Sustainability seems to have become the buzz word of 2019. Our news feeds have been filled with David Attenborough climate change programmes, extinction rebellion protests and big brands buying into the ‘sustainable’ agenda. Whilst some efforts may seem like a ‘jump on the bandwagon’ effect, our current situation – individually, nationally and globally – is a genuine now or never climate emergency.

Top climate scientists have given us around 12 years to reverse the negative impact of human activity on the global environment and its climate, before we pass the point of no return. Sometimes it feels like as an individual, you’re fighting a losing battle, whilst big corporations and governments who hold the power to make real change, are doing very little. Everything we do contributes to our individual carbon footprint. Buy clothes from fast fashion brands? Tick. Fly? Tick. Drive? Tick. Buy single use plastic? You guessed it, tick. Yet that’s not a reason to bury your head in the sand.

Even with the best of intentions, it can be hard to know exactly where to put your efforts and what to cut back on. But it is estimated that small individual changes have a big impact on the environment. For example, the average UK household uses 480 single use plastic bottles per year, yet only a fraction of these are actually recycled. By simply cutting out these purchases you’d be making a difference.

That’s not necessarily saying that everyone should become a hemp wearing vegan overnight (although, it’s cool if you want to), but individuals making small, sustained changes will have a much bigger impact than just a small group of people living perfect zero-waste lives.

So, what can you do?

  • Cut down on single use plastic – contrary to what we’re led to believe, recycling is not the solution (that’s not to say don’t recycle at all, but avoiding single-use plastic in particular, is even better!). According to National Geographic, globally 91% of all plastic is not recycled and ends up in landfill, makes it way to our oceans, or is incinerated. Ultimately, there is just too much of it, and mass plastic production is choking our systems. Try shopping at places where you can take in your own containers and re-fill them, avoid using plastic containers and utensils that you will only use once and then throw away. It’s 2019 – invest in a reusable water bottle, a set of travel cutlery, and a straw!
  • Always re-use your shopping bags – come on, if you don’t have an exorbitant stash of bags for life tucked away in a cupboard or in your car boot, have you been living under a rock?
  • Get a reusable coffee cup – This one really just makes economic sense if nothing else. Who doesn’t want 50p off their coffee EVERY time they go to a high street chain.
  • Cut down on meat and dairy – I should declare at this point that I’m vegan, so quelle surprise, a vegan preaching about meat. That being said, we know that animal agriculture, particularly from cows, accounts for 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions per year. This is roughly the same as emissions from all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. Any reduction is helpful. If my carnivorous father can switch to soy milk and go meat free for one day every week, you can too.
  • Walk, cycle or use public transport whenever you can –11% of short car journeys every year in the UK are under one mile, and could have been done on foot.
  • Support ethical and sustainable brands – Large supermarket chains are some of the worst culprits for food and plastic wastage. They flood the planet with 810,000 tonnes of single use plastic per year. In addition to 1 billion single-use bags, 958 million “bags for life” and 1.2 billion plastic bagsfor fruit and vegetables (don’t even get me started on this one). Buying and shopping at local markets can help massively.
  • Switch to Ecosia – Ecosia is a search engine that donates 80% of its ad revenue from searches to organisations that focus primarily on reforestation and conservationism.
  • Make Eco bricks – You can make eco bricks by emptying out a bottle and stuffing in pieces of plastic that can’t be recycled. Once it is completely full (believe me, it takes longer than you’d think), these can be sent off and used to build things. Find out where you can drop off Eco bricks in your area and more about them

I know we all have busy lives, and convenience often takes precedence, but we have to think about where things end up when we just throw them away, the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality is not a solution to our current problems.

We need to consider what kind of legacy we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. We don’t want to be known as the generation who had a chance to act and let it pass us by. As consumers we hold enormous amounts of power to inform companies about the kind of products we want (or no longer want) to buy. Now is the time to put our money where our mouths are. As the inspirational teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has said, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”