Every day in the Stories on my Instagram account I Am Water I publish a sustainability tip (for 366 days, both in English and Italian). They are just short suggestions so I thought that it might be useful to give a deeper explanation for those who would like to examine them more in depth. Here are the first 14 tips from 1st November till 14th November.
The basic principles of sustainability
1. BUY LESS!
Buy less. Choose well. Make it last (Vivienne Westwood)
This is one of the most important principle of sustainability. Simple but very powerful. Thanks to mobile phones and the Internet nowadays we can shop wherever we are: on the bus, while we are waiting for someone, when we are bored. Shopping has become a hobby instead of a necessity but this doesn’t come without consequences for us (we see our money waste away and our houses full of stuff we don’t need) and the planet (which is being depleted of its natural resources for the constant need of having new things). How much thought is given to the life of the items we buy? Where they came from and where they will end up? Stopping to consider the impact of our actions on the earth is a great step ahead in the direction of sustainability. Before buying anything ask yourself: “Do I really need this?”, “Do I already own something similar to this?”, “What value is this item going to add to my life?”.
Refuse what you don’t need. For example, refuse disposable plastic whenever you can, like cups, bags, straws, cutlery, but also junk mail, promotional freebies or sample products. Refuse means saying “No”, a firm and kind “No, thank you” will go a long way. Adding an explanation on why you are refusing a specific item (mentioning the impact on the environment) can help people you interact with to understand your reasons and motivate real change.
Reduce what you consume or own. Think and get clear about what you really need and cut back on what you don’t. For example you can donate or sell items you no longer use decluttering your space or house and making sure not to fill it again with unnecessary stuff. Another way to reduce is to shop consciously buying only items with a purpose avoiding splurges or impulse purchases (like fast fashion garments or electronic gadgets).
Reuse something you already have instead of buying something or change disposable items (like bottles, cups, straws, containers, towels) for reusable ones. You can for example reuse packaging material or shipping containers like pallets, bubble wraps, boxes, cartons and so on instead of buying new ones. Or use fabric bags instead of plastic ones when you go grocery shopping. These swaps don’t have to be expensive: you can buy them second hand or create them from old clothes or household items. A bit of creativity always comes handy.
Many of our items are thrown away just because we don’t know how to repair them, fixing them is too expensive or they have been designed not to be repaired (forcing us to buy new things all the time, like new phones or electronic gadgets). They could be repaired with a simple fix, however these items often end up broken in the landfill. If you can’t fix your items yourself, look for someone that will, use the repair guarantee included with the product or see if you can find a Repair Cafè in your area. These are community places where people volunteer to repair broken items on a donation basis, have a look here (https://repaircafe.org/en/).
Recycle everything you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse. Recycle is a complex process and not everything we put in the colourful recycle bins gets actually recycled so this should be one of the last options when it comes to reduce our waste and not the first. Before recycling try and see if someone can use the glass pots, the newspapers and magazines or the electronics that you want to recycle (you can for example check if in your area there is a freecycling group on Facebook or other social media). Every municipality has different rules regarding what can be recycled (depending on their capacity and infrastructures) so always consult their guidelines (you can usually find them on the website of the municipality you live in).
If we want to reduce our impact on the planet and the environment we have to rethink the way we consume and ask ourselves different questions regarding the consumption, the production and the disposal of the products we buy. Questions like “How was this item produced?”, “Where does my waste go?”, “Could I borrow this from someone?”, “Can I use something I already have?” can help redefine our approach towards a less wasteful lifestyle.
Sustainability on the move
8. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT MORE OFTEN
Using your car less often in favour of public transport can have multiple benefits: you help reducing globel warming, curbing air pollution and lowering your expenses. It’s true that a bus for example can use more fuel than a private vehicle, however the average amount of energy per passenger is much less than a single-occupancy vehicle. This will also help you to reduce your carbon footprint and polluting emissions.
9. WALK TO PLACES REACHABLE ON FOOT
It’s a no brainer: as far as the environment is concerned walking is so much better than driving! If you can reach your destination on foot, do it! This will not only benefit the planet but it will also help to boost your health ? Besides the emission of greenhouse gases, driving means more air pollution and more expenses. Walking is the perfect way to slow down the pace of life and enjoy your surroundings.
10. USE YOUR BICYCLE WHENEVER YOU CAN
Also in this case, biking doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases and it is therefore a much better means of transport than a car or any other engine vehicle. So if the distance allows it, use your bike to go to work, to go grocery shopping and to go out at night (it’s the standard way of transport in countries like The Netherlands, Denmark or Germany). You will reduce air pollutants and the need of creating new parking lots therefore saving valuable green space. Cycling 10 km to work can save up to 1500 kg of greenhouse gas emission each year. And you get to exercise as well. What more can you ask for?
11. REDUCE TRAVELLING BY AIR TO A MINIMUM
Air travel puts a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and has an enormous climate cost compared to other individual action. The data are clear: if you care about the environment, it is wise to limit the number of times you take the plane. Skipping flying just one or two times a year can reduce your carbon footprint by as much as 10 to 20 percent. In case you cannot avoid it, you can try to fly nonstop (take-off and ascent are the most energy-demanding phases) or to stay in a place longer instead of going different places throughout the year.
12. TAKE THE TRAIN OR THE BUS MORE OFTEN FOR FARAWAY DESTINATIONS
If time allows, travel by bus or train because in general these have a less negative environmental impact than flying. The greenhouse effect per kilometre for railway transport is 80% less than cars. On the other hand, a bus with as few as seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than an average single-occupant vehicle. Buses use 8.7% less energy per passenger mile than a car and commuter trains use 23.7% less energy per passenger mile than a car.
13. ORGANIZE OR JOIN A CARPOOLING SYSTEM
Organizing or joining a carpooling system is a great way to use up the full seating capacity of a car (which remains otherwise unused in single-occupant cars). Sharing a journey by car helps reducing air pollution, carbon emissions and traffic on the road. Moreover, it can help you to get to know your colleagues or neighbours and contribute to building a community.
14. USE A CARPOOLING SERVICE THAT IS ALREADY AVAILABLE
You can also use a carpooling service already available, the most famous of which is BlaBlaCar. According to this company, in 2018 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 were saved by carpooling. The average number of occupants per car is 3.9 (vs the average 1.9 people). Carpooling enables the transport of two times the number of passengers in cars (+210%), whilst reducing CO2 emissions by 26%.