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  • Writer's pictureDr. Farrukh Chishtie

Live sustainably: how to be a conscious consumer


Friends of the Earth UK Report

Excessive consumption drives climate change, which in turn further damages nature.

Reduce your impact on the environment and the planet with these top tips.

1. Eat less (and better) meat and dairy

You might be surprised to discover that farming animals is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Meat and dairy production causes 14.5% of planet-warming gases. Rainforests are being felled for soya, most of which is being used to feed factory-farmed pigs and poultry. Eating less meat and dairy can free up land for more tree planting and forests – good for nature and for tackling climate change. Eating more plants and less meat is good for your health. Processed and red meat is linked to heart disease, bowel cancer and other illnesses.

2. Avoid palm oil

Palm oil is cheap to cultivate, which is why it’s used in so many of the products we buy. When David Attenborough recently returned to Indonesia, he was shocked at how much forest had been replaced by oil-palm plantations. 12.5% of Southeast Asian Forest has been destroyed to make way for palm oil and other commodities. The iconic orangutan lives in these forests. As its habitat disappears, so too does its chances of survival. Palm oil is widely used in lots of products, including cosmetics, shampoos, margarines, bread, crisps, ice cream and cleaning products. Some products say they contain sustainably-sourced palm oil – inferring that they are not linked to deforestation. But now we cannot be sure that these claims are reliable.

3. Reduce food waste

That feeling you get when you throw food out. Not good, right? Millions of tonnes of food go to waste globally every year. Stop wasting, and the guilt trip.

4. Buy less stuff

Most of us could probably do with less stuff in our lives. Unfortunately, we are hardwired to feel good about getting something new. Retailers feast on this weakness, tempting our pleasure receptors with upgrades and sales. Rising demands for raw materials to make these things – like oil, metals and water – are damaging the environment. Repairing rather than replacing can also lessen the load on your wallet and the planet.

5. Use good wood

First, try to buy reclaimed or pre-loved wooden furniture wherever possible, and recycled paper products. Next best is to buy wood and wood products from local sources. Trees remove planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Friends of the Earth is campaigning to double the amount of tree cover in the UK. Tropical rainforests are one of the most wildlife-rich habitats in the world. Trees give us shade, clean up air pollution, and provide wildlife habitats. In rural areas trees can hold back flood waters and prevent soil erosion.

6. Reduce plastic pollution

It is impossible to go for a walk without finding plastic waste: from crisp packets to bottles and bags. But some forms of plastic are not even visible to the naked eye. Around a third of our clothes contain tiny plastic threads. When washed they can escape into the sea and end up in the stomachs of fish. The problem of plastic pollution is now big news. Images of sea life entangled in our plastic waste are being broadcast around the world. It's an issue that politicians cannot avoid. The UK government need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

7. Eat less (and better) fish

Our seas are much emptier than they used to be because of overfishing. Some types of fishing are particularly harmful. Mangrove forests are cut down to make way for farming prawns, and dynamite fishing damages coral reefs. Fish farming is rapidly increasing, leading to serious environmental harm. For example, mangrove forests are being cleared to farm prawns. Mangrove forests are huge wildlife-rich carbon stores. Coral reefs are also being overfished. Dynamite fishing damages the coral and kills all the fish in the area – including juvenile fish which then get discarded.

8. Share and donate

From cradle to grave, the stuff we buy has a big carbon footprint. Consider pooling resources with your neighbours so that you can share things like lawnmowers and power tools – you could even start a carpool.

9. Buy from sustainable businesses

As manufacturers and retailers strive to provide us with the cheapest possible products, they cut corners – harming people and the planet. It is often the poorest in the world who bear the main brunt. So, when you do buy new, look for brands that are transparent about the materials they use and the working conditions of their employees.

10. Recycle and compost your waste

What has waste got to do with global warming? More than 50% of our waste gets sent to landfill or burnt in incinerators. Both release planet-warming gases into the atmosphere. It is much better to recycle and compost. For example, 20 times more energy is used to make a new can than one from recycled sources. Though buying less stuff or buying second-hand is even better. Mining materials to make new products causes climate pollution. Recycling lowers the demand for these damaging materials. Methane is a climate change gas. Composting reduces methane emissions from landfill and enriches soil for growing plants and food. Some local authorities have food collections for composting, and separate ones for garden waste.

11. Bank and invest ethically

The most destructive projects do not get off the ground without finance from banks or investors. Shun planet-wrecking practices by switching to an ethical bank. There is a growing movement to stop investing pensions in coal, oil, and gas. Ask your employer where your pension money is invested. (Courtesy: Friends of the Earth UK)

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