A comprehensive guide to those responsible decisions that we know deep down we should be making already. How many of these planet-friendly habits have you already adopted? Which green choices are next for you to try bringing into your life?
Alter and mend your clothes. Even minor alterations can take an outfit from being simply adequate to absolutely amazing. Tailoring isn’t something you should just reserve for your most expensive clothing items either – even fast fashion outfits can be given a new lease of life with simple alterations that ensure a perfect fit. It’s a relatively inexpensive decision, but one that will make your clothes star wardrobe items that you’ll always reach for when you’re getting dressed.
Borrow when you can. This applies to all kinds of items, but especially books. Your local library will have an incredible range of great reads that you can borrow for free. If you’re looking for some interesting reads in the sustainability sphere, check out This Is Not A Drill, Can a City Be Sustainable?, and any of the great books out there on the zero waste lifestyle.
Cutlery set in your bag. The reality for many people is that they will be eating out or on-the-go semi-regularly if not every day. Having a reusable cutlery set (it doesn’t have to be bamboo – it could literally be a set of utensils from your kitchen drawer) in your bag will prevent your use of disposable plastic sets each time you grab a bite.
Drink bottle. In a country like Aotearoa where we have easy access to potable drinking water, there’s no need to be constantly paying money for water that comes in plastic bottles. Make carrying a reusable drink bottle with you a habit - you’re much more likely to get all the water you need per day, save money, and reduce your plastic consumption. Win.
Energy efficiency/conservation. Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them. Make sure you don’t have a leak in your house resulting in the wasting of water (and a high utilities bill). Change your lightbulbs to ones that are more energy efficient.
Food waste management. A significant portion of the waste that goes into New Zealand landfill is food waste. When food scraps go to landfill, they break down in the absence of oxygen and release methane, a greenhouse gas. In contrast, when composted in conditions with oxygen, they break down faster and produce compost (‘nature’s gold’) that can be used to increase the quality of soil in your garden. There are lots of options for different living situations - worm bins, cold compost bins, and Bokashi systems… with just a little research and effort you’ll find it really easy to reduce your household foodwaste to basically zero.
Grow your own herbs (and other veges) if you can. Urban farming has been described as a solution to the food shortages in our imminent future. No matter what kind of space, or how small (or non-existent) your garden, there are easy ways to grow some of the ingredients you need in cooking. And if you’re really sceptical about your gardening skills, as I was when I started out, start with mint – it’s a more or less indestructible weed that you couldn’t kill even if you tried.
Handkerchiefs and dish towels instead of tissues and paper towels. Not only are these swaps more sustainable in terms of reducing waste, you might be surprised at how much money you save in the long run.
Invest responsibly. Major banks in Aotearoa are loaning billions of dollars fossil fuel projects - reflect on your bank’s role in the climate crisis. And if you’re investing your money in funds, be aware that some funds are significantly more socially and environmentally conscious than others.
Join a volunteer group. There are lots of community groups out there doing great mahi that are always looking for more helping hands. This might be a beach clean-up group, an urban farm working bee, or conservation group that does mass tree-plantings. It’s a lovely way to meet like-minded people and give back to the community.
Keepcup or other equivalent. A lot of disposable cup brands are now marketing themselves as being biodegradable or compostable, but the reality is that the majority of these cups will still end up in landfill. Take your favourite mug or alternative reusable vessel when you are going to work or are on the move – in some places you might even get a discount for it.
Letter/email/comment writing. If you want MPs, businesses, or organisations to make sustainable changes, it’s important to ask for them. Contact people directly or leave comments on their social media profiles with criticism/asking for change (e.g. more sustainable packaging, more transparency around production processes). There’s power in numbers – if more people explicitly state that these are things they care about and look for in their products, the more likely businesses are to change their practices.
Menstrual cups/sustainable period products. If you have a uterus and you get periods regularly, think about the different choices out there to help this a more sustainable process. Whether this is by getting an IUD/depo injection and getting lighter or no periods, using reusable menstrual cups, or getting products such as reusable pads or period underwear, there will be a great option perfect for your wants and needs.
Natural/simplified bathroom routines. Have you ever thought about why you need five different types of cleaning spray when a single multi-purpose product could be effective on most surfaces? Why do you need 10 products in your skincare routine (and are all those products really doing what they claim?). Many people adopting a low impact lifestyle make their own DIY cleaning/beauty products, but if that just isn’t for you, simply opt for the least toxic, most effective, multi-purpose products you can find (and enjoy how spacious your bathroom now feels).
Op-shop or buy second-hand whenever possible. Not only is this incredibly supportive of a circular fashion economy and just better for the planet, you will be able to find durable clothes at a fraction of their original price. My favourite consignment-store find was a designer velvet dress for under $30 – all it needed was a quick alteration to adjust the length of the straps and it was the perfect piece to wear to graduation.
Public transport. It might take a bit of extra planning or time in the morning to get to the bus stop or train station, but try to take public transport instead of a car/Uber whenever you can. The personal perks of public transport that I particularly enjoy include: not having to find a park; avoiding parallel parking; not having to pay for parking.
Question whether or not you really need that new thing. Will it add value to your life? Is it versatile? Is it durable? How high maintenance is it re: cleaning/upkeep? Do you have something else in your possession already that serves a similar function?
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (composting). Remember these 5 Rs in your everyday life – particularly the first one – Refuse – which will stop you from bringing wasteful items into your home e.g. junk mail, freebies at events.
Support local initiatives to green your city/town/area. In Auckland, they’ve been trialling pedestrianising the city and they’ll be seeking feedback from the public about these trials. Make sure you express your support for such initiatives to turn your city into one that has fewer cars and more physically moving people.
Try out the zero waste alternatives (do this mindfully). Many people find that they get excited trying out new products – so why not bring this excitement into exploring the world of zero/low waste alternatives? You don’t have to rush in at once – just wait until you run out of something specific (e.g. shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, makeup). When you do, try and find the most environmentally friendly alternative to the product you were using before. A gentle ease, product by product, into a more sustainable lifestyle will be easier to maintain than hastily swapping everything for greener alternatives that you may realise you don’t enjoy using anyway.
Unplug your appliances when you’re not using them. Even when not in use, they can draw power and add to your electricity usage/bill. Over the course of a year, you can avoid a significant amount of energy waste and save money simply by pulling out your TV/laptop or computer charger/toaster etc. from the wall.
Vegan/vegetarian/plant-based/less meat diet. Eating less meat is one of the simplest ways to make significant reductions to your personal carbon footprint. And if you’re not ready, you don’t have to give it up entirely, either. Many start out trying Meatless Mondays to find that finding plant-based alternatives is easier and tastier than they had imagined.
Walk or cycle when you can. If the distance to wherever you need to go isn’t too far, consider walking or cycling there. It’s better for the planet, you’ll get some incidental exercise into your day, and you may find it a refreshing experience to get to know all the different parts of your community that you usually drive past without noticing at all.
Xerox/print on both sides of the paper. If you can’t get away with just having a digital copy of a file, make sure you print on both sides of the sheet. Old university notes (if you haven’t recycled them already) are a great source of scrap paper.
YouTube/other online communities can provide a wealth of knowledge and help motivate you to keep up the good habits. Influencers like Sedona Christina, Kamea Chayne, and Sustainably Vegan have a large library of videos and/or podcast episodes with suggestions and tips on how to adopt a more low impact life, and interviews with experts on the many different aspects of eco-conscious living.
Zero waste/bulk stores. Try and support your local brick-and-mortar bulk stores whenever you can.You may not be in the financial position to buy everything on your groceries/shopping list from a zero waste or bulk store, but there will be many staple products/essentials that you can get for cheaper in bulk. I go to mine to refill my empty shampoo and conditioner bottles and to buy my favourite hand-crafted soaps.