Summer may feel great for us but it’s not so good for our natural world.
As temperatures rise, so do our energy and water use. You may be wearing flip-flops but you are still leaving a bigger carbon footprint. However, with some simple tweaks – from what you eat to how you holiday – you can make the balmy days a bit more environmentally friendly.
1. Ditch the disposable camping and picnic ware
Summer means outdoor eating – from beach barbecues and park picnics to garden grills. However, using disposable plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins may be easy on the cleanup, but not on the environment. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food packaging and containers create 39 million tons of waste a year in the US. So why not make a few changes before your next alfresco get-together? Bamboo is clearly the material of choice for eco outdoor eating equipment, providing a viable, eco-friendly alternative to plastics. In fact, bamboo cutlery search volume has surged by a whopping 306% over the last five years. Don’t forget you can also switch to compostable bin bags and reusable food wraps too.
2. Rehydrate with reusable water bottles
As it gets hotter, we get thirstier. Water is essential for our good health. But there’s no reason why staying hydrated should be bad for the planet. We produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. And it takes a plastic bottle about 450 years to biodegrade, impacting wildlife, air quality, and water supplies. And that mocha frappuccino that you grab to cool down? Cleanwater Action statistics show that coffee giant Starbucks is responsible for 8000 paper cups being discarded every minute. That’s more than 4 billion cups a year. So next time the temperatures soar, don’t forget your reusable water bottle. There is a huge array of BPA-free, glass, and stainless steel options out there. A simple but effective switch.
3. Get on your feet or bike!
Let’s face it. We like to be mobile, particularly in the summer months. But why should mobile mean motoring? Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, of which 72% comes from road transportation. As part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, the EU has set a goal of reducing emissions from transport by 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Why not do your bit and get out of your car and on your feet or bike? Bearing in mind that 25% of car journeys are less than 1 mile, walking or biking is a great way to improve your physical and mental health as well as the planet’s.
4. Choose a sunscreen that is reef as well as skin safe
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, by applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, you can reduce your risk of skin cancer by 50%. However, chemical sunscreens—using ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene—can cause environmental damage, in particular to coral reefs, leading Hawaii and other places to ban them. But welcome to the new age of hydrating, lightweight, and effective SPF products that protect you and the planet. Find out more about sustainable sunscreen here. When you swim, snorkel, and splash about, or lay on the beach with a good book, they will biodegrade without harm to the natural world.
5. Shop secondhand for your summer wardrobe
Sun’s out and so you hit the shops for the latest summer styles? No! The Clean Clothes 2019 campaign research showed that in the UK, one in three fast fashion items ended up in a landfill. Plus, fast fashion production processes allow toxic waste to go straight outside to pollute waters causing one-fifth of industrial water pollution. Why not try your local charity or vintage shop or car boot sale first? The second-hand economy was valued at $24 billion as of 2018 and is projected to grow to nearly 1.5 times the size of the fast fashion market within the next 10 years. You can also head online to platforms like Depop, Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal, thredUp, and Tradesy. Make secondhand your first choice this summer!
6. Ditch the dryer
You’ve got the secondhand wardrobe? Now, try drying it on the clothesline rather than in the tumble dryer. Not only will the save on your electric bill – according to the US Department of Energy (DofE) as much as $200 a year – but it will reduce dryer damage to your clothing extending its lifespan. Moreover, the DofE estimates that 4% of the electricity used in the average home goes to drying laundry. So line-drying conserves energy. Added bonus – you get to spend more time outside in the sunshine!
7. Eat more plants
Animal agriculture is brutal on the world’s resources. Research shows that growing plant protein is much more water-efficient than livestock farming. To produce 1kg of chicken takes 4325 litres of water, and 1kg of beef takes 13,000 litres. However, to produce 1kg of legumes takes only 1250 litres. Additionally, plant protein contributes to significantly less GHG emissions than animal protein. Data shows 500g of lamb generates five times more GHGs than 500g of chicken and around 30 times more than 500g of lentils. The abundance of fresh fruit and veg in summer makes it an excellent time to switch to a more plant-based diet. Find out more about the best plant-based protein sources here. And if you have to have a burger, why not try an Impossible one? It uses 87% less water, 96% less land, and produces 89% less fossil fuel emissions than a quarter pound of ground beef.
8. Eat more local (or grow your own!)
Summer is peak time for seasonal produce. Unlike what you find on supermarket shelves, farmers’ market fare will have expended less energy on transportation. Avoid air-freighted foods such as asparagus, avocados, and berries if they aren’t grown in your neck of the woods. Good to know, flying foods produces a staggering 50 times more CO2 emissions than sending them by boat. Eating organic also minimizes the impact on the environment, ensuring fewer chemicals contaminating water and soil. In fact, more and more people are going green by using their green fingers. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can grow herbs on a windowsill and tomatoes in an indoor planter. Or go to your local community garden to meet some mulch-minded new friends. According to the National Allotment society, there are currently 300,000 allotments in the UK.
9. Start composting
In the war on waste, composting is the first line of defense. Not only does it get rid of scraps, but it makes the planet healthier by improving soil and recycling nutrients. Consider this. UK households sent 7.2 million tonnes of biodegradable waste to landfills in 2018. In fact, 60% of waste in landfills is organic matter which doesn’t break down due to lack of aeration. Instead, it releases methane, a gas 72% more powerful at global warming than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. But composting is messy, smelly, and you need a garden, right? Not so! Check out our beginner’s guide to composting here.
10. Forget the fans and abandon the AC
In the balmy summer months, it’s often second nature to flick on the fan or activate the air conditioning when it heats up. However, curtains and blinds are equally effective at reducing our energy use and electricity bills. According to the DofE, 76% of the sunlight that falls on a window enters the room to become heat. So simply covering that window can reduce solar heat by up to 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows. Good to know – coverings work best in light colours, should be hung as close as possible to the window frame, and need to be drawn all day.
11. Switch off
According to the National Resources Defence Council, in a typical US household, 50 appliances are using electricity even if they appear to be off. That translates into an estimated equivalent of 50 power plants’ worth of energy wasted a year. So if you want to go more sustainable this summer, get a smart plug. These allow you to control your devices remotely as well as monitor energy costs from your smartphone. Your real-time energy reports will help you make smarter and more sustainable decisions. It’s a game-changer. Even better, switch off then switch to solar-powered garden lights, lanterns, and lamps. After all, the sun is free!
12. Take an eco-friendly break
Vacations are great for getting you away from the stresses of everyday life and enjoying the great outdoors. However, just because it’s good for us, doesn’t mean it’s good for the earth. Whilst package holiday powerhouse Tui has joined a new initiative to get rid of plastic waste in tourism, lots of us will be staycationing this summer! Try to pick an energy-efficient hotel, sustainable recreational activities, and conserve water and energy use when away to reduce your environmental impact. Also, can you use green transport options? Could you walk or cycle or get the train rather than drive? Make your summer holiday super-fun AND sustainable.