During the pandemic, we let climate-conscious habits slide and went back to old ways, telling ourselves there were more immediate things to worry about than over-consumption and energy waste. As the chill sets in, it’s time for a re-set, says Holly Hughes …
I recently returned to Ireland after 18 months in Australia. I had left a country in lockdown; returning home, normality greeted me. Or at least the appearance of normality. It seems we have adapted to a new era of living with Covid. However, our consumer habits – the ones ingrained in us in those first, early, scary days of uncertainty, contagion, and paranoia – remain stuck in a 2020 mindset.
I spent the past few months living in homes of various loved ones, observing their quotidian rituals, shopping hauls, day-to-day living. And, to be frank, I’ve been alarmed at the amount of waste being created, the sheer enormity of plastic packaging gathering at the end of every grocery shop. I’ve been terrified by a communal lack of urgency surrounding the climate crisis – a palpable loss of the fear (that I do not want us to have but that we must have for change to come) that had galvanised us all in 2019.
We have become so used to KeepCups being rejected in cafés, we no longer think to bring them with us. We have grown immune to being horrified that every fruit and vegetable is not just wrapped but double-wrapped in plastic that we continue to buy them in an automatic daze, still programmed to fear exposed produce. If fruit and vegetables are multi-packed and bound in unrecyclable waste, then that’s simply the way it is, right?
Not exactly. We must once again learn to prioritise environmental responsibility at all times and at all costs. It’s time for us to return to focusing on smaller problems – the kind we can solve with Tupperware, a mindful food shop, a craving left unsated.
One friend I stayed with, noticing my terror and penchant for switching off lights and suggesting we turn off the heating and pop on our sweaters, asked me to do an environmental audit of her apartment and behaviours. She wanted to lower her footprint, she just didn’t know how to, she said. The idea was that I would create a to-do list of easy changes she could make – the habits we’ve been hearing about for a decade but that are so simple we often overlook them.
This is that list. A gentle calling-out of our slide into less climate-conscious living, a subtle reminder that every single action we take has a consequence, and a kind refresher of the most basic behaviours you can adopt for a collective difference. I’m aware a coffee cup is neither the cause nor the solution to the climate crisis. However, by paying attention to these small details, we transcend a mere saving of waste or electricity – we are transforming our mindset, we are rebuilding our own attitudes, homes, and spheres of influence. Our energy use is already set to be curtailed and managed by the government as winter progresses but taking personal responsibility and thinking small and simple can achieve big results.
I believe the more areas in our life that can be coloured with environmental awareness, from brushing our teeth to sending an email, the better climate activists we will all be. And, the more effort we go to, the more we inspire others around us to make the effort too.
Environmental action is a practice, an ongoing journey of endless exploration and no destination. It is like mindfulness, self-love, curiosity – a thing invisible, unstoppable, and contagious. Remember that, like happiness, love and contentment, you will find that you already have everything you need for an eco-friendly life right there in your home. Dig deep for it. Turn off the lights and restart your climate fire. In no particular order, here are 20 ways to break out of a 2020 mindset.
Cycle or walk to your daily swim, coffee date. Leave the car at home.
Turn off lights when not in a room. Don’t leave devices plugged in unnecessarily. Avoid charging devices overnight.
Do you need to turn on the heating or will putting on a sweater and socks do the trick? Instead of lighting the fire, could you put some candles in the grate and a blanket over your knees for a similarly cosy effect?
Only fill the kettle with the amount of water you need. Do not turn it on and walk away and re-boil it 30 minutes later. Do you even really want that cup of tea or coffee or are you just bored?
Cut down on meat and dairy consumption. Trial a few days of vegetarianism per week and once you get comfortable with that, decrease your intake further. Swap dairy milk for oat in your coffee, then upgrade the swap to your cereal bowl.
Make a list before you go food shopping and stick to it to avoid buying things you don’t need. Never go shopping while hungry.
Arrange your fridge and cupboards so that the food quickest to expire is always at the front and easy to reach. This saves nasty surprises (and whopping waste) later.
“Just in case” milk and bread often end up being discarded. In case buys often don’t save you time or money so don’t buy them! Check before you open a fresh carton, tin, bottle of something. There is probably an open one – or two! – lurking in the fridge. Look!
Avoid buying packets of six bread rolls, when you only need two. If you like to bulk-buy, don’t forget the freezer is your best friend and will keep everything fresh until you need it.
Find the supermarket in your area that sells unpackaged fruit, vegetables and bread. Go there. Buying three limes in plastic wrapping and a black plastic basket is not sustainable.
Find the KeepCup at the back of the cupboard and return it to your bag, car, jacket pocket. There is no excuse for not using one at all times. To save you buying emergency water, keep a reusable bottle in your car and office so you’re never stuck.
If you buy bottled water due to poor water quality in your area, invest in a water filter – think how much plastic you will save!
Wash all clothes at 30 degrees and only wash as you need to. One wear doesn’t mean one wash!
Remember to check where your food is coming from and buy accordingly. I will love avocados until my dying breath but, as most are imported from Chile, they should be treated as a luxury, not a staple. Eat seasonally, locally, joyously!
Boycott clingfilm and tinfoil and instead use Tupperware to preserve leftovers. A plate or saucepan lid over a dish is a will keep your food fresh. Keep takeaway containers and reuse them, or wash, dry and recycle them responsibly.
Re-set your retail therapy. I promise you neither need, nor will continue to feel elated by, a full basket on a fast-fashion website. Be selective when deciding to buy new (but preferably old) clothes.
40 per cent of waste in Irish households is organic matter. Diverting this waste into a brown bin creates huge carbon savings and will save you money – there is no landfill tax on brown bins! Ask your waste service provider about a separate collection.
Put clear lists of what can and can’t go into each household bin above them to motivate less-enthusiastic recyclers.
Buy soap bars instead of plastic bottles of shower gel. When you get comfortable with this, try a shampoo bar, or a refillable body wash. Buy your last disposable bottle of washing-up liquid and bring the container to a waste-free shop to refill it.
Swap your regular sponge and scrub for a wooden brush with replaceable, compostable heads. Cloth tea towels can be used over and over for years. Paper towels cannot.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.