New Year, New You?

Sustainable New Year's Resolutions

Published January 02, 2021

It’s that time of year again, when everyone’s making New Year’s Resolutions. New Year, new you, right? But no matter our intentions, whatever we resolved has been largely forgotten come February. Why is that? Most of us fall pray to the lofty illusions that a new year should mean revamping who you are and what you do. But “get fit”, “become vegan”, “go zero waste”, “lose weight”, “live life to the fullest”, are intangible, abstract ideas, that can easily get put to one side. Instead, more and more advice suggests that rather than making a big resolution in January, it’s better to pick several small, achievable goals throughout the year, that help you make long lasting changes.

Mini New Year's Resolutions Towards Sustainable Living

So, if your resolution on January 1st, 2021 was “live more sustainably”, what can you actually do to get there? Below is a list of ideas to help you move towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Choose only one or two small things to do at a time and it's far more you'll likely to stick to the changes. Perhaps you'll even be ready to make some of the other changes in a couple of month's time too.

Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Single use plastics seem to be the bane of the modern world. The following small changes have long been circulating on blogs social networks and in the media, but why not make 2021 the year you actually do some of them?

  • Make or buy reusable grocery and produce bags.
  • Get a reusable water bottle and use it.
    Why buy bottled water when the waters in the faucets of many places is perfectly safe? Even in countries when the tap water isn’t safe to drink, boiling and/or filtering gives you safe drinking water in minutes.
  • Get a reusable coffee cup.
    Remember that even “eco-friendly” or compostable cups are still trash unless disposed of properly.
  • Invest in some metal or bamboo* cutlery and straws to carry with you for take-out and picnics.

The trick with all these items is to get into the habit of carrying them with you (it's quite easy to forget them at the beginning). Keep them by your door or in your purse or backpack, to ensure you have them for that spontaneous coffee in the park with a friend, or for in case you decide to pop into the supermaket on your way home from work.

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Use Less Water and Energy

Again, the below are all things you've probably heard for years, but the advice persits because these things help!

  • Use the “eco” cycle on dishwasher and washing machine .
  • Flush your toilet less often (think “yellow, mellow”) or at least use the eco flush option. 
  • Put something voluminous like a filled bottle in the tank.
    This helps to reduce the volume of water used per flush, if your toilet doesn’t have an eco-flush option.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath, bathe for less time and less frequently.
    Contrary to popular belief, most people are just fine showering every other day,without stinking out the train car or the workplace!
  • Switch off lights and unplug appliances when you’re not using them.
  • Hang your clothing out to dry instead of using a drier, whenever you can. 
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Eco-Friendly Food Options

  • Buy locally as much as possible.
    This helps to reduce transport carbon footprints and boosts the local economy.
  • Eat fruit and vegetables in season.
    Doing this means that you’re more likely to be able to find it locally and there won't be huge energy costs involved in producing it (for example with greehouses).
  • Cook from scratch more.
    Natural ingredients have less packaging and are more likely to be local.
  • Be more conscious about meat.
    Whether you think the vegan diet will save the world or not, we could all be more conscious when eating meat and many of us could eat less. Buy meat and chicken that has been raised in more ethical and animal friendly ways, without factory farming practices or battery cages.
  • Ditto for eggs and dairy.
  • Choose foods that are certified fair trade, organic, or rainforest/ocean friendly.
  • Buy groceries from packaging free stores.
    More and more are popping up all over the world. If you are in the USA, this website has a list for every state!
  • If you don’t have pacakging free stores near you, buy in bulk, to reduce the packaging to product ratio. 
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men and women jumping while wearing naturally dyesd, sustainably produced alpaca wool clothing in the mountains

More Sustainable Clothing Choices

  • Avoid fast fashion
    Cheaper probably means many corners have been cut, both in terms of sustainability and ethics.
  • Buy clothing second hand when you can.
  • Choose eco-conscious brands.
    Do your research and choose brands that use sustainable materials and manufacturing practices (like Arms of Andes) and produce quality products, that won’t end up in the trash after a few months.
  • Organize or attend clothing swaps with your friends
    These can be great social events (once it’s safe to socialize again!) and your unused clothing can get a second lease of life in someone else’s wardrobe. 
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Personal Hygiene and Cleaning Products

  • Switch to a bamboo* toothbrush.
    The handles are always compostable, but try to choose one with compostable bristles and packaging too. 
  • Switch to an old fashioned steel razor.
  • Use menstrual cups and fabric sanitary towels.
    They take a little getting used to, but you won’t go back when you do!
  • Choose more natural and biodegradable options for cleaning and personal hygiene (shampoo, laundry detergent, soap, etc.). 
  • Use vinegar and baking soda for household cleaning.
    These simple food products do a surprisingly good job at cleaning in the home, but if you want something that smells better or is a little stronger, choose “eco-friendly” and biodegradable options. 

* When choosing products made from bamboo, try to ensure the bamboo comes from sustainable sources.

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Transport Options That Are Better For The Environment

  • Choose to walk or bike to work (or to a bus/train station for longer journeys).
    Start with just once or twice a week. Unless it’s a short journey, it's best not to set your goal as every day, at least to begin with. Once doing so once a week is manageable, you can think about doing it on other days too.
  • Try to use public transport instead of the car for your regular journeys.
    Start by taking the bus to work, school or the supermarket once a week. If that feels too time-consuimg commint to just once a week, otherwise try to build up to doing it more often.
  • Look into car sharing schemes to get to work or for work trips.
  • For short trips (less than a mile), leave your car at home!
  • Fly less (explore the bus or train for shorter journeys).
  • Sign up to a carbon offsetting program for longer journeys, both by air and overland. 
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series of jars to represent the ideas of reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, compost

Sustainable living starts with REDUCING waste, REPAIRING and/or REUSING broken/unused items, before RECYCLING or, when possible, COMPOSTING them.

Other Sustainable Lifestyle Changes

There's a lot to go with already, but maybe you already do all those things, or aren't ready to try some of them yet. In that case, here are some other small lifestyle changes you can try:

  • Plant some vegetables
    Even if you live in an apartment or only have a small garden, things like lettuces, tomatoes and herbs can be easy to grow, even in pots.
  • Start composting.
    Composting is pretty easy to do with a little bit of prepartion, even if you don't have much space. That said, composting in your house may not be a viable option (or you may produce more than you can use in your potted veggies), but many local and city authorities offer food-waste collection; if your local government doesn’t do it, do some research in your local area to see if any organizations do.
  • Spend more time in nature.
    Being outside not only has mental benefits, it also means you disconnect, so use less electricity and water and even consume less (there are no stores out in the forest!). However, ensure to be mindful of how you get to your natural haven, of minimizing your impact (e.g. stick to the trails), and of what you leave behind!
  • Join community initiatives.
    In many areas, community groups organize neighborhood clean-ups or tree planting. These initiatives will only take up a few hours or a day of your time, and have a great positive impact on the local area.
  • Don’t be so quick to throw things out.
    Find another use for your seeming unwanted items, otherwise, find someone else who can use them,  donate them or, as a last resort, find a recycling program that will accept them. 
  • Swear off expedited shipping.
    They might be super convenient, but one-day and other expedited shipping options make it much harder for vendors to consolidate orders, which results in more vehicles, using more gas, to deliver fewer orders each.
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series of jars to represent the ideas of reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, compost

It might not seem like it, but it really is the small things that matter. Take a few small steps now, and see where they take you!

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