While the holidays can be a tough time for many people there is something refreshing about the next day, January 1st, as it heralds the arrival of a new year of possibilities stretching out before us.
New Year’s resolutions are a perfect way to set challenges for ourselves and can be an effective way of keeping our goals at the heart of our intentions for the year.
As we look towards 2021 in hope of better times, it also offers us an opportunity to work towards a greener future by setting some personal sustainability goals for the year ahead.
If you are looking for a few to add to your list of resolutions, look no further. Below is a list of suggestions that you can adopt or adapt depending on your own lifestyle.
Recycle the right way
No one really spends too much time thinking about the contents of their bins, but ensuring that the right items go in the right one can make a big difference in terms of how much is recycled. While it can be tempting to fling your rubbish into the first bin you find at home, taking extra time to file correctly is a good goal to set yourself up for the year.
Although we are all generally aware of how to recycle, there can still be confusion over what item goes in which bin. Set your household up for success by creating labels with photos of common produce in your house to help your household recycle correctly.
According to Environmental Protection Agency website Stopfoodwaste.ie, the average Irish household throws out almost one ton of waste a year which it expresses as the equivalent of a small car. As less than 50% of waste is currently being recycled by households this means that nationally, we continue to dump the equivalent of 80,000 small cars of waste into landfill every year.
We need to make change household by household and from these statistics it is evident the difference that could be made if we ensured that we were putting items into the correct bin.
If you are already feeling fairly confident in your recycling why not set yourself a challenge to reduce your waste. While researching the topic I previously met a family of three - which included a baby - that managed to keep two months waste in a mason jar which was around the size of a two-litre bottle of milk.
Now, obviously, that is very impressive and may be above and beyond what most of us can do from the get go, but you don’t have to jump in the deep end. You could identify a certain size container to start with and each month set a smaller target.
Ways of cutting down in this regard include buying products like fruit and veg singularly without packaging, to visit stores that do refills of household cleaning products, and to switch from single use hygiene products like disposable nappies and sanitary towels to reusable options like cloth nappies and moon cups.
You can also give making some basic household items a try such as toothpaste, soap and shaving cream. Remember to take photos of the result at the end of each month so by the end of the year you can see how much you managed to reduce your monthly waste.
Reduce your meat consumption
Meat has been identified as being harmful to the environment due to the land required to rear the animals, the level of greenhouse gases produced in the process and the potential for animal waste to pollute freshwater.
In 2019, agriculture alone accounted for 35.3% of all Irish greenhouse gas emissions according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Research published in the journal Science in 2018 identified changing from the existing widespread consumption of animals and animal products to plant-based alternatives as the most effective way to reduce human impact on the planet.
To offset some of your consumption why not cut out meat products a few nights a week. Plant alternatives tend to be cheaper and are good for your wallet as well as the world. If you want to commit to this goal in a big way you could sign up to Veganuary which sees people around the world go vegan for the month for a variety of reasons based on health, ethical and environmental concerns.
Increase your activity
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transport accounted for 20.3% of all Irish greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 making it the second greatest source of emissions after agriculture. Swapping to cycling or walking for even a few of your shorter journeys could really cut down your own contribution to this figure.
If you are not much of a cyclist try walking and vice versa. If you don’t really like either it’s a good idea to start small. Try to change even one car journey per week for a short walk or cycle. We don’t make lasting changes with all or nothing approaches so start small and make your goal be to build on that effort each week or month, whatever best suits your lifestyle.
Opt for Irish
While the importance of shopping locally is more evident than ever before as local businesses struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic, doing so is also an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Imported products results in greater carbon being emitted in transporting them to Ireland.
In contrast, products grown and sold in Ireland have limited transport requirements given the relatively small size of the country. One way of motivating yourself to make more positive changes this January is to see how your carbon footprint measures up with the global average using the World Wildlife Federation's Carbon Footprint calculator. Check out the breakdown of your expenditure to best identify where you need to make a change.
Don’t buy in bulk
So much food is thrown out in homes across the country everyday usually because it went off before we got around to eating it. During larger weekly shops people often buy what they think they need rather than what they will actually use on a daily basis.
To avoid this in 2021, why not try making a few smaller trips to the shops near you during the week to pick up items you need for that day or the next? This way you will be more likely to use what you buy because you are buying closer to the time you will use it. That way you won’t feel guilty about the uneaten food about to go off in your fridge when you are tempted to get a take away.
Have a happy new year!