I get a bit emo when I try to fathom the impact that a 16-year-old Swedish girl has had on the world. Greta Thunberg is inspiring, mature and passionate—adjectives that would not have described me in my teenage years, which were dotted with difficult choices like homework or nap? Curly fries or slushie? At her behest, countries all over the world participated in Climate Strike, walking out of schools and workplaces last week in protest of the tailspin our planet is currently in as a result of our own actions. In Montreal on Friday, half a million people showed up to the protest, and Greta was at the helm. We’ve become a world that’s fired up about the earth. But after we’ve recycled our slogan posters and and gone back to the daily grind, how do we keep up the momentum and effect actual change?
It’s not about being perfect—we can all only do our best. Sustainable and eco-friendly products can be more expensive, and access to them is definitely a privilege. Do you need to do every single suggestion on this list? No. But it’s a good goal, and just ticking off a few of them for now is a great start.
Buy less! And when you do buy, make it sustainable
Here’s the thing: We don’t really need at least half the shit we own. So a big first step is to be more mindful of consumption and only buy what you truly need. (Where the bar is on that is up to you.) According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, the average Canadian tosses around 81 pounds of textiles each year. North America as a whole chucks 9.5 million tonnes of clothing into landfills annually. I. Am. Shook.
Remember that you don’t always have to buy new. Vintage items are both trendy and sustainable—hit up thrift stores, Etsy and Instagram shops for amazing finds. When it comes to housewares, second-hand stores and flea markets are great places to look. Also try Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace—they are troves of like-new items.
However, if you don’t want a dead person’s sofa or a 35-year-old pair of pants, I get it. Sometimes you just want something new—and that’s OK, as long as you try to make sustainable choices. Shop from places whose wares are well made and ethical. You may need to pony up a bit more cash, but the item is more likely to stand the test of time. To justify a price tag, calculate the cost per year—for example, if you expect to get five years out of a pair of $250 pants, that’s only $50 a year. Easier to swallow, right? You could also try to create a capsule wardrobe; it’s a chic way to reduce your clothing purchases.
Tweak your diet
I know a lot of people feel weird about it, but I’m just going to say it: Going vegan is one of the most impactful things you can do for the planet. A study at the University of Oxford stated that eliminating meat and dairy from your diet has the potential to reduce your food-related carbon footprint by upwards of 73 percent. (It’s a nice thing to do for the animals too.) Do you *need* to be a full-blown vegan to make a difference? No. But you should try to consume fewer animal products. The Mayo Clinic reports that going meatless once or twice a week is really good for your health too.
A plant-based diet is so much easier than it used to be. I mean, sex is cool, but have you ever had a Beyond Burger? And if you don’t like tofu, you’re probably preparing it wrong (pressing and marinating are key!). Start by adopting Meatless Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday or any day). You won’t miss the meat with any of these recipes:
I was at the grocery store after the march and about to put a bag of Babybel cheese in my basket when I paused (and it wasn’t because my stomach was begging me to reconsider the lactose). Little cheeses wrapped in wax, wrapped again in plastic and then packaged in a net bag that you know some cute sea creature is going to get caught in? Who do I think I am?! The Babybels went back on the shelf. Because we’ve been so conditioned to buy what’s convenient, making a switch takes a conscious effort. Here are some ways to reduce packaging:
Opt for cardboard over plastic—think berries in a box vs a plastic clamshell.
Scale back on produce bags. (You can buy reusable mesh ones.)
Buy in bulk and fill mason jars or containers with pantry essentials. (Shops will weigh your vessel before you fill it so you’re not charged for the weight of the container.)
When ordering takeout, let the restaurant know you’ll bring your own containers that they can fill up instead of using a throw-away tray.
Single-use sandwich and snack bags need to be dead to you. Use containers or purchase some sealable silicone bags that can be washed and reused.
Buy beeswax wrap to replace cling film and foil. If a recipe calls for foil on top of a dish, cover it with a baking sheet instead.
No straws! (Unless of course you need to use them—no shame there.) Here’s some extra motivation: Straws will give you wrinkles around the lips over time.
Keep reusable shopping bags on you—in your car, your purse, etc—so you never need a plastic one.
Buy shampoo, conditioner and body wash in bulk. Amber glass bottles are chic and earth-friendly. Many eco-shops offer refills of some of your fave ethical brands.
Don’t bring home any more plastic bottles: Most hair and skin cleansers can be bought in bar form, eliminating the need for packaging. (Lush rules this game.)
Switch to a waste-free makeup routine—which isn’t as tricky as it might sound. (Read more about it here.)
Stop using disposable wipes. Australian brand Pragma Beauty says that there are about 7.6 billion pounds of wipes that get tossed into landfills each year. To break it down further, that’s 1.3 billion wipes being tossed each day. Sit with that for a second and then vow to stop using toss-away wipes for your face and conch and try reusable makeup pads or a microfibre cloth like the Makeup Eraser instead.
Get your hands on some reusable cotton swabs while you’re at it. They aren’t as gross as they sound, promise.
Cleaning products that are zero- or low-waste are actually really aesthetically pleasing. Think minimalist wooden handles, natural bristles, amber bottles and cute DIY labels. Make your own cleaners with ingredients you probably already have in your cupboards, like baking soda, essential oils and vinegar. Buy biodegradable dish cloths (they’re often from Scandi brands and so cute), compostable scrubbing brushes and block dish soap. Check out this list of low-waste alternatives.
Here’s a handy trick: Save money and the planet by switching to energy-efficient bulbs (hi, LED) and keeping the thermostat at a lower register. When fussy Canadian weather allows, keep your home just a few degrees above or below the outside temp. The closer your indoor temperature is to the outdoor temp, the less your furnace and air conditioner have to work. When you’re not home, turn the dial down by several degrees to conserve energy, or have your thermostat on a timer so you don’t have to think about it.
Fly less (or not at all)
Truth hurts: It takes such a huge amount of jet fuel to keep planes in the air that air travel can’t not have an impact on the environment. Using trains and cars is far less carbon-intense than leaving on a jet plane. If you do have to fly, you can slightly reduce your carbon footprint with these tricks.
Be an advocate
Just like Greta. But you can be, like, more chill. Join a committee or support organizations whose approach you approve of. Don’t be afraid to keep the conversation rolling—you can inform people of your choices and swaps without seeming preachy. And simply let your low-waste and sustainable-living ways speak for you. People will notice and eventually follow suit.
Rock your vote
When it comes to voting, the most important thing is that you DO IT. Please. But also: Make it count. Do your research and vote for someone whose platform aligns with your moral compass but also someone who gives a fuck about the earth and not just lining their pockets with your tax dollars. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but knowing each party’s stance on climate change should be an important factor in your decision.