I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. They always feel so extreme and unattainable, inevitably leading to guilt and shame. Nobody needs more of that. So please know, this is not an article about all the things you need to change this year. This is a list of things you could decide to focus on and build a habit around, so you can make the changes you want in a sustainable (pun fully intended) way.
When it comes to sustainability, there are lots of easy ways to live a little greener. Choose one or two focus areas. Make incremental changes and most importantly, when you slip up, be kind to yourself.
Cut down on animal products
You’ve heard this a million times: commercially farmed animal products use more resources than the earth can sustain. But you don’t have to go fully vegan today to make a difference. Every meal you eat that contains fewer or no animal products helps.
There are so many ways to make this change incremental. You could try introducing the classic meat-free Monday, or you could make different rules that work for you. Maybe it’s no-meat breakfast, or no-meat cooked in the house, but order anything you like when you eat out. Another idea is to only eat meat that can be traced to a source you trust, like game or meat from a regenerative farm. You could also cut out one type of meat like beef or chicken. Of course, it’s not only meat. You could also switch from dairy to oat milk, or butter to margarine.
Unplastic your life
Another classic: plastic. We know all the basics. Remember your re-usable mug and your water bottle, go grocery shopping at packaging-free stores and use fabric tote bags.
Become a plant parent
If you haven’t already jumped on the plant craze and greet your pothos by name in the morning, there’s still time. Start with hard-to-kill plants like spekboom (an absolute hero when it comes to sequestering carbon), snake plants or the aforementioned pothos.
Try asking a friend if you can propagate your plants from a cutting of theirs, popping it into an old glass jar with water or into plastic container you already have with holes in the bottom rather than buying more plastic plant pots.
Shop small and local
Supporting big corporates. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am. When I need a few different items – especially if they’re not in the same group (like tech, kitchen utensils, kid’s toys and a book) – it’s easy to log into one big online store that stocks everything and get it all in one delivery. Probably a free, next-day delivery too. It’s easy, convenient and often cheaper than finding individual local suppliers.
But here’s the thing. We all love to blame big corporates for their horrible ethics and atrocious carbon footprints, and we’re right to do it. But we’re also the ones who buy from these companies – at the end of the day helping them make a fat profit and showing them that they don’t need to change their behaviour.
I have a few suggestions on how to shop more sustainably. I know I need a lot of clothing basics from a big retailer, so I make sure to choose one with a sustainability plan in place, and check that my t-shirts are made from BCI cotton.
When it comes to gifting, I support a few go-to local small business in different categories: jewellery, baby things, books, skincare, linens and ceramics. Most gifts, depending on the person and the occasion, can come from one of these suppliers. Make a calendar of gifts you know you’ll need over the next few months and order from your local, sustainable suppliers ahead of time.
Start thrifting and exchanging
Let this be the year you start thrifting. Your new wardrobe items can come from an array of beautiful Instagram stores. Your new Fitbit can come from Facebook marketplace (I can vouch for that. Mine works perfectly, and it was ridiculously cheap). Your new furniture can come from one of those secondhand stores in the industrial part of town.
Chat to your friends before you make any new purchases. I need a new bed, and a friend of mine with a relatively new (and very comfy) bed is upgrading to a larger one. Voila. She gets some cash for her newish old bed and I get one I know I love (because sleepovers) and I know isn’t gross (because clean-freak friend) at a bargain and we’re all happy.
You can also exchange things with your friends. A few years ago, a friend of mine had lost a lot of weight and I’d gained a lot. We kept borrowing dresses and coats from each other for special occasions and then it struck us – we should just exchange some of our items for good. We both got new wardrobes that fit us perfectly, with the bonus of some new colours and silhouettes that we wouldn’t have picked in a store but look great on us. If you don’t happen to have that very specific and lucky situation, you can still exchange books, home décor and even beauty products. I once bought a moisturiser too rich for my skin type and passed it along to a dry-skinned friend.
Finally start composting
I’ll admit it. This one didn’t work for me the way I had imagined. I absolutely love collecting my scraps in my bokashi bin, but I didn’t realise that what comes out of the bin is “pre-compost” and I don’t have a garden to make it into actual compost. But there are some ways to solve this conundrum. There are places you can drop off a bucket of kitchen scraps and they will compost it for you, as well as services who will collect your organic waste. Look it up online in your area. You could also find a friend (as I did) who has a compost heap and a home veggie patch who would be THRILLED to receive your pre-compost.
Find your own path
Maybe the change you want to make isn’t on this list. Interested in permaculture? Do an online course. Switch to solar power? Great idea! Look it up online. Want to keep bees? You do you!
The point is to find something you’re excited about and give it a try. As the well-worn saying goes, the world doesn’t need a handful of people doing it perfectly, it needs billions of people doing it imperfectly.