One of the many benefits of veganism is that it can help to save the planet. As well as saving the lives of animals, being vegan means you are helping to protect the soil, conserve water, save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat world hunger. And as a conscious consumer, chances are you care about the world and are already doing as much as you possibly can to reduce your impact on the environment. Maybe you already bring your own bags to the supermarket, avoid buying bottled water, turn off electrical appliances when not in use and walk, car share or use public transport to get around. Which is pretty great. But we’ve uncovered seven ways to help the planet that we bet you didn’t know about.
- Re-Use Your Takeaway Coffee Cup
Okay, we aren’t suggesting that once you’ve finished your soya latte, you should stash the empty paper cup in your bag and save its soggy, coffee-stained remains for the next time you are in need of a caffeine fix. We are suggesting that you ditch the paper cup full stop.
It is estimated that 2.5 billion paper and plastic cups are used every year in the UK alone, with less than one per cent being recycled, either because consumers are throwing the cups away in rubbish bins, or because of the difficulties of ripping out the plastic lining. After the success of the 5p charge on plastic bags in the UK, the government have discussed the possibility of introducing a charge on non-recyclable coffee cups, however no plans have yet been announced.
The solution? Invest in a reusable takeaway coffee cup, such as the Mug for Life, a BPA free, polypropylene cup that’s made from recycled materials. Mug for Life will even plant one tree for every ten mugs sold. Fill your mug with your favourite hot drink and take it with you on your way to work in the mornings, or keep it in your bag so you’ve always got it to hand if you find yourself in need of a beverage on the go. Some coffee shops now even offer a discount if you bring your own cup.
- Re-Think Your Beauty Routine
With the amazing number of cruelty-free beauty products to choose from, it can be tempting to become a bit of a product junkie and try to amass a lipstick collection as big as your favourite beauty blogger. But will all of these products actually get used? According to a survey, the average consumer owns almost 40 items of makeup, but only uses 5 of them daily. That’s not including skin, hair or body care products!
Whilst the packaging of most beauty products can be recycled, not everyone does so. Furthermore, some components of beauty products – such as pumps and lids – are not yet recyclable. So even if you recycle the box and bottle of your favourite cleanser, for example, chances are you will have to throw away the pump. Times that pump by the number of products you use and then by the number of beauty consumers worldwide, equals a huge amount of pumps going to landfill.
Cosmetics have a shelf-life, so collecting a huge number of products means that you could end up with bacteria-laden makeup that needs to join those pumps in the bin.
Rethink your beauty routine by reducing the number of products you use. Stop collecting makeup and only buy what you need, when you need it. Mineral makeup goes a long way, meaning you will have to buy it less often. Can you find multiple uses for one product? Lipstick can double as blusher; mascara can be used as a liquid eyeliner; and concealer makes a great highlighter.
When it comes to skin, hair and body care, an even better solution to reducing the number of products you use is to have a go at making your own. Store your homemade products in glass jars or safe plastic bottles that can be washed and re-used time and time again. Not only will you be helping to save the environment, you will also save yourself money. It’s a win-win.
- Go Natural
Following on from the previous tip, it is important to look carefully at the ingredients used in the beauty products you do have to buy. You’ve probably heard about why consumers and companies are ditching microbeads, tiny particles of plastic added to possibly thousands of personal care products around the world. Microbeads flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system and out into the ocean, where they cause harm to the marine environment. But are there other ingredients we should be avoiding?
Not only could many of the potentially harmful chemical ingredients used in cosmetics have an adverse effect on our health, but they can also negatively impact the environment. Triclosan, for example, is an antibacterial agent added to many products including toothpaste and hand wash. It is only partially removed during the wastewater treatment process, resulting in detectable levels of the antimicrobial in a number of aquatic species. Triclosan has been shown to be highly toxic to algae and exerts reproductive and developmental effects in some fish. Another chemical that has been found to have an adverse effect on the hormonal functions and reproduction of fish is benzophenone, an ingredient commonly used in products such as lip balm to provide UV protection.
So next time you’re shopping, opt for more natural products that contain as few ingredients as possible. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a handy source for checking whether your products and their ingredients are deemed as safe or harmful. Or, as we previously suggested, have a go at making your own natural products where possible.
- Swap, Don’t Shop
In an age where fast fashion is the norm, consumers are buying large quantities of cheap clothing, which is often thrown out when garments fall apart quickly due to their poor quality, or to make room for the new season’s must-haves. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. So instead of throwing out your unwanted clothes when you want to freshen up your wardrobe, consider doing a clothes swap. After all, as the old adage goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Clothes swapping, or swishing, is a great way to get hold of some new items of clothing whilst getting rid of your unwanted ones. An added bonus is, it’s free! You can swish online, or hold a clothes swapping party and get all of your friends to come along with their unwanted garments.
- Buy Organic or Second-Hand
Whilst clothes-swapping is great, it may not always work for you if you need a specific item of clothing. If you do need to buy clothes, try to buy ethically manufactured garments made from organic, natural fibres where possible. Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals and are non-biodegradable. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants which can become a source of contamination. Furthermore, certain chemicals used in the textile industry, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE), have a detrimental effect on the environment. The use of NPE in textile manufacture in Europe was banned over 10 years ago but the substance is still released into the aquatic environment through imported textiles being washed, resulting in hormone disruption in fish.
Cotton, whilst natural, is a very pesticide-intensive crop. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6.8% of all herbicides used worldwide. The use of these chemicals is harmful to the environment and to the farmers who harvest the cotton. Buying organic cotton helps to eliminate the use of hazardous pesticides, saves water, helps to fight climate change and helps farmers to feed their families.
Ethical fashion usually comes with a higher price tag, but if you are buying classic, high quality pieces that will last you for years, then it will work out cheaper in the long run. However, if you can’t afford to buy all your clothes this way, then try to always buy second-hand, as this reduces waste and pollution. Every garment you buy second-hand reduces the demand for the production of a brand new one, and is also less likely to end up in landfill since it survived its first wearer before finding a place in your wardrobe. Rummage through your local charity shop, or for online shopping, try places like eBay or Depop.
- Ditch Tampons
On average, one woman will use over 11,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime, which will end up in landfill or in the sea. These products take hundreds of years to biodegrade, especially if wrapped in their plastic packaging. Not only do disposable menstrual products create a vast amount of solid waste, there are significant resources consumed during the manufacturing processes. Disposable pads and tampons are made primarily of bleached kraft pulp or viscose rayon, the origin of which is wood cellulose from trees. Powerful chemicals and a variety of bleaching agents are used to turn solid wood into fluffy, white, absorbent fibres. The gross environmental impact of these chemicals is largely unknown, not to mention the potential long-term health risks to consumers.
Ditch those tampons and switch to menstrual cups or washable cloth pads instead. They may take a little getting used to, but when you consider the benefits of reusable menstrual products on the environment, your health and your bank balance, you won’t look back.
- Avoid Leather
Obvious animal cruelty issues aside, the production of leather has a negative impact on the environment. In order to preserve animal hides and skins, they are treated with a number of different chemicals. One tonne of hide or skin can produce 20 to 80 cubic metres of filthy, rancid wastewater, which contains chromium, sulfide and high levels of fat and other solid wastes, as well as pesticide residue and pathogens. The transformation of skin into leather also causes air pollution due to the release of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, as well as the use of solvents. In addition, raising animals for food and leather requires vast amounts of feed, pastureland, water and fossil fuels.
Faux leather goods made of synthetic and plant materials are a much more animal and environmentally friendly option. Whilst you could argue that synthetic materials made from plastics may not be the most sustainable alternative, the amount of energy required from start to finish to create a leather hide is 20 times greater than that used to produce a synthetic material.
Photos by Dominik Martin and Caroline Sada via Unsplash