you are using 😊) here are some more changes you can make to live more sustainably. They may take a little more effort but they are worth it!
- Shop locally, buy independent and support small businesses – they may be more likely to stock eco-friendly alternatives, second hand/vintage items, be handmade and possibly use more natural materials and if they are made locally, have a much lower carbon footprint. Another benefit of buying locally or from independent retailers is that you can have a face to face conversation with them and ask them where their products were sourced, which farming methods they use and how their items were made.
- Get out of the fast-fashion mindset. Swap clothes with friends and families or buy second-hand or upcycled clothes. If you’re buying new, choose organic. They cost more but you will probably look after these items better and they will definitely last longer!
- Buy your fruit and veg locally and in season or have a go at growing your own!
- You can try making your own toiletries and cleaning products or if don’t have the time and you can afford it, switch to eco-friendly alternatives that come in biodegradable packaging!
- Purchase wooden toys or good quality ones that will last for years. Kids don’t actually need as many toys as we think.
- Switch over to cloth nappies and while you’re at it, buy a menstrual cup and cloth sanitary towels. They’re not as icky as you may think. To read more about how great they really are, you can read Kat’s post On Mooncups and Menstrual Pads here.
- Collect rainwater (for those few short months a year) and recycle your home wastewater (assuming you are using eco-friendly toiletries and cleaning products)
- Instead of throwing away something that is broken, have a go at fixing it or repurposing it into something else…
- When you need to purchase something new for your home, research your options and try to find the most sustainable or eco-friendly solution. You’ll probably find they are made better and will last longer, even if they cost a little more from the outset.
- If you’re building a new home, look in to the eco options from the building materials to the way that your home will be heated and cooled and how electricity and water will be brought into your home. Starting from scratch, you can choose home solutions that will save you a lot of money in the long run!
Good luck! You don’t have to do everything at once, you can just make a promise as a family to be more conscious consumers and to be aware that less is more. Have conversations about it with your partner and children. Make it a group activity. Minimise, slow down, breathe, get out in nature more so that you can see the animals, birds and natural environment that you are trying to preserve.
And remember, the change starts at home. You can be the change.