With countries across the world in lockdown this year, this period is a unique one for us and our planet, our only home. I’m no big eco-activist but over the years, I’ve learnt various things and have changed my extravagant lifestyle to reduce my impact on Earth.
So here are some of my tips to help you do the same:
1.Go vegan – A 2018 Oxford University study – the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet – found that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth’ as animal farming provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of our farmland.
Besides the tremendous land and water use, animal agriculture is also a significant contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions and leads to massive land degradation and pollution.
Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. 2 The leather industry to is heavily polluting with serious consequences on the environment and those employed.
While many go vegan as they care about animal rights, many do it for the environment and some go on a plant-based diet for health (but inadvertently end up supporting a greater cause with that choice). It’s not a tough choice once you know the facts and hidden costs of our consumption.
If you think you can’t go vegan overnight, try it gradually until you are able to. Read, watch documentaries, and connect with other vegans online for support. To experience the associated health benefits, make sure you choose nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and avoid processed foods and sugar.
2. Reduce single-use products (not just plastic) – I used to think the paper was a great substitute until I learnt that paper too is damaging for our planet considering deforestation, the enormous energy and water use and air pollution. Some things that we can do: Refuse straws even if paper, disposable coffee cups, cutlery, etc. I carry my own bags, water bottle, cutlery and cup. Avoid packaged food as much as possible.
If you have a lot of plastic containers, reuse them for as long as you can. And ladies, switch to cloth pads or menstrual cups. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get used to them.
3. DIY bath, body and home products – Commercial deodorants, bath, body lotions, detergent, home cleaning products, etc. come loaded with chemicals harmful to us and the environment. By making your own, you can avoid these chemicals and packaging waste too. At the least, we could buy these products from small eco-friendly businesses that genuinely care about the environment.
4. Support slow-fashion brands – Consider investing in carefully researched local brands that last long, use earth-friendly fabrics and vegetable dyes while providing employment to local artisans and keeping ancient art forms alive.
Choose locally woven fabrics, hemp, cork and leather made from fruits and plants.
5. Start composting – It’s easier than you think! You don’t need any fancy bins; you can get started with just some old buckets. It is so satisfying to see your kitchen waste turn into this beautiful compost with a wonderful fragrance and know that you’re saving stuff from going into a landfill.
You can use the compost for your plants or building garden or just give it away to those who’d like to have it!
6. Buy local produce – The shorter your food has travelled the lower the carbon footprint and it would be fresher and better for us and support our local economy.
India has a treasure trove of local grains, millets, fruits and vegetables. And even if you’d like to have your quinoa and avocados, buy locally grown over imported. However, it’s interesting to note that even if you buy local meat, that is still not sustainable compared to imported vegan food! A balanced vegan diet trumps a local omnivorous one in terms of sustainability.
7. Become a minimalist – Even if you do all of the above, aim to buy less in general and use it for longer.
Over the years, we’ve become massive consumers – with online shopping, instant gratification is possible just with a few clicks. At times, in my bid to support small businesses, I didn’t realise I was buying stuff I didn’t really need and hoarding it – be it clothes, random household items or perishables.
But after watching a video by The Minimalists, I began to rethink my shopping patterns and make mindful purchases. Any business wants you to spend more but the only way to tread lightly on this planet is to consume less.
Tip: Beware of green-washing – Don’t fall for labelling and advertising. Look beyond that and think for yourself. Beware of brands that may seem like a better choice but may not really be.
E.g. Bamboo toilet paper may seem eco-friendly but what if the raw material is imported from China? And what if the bamboo was heavily treated with chemicals? Can I look for bamboo that’s grown in India instead? We must dig deeper before we spend our money.
Lastly, if you’re just getting started on this path, don’t be overwhelmed by the Dos and Don’ts. Don’t think about achieving ‘perfection’. Every step counts so just get started! And remember that it’s not about what you cannot have; it’s about what you don’t want to have or contribute to.
I’ve made a lot of ‘mistakes’ in my journey and still do but I continue to learn from them. Be humble and compassionate towards all beings (including yourself) and enjoy the process.