Small changes we can make to live more sustainably

Emma talks about small steps we can all take to reduce our impact on the environment.

Written by Emma O'Toole


If, like me, you’re worried about the future of our planet, there are some simple steps you can take to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

It is not easy when you constantly hear how plastic has is the villain, that everyone needs to be a vegan to save the world, and if you drink from a plastic straw you may be subject to abuse from strangers.

The environment has taken a bashing for many years but we simply cannot afford to ignore the devastating impact we are having on our beautiful surroundings. Ireland is falling behind in reducing carbon emissions from transport, agriculture, energy and the built environment that surrounds us. It is important to remember that each one of us can make changes in our daily lives that will have an impact.

The changes I mention are just a few from the numerous ways to make a change to our environment. I recommend to start gradually adding in one change at a time and before you know it, they’ll just be a habit. It can take time to adjust. You may find people will pass comment or question your new behaviour. Reminding yourself that this is your decision and your reasons are worthwhile may help. If you find one of the swaps not suitable for you, by all means feel free to adjust them to your own preferences.

Water bottles, yes those plastic shiny bottles you pay for everyday and then throw away into the recycling bin. Did you know Ireland produce approximately 300 million tons of plastic every year? There is a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in most plastic bottles which is highly recyclable, however this plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose. Along with that, almost 5- 13 million make there way to our oceans each year and can easily be digested by sea birds, fish and other organisms. According to research by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish. There is a concern that humans are now consuming this plastic, up to 11,000 pieces each year.

So, what can we do?

  • Carry a reusable water bottle rather than buying single use bottles
  • Say no to plastic straws. Bring an metal one with you if you want or need to use a straw
  • Bring a reusable coffee cup with you
  • Avoid plastic packaged goods where possible
  • Say no to plastic cutlery and carry a reusable spork in your bag
  • Avoid products contain microbeads
  • Carry a reusable shopping bag

This website contains lots of alternatives to plastic products, but you can pick up a reusable water bottle almost anywhere; many cafes sell reusable cups and they usually offer discounts to anyone who brings in their own cups.

When you go grocery shopping, bring your own bags and avoid buying plastic bags at the till. For fruit and veg you can still purchase plastic free and pop them into a mesh bag (such as this) that you can reuse.

Some grocery shops that are changing the game include :

Nolans of Clontarf – They are the first retailer in the UK and Ireland to introduce 100% compostable and reusable shopping bags. A lot of their fruit and vegetables are not pre-packaged either. Read more about their sustainability efforts here.

Small Changes: This shop is located in Drumcondra and they supply eco-friendly cleaning products, fruit & veg and whole foods. They offer 10% discount to students and 50 cent off for those who bring their own cup for smoothies and coffees. If you bring your own bottles/containers, you can l fill them up with dried foot, oil, vinegar & eco friendly household products. Find the list of refills here.

If you want to switch to plastic free products Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics offer Shampoo, Conditioner, moisturiser and Soap bars. Simply wet them in the shower and apply to your hair. They offer many different combinations to choose from.

Switch those cans of deodorant for this Salt of the Earth Natural Deodorant, which lasts for ages and is chemical free!

For household cleaning products, check out Ecover for cleaning products with more natural and less harmful ingredients.

You can support energy saving by unplugging lights at nighttime and not just switching them on standby because power is still being used even with the red light on. Try to avoid charging your phone overnight, instead bring your phone charger in your bag in the morning to wherever your off too.

A vegan diet is one that does not include any products from animal including, meat, fish, diary, eggs and honey. Some vegans detract from buying any products that include animals in the process. If following a vegan diet is not for you, you can make an impact by choosing vegan meals throughout the week. Some people opt for a #meatfreemonday, while others like to have one vegan meal a day. Lots of cafes and restaurants are supporting the vegan movement, you can find a list of my favourite spots here.

Some easy changes you can make:

  • Save nut butter jars by putting them into dishwasher and filling with nuts/dried fruit/seeds/coconut
  • Buy grains/dried fruit/seeds/nuts in bulk to reduce plastic waste and buy glass jars to store them
  • Use silicone baking sheets and muffin cases to avoid excess waste
  • Buy a set of bamboo cutlery to take anywhere with you
  • Use Beeswax wraps to cover food items and for storing instead of cling film
  • When buying food, check use-by dates to avoid throwing out food but if you do have waste make sure to put into into the compost bin
  • Buy some bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones

It can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start when you decide to make changes. You may also have moments when you forget to be aware of your behaviour or feel demotivated. Remind yourself that nobody is perfect and it is all about small steps, it is important not to beat yourself up about it.

Rome was not built in a day, and remember you cannot control others behaviours but only inspire.

This article was written by a volunteer. Check out our volunteering opportunities here and get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.

Our work is supported by