So you use a keep-cup? Have a forever shopping bag? Even compost your leftovers? You may consider yourself an eco-warrior, but you might have a long way to go.
Take our quiz to see how sustainable your lifestyle habits really are, and what steps you can take to improve your standing. Tally up how many of these 16 lifestyle habits you practise, and see how you fare in the results below.
☐ You don’t smoke
If you’re addicted to nicotine, you’re not just harming yourself — but the entire planet. The environmental damage caused by smoking is wide-ranging. From the moment the tobacco is harvested, to the minute someone stubs out their cigarette butt or roll-up, there’s a huge impact on our forests, oceans and air. In fact, cigarettes have been called the “most littered item in the world”, and most filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that takes a decade or more to degrade. Perhaps it’s finally time to quit?
☐ You carpool or ride a bike to work
Carpooling, bike-riding, walking, driving electric vehicles or using public transport – these are more eco-friendly ways of getting around than solo trips in a gas-guzzler. Most of us are well aware that fossil fuels (crude oil, coal and natural gas) damage the environment. Cars consume fuel and emit air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and other greenhouse gases that many climate scientists say are driving global warming. The production, shipping and disposal processes are all damaging too, not to mention those occasional oil spills. How you choose to get around can be a determining factor in your own carbon footprint.
☐ You use a bamboo toothbrush, safety razor and/or moon cup
It’s estimated that 3.6 billion toothbrushes are used every year, and your regular store-bought varieties use environmentally unfriendly plastic and nylon in the handle and bristles. Having a bamboo toothbrush is a more sustainable option (just make sure you find out what the bristles are made from). Meanwhile, about two billion plastic razors are thrown away every year in America; in the UK it’s thought to be in the millions. That’s why retro metal safety razors with double-edged blades are all the rage among eco-warriors. Among ladies, moon cups and moisture-wicking period underwear are pretty popular now, too, considering each woman will use about 11,000 non-biodegradable tampons or pads in their lifetime. These are just three easy switches you can make at home to boost your eco points.
☐ You don’t drink coffee (even in a keep-cup)
That’s right, it doesn’t matter whether or not you whip out your reusable cup, drinking coffee still impacts the environment. Full stop. Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, after crude oil. Putting the obvious issue of the ever-increasing use of disposable, plastic-topped paper cups aside, deforestation is cited as a critical issue in the industry, as farms take up hundreds of thousands of hectares every year. Meanwhile, the number of consumers is rising (the UK saw an increase of 25 million cups consumed a day in the last decade). Sustainable coffee production has been in the spotlight in recent years, however, and in the UAE we can choose home-grown roasteries (like Nightjar Coffee in Dubai) that deal directly with farmers in countries whose economies rely heavily on the industry.
☐ You don’t shop online
Maybe you thought having shopping just a click away instead of driving to the store was more environmentally friendly. It appears not. You could be driving in a more fuel-efficient car (or bike/ bus/ abra) to a store to hand-pick locally produced items that you'll carry home in your canvas bag. Instead, you're getting a massive lorry (or even a plane, then a lorry) to deliver your purchases to your door and, often, it'll come wrapped in all sorts of unnecessary single-use plastic. We used to be limited in how much and what we could buy. Now, everything across the world is available to us. This means we're buying more stuff, which means they're making more stuff. The answer? We need to band together to consciously consume and push brands to invest in eco-friendly vehicles and packaging.
☐ You make your own face or floor wash
When it comes to household products – from face scrubs to shampoo and glass cleaner – plastic packaging isn't the only thing you need to worry about. It's the ingredients, too. Non-biodegradable and water-polluting chemicals are used widely, as is forest-damaging palm oil and the much talked-about microbeads (which are now banned in several countries). You can get package-free toiletries from brands like Lush and planet-friendly cleaners from Ecover, but making your own is safe and cost effective. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, coconut oil and oatmeal are just a few natural ingredients you can use. Ladies might also want to consider going make-up free more often, to cut back on beauty products.
☐ You make stock and juice from scraps
To get to zero-waste – which is the ultimate goal – binning leftovers needs to stop. There are all sorts of creative ways you can use up food scraps, but most conveniently you can freeze them to make your own stock and juice later. You can also start composting (check out www.mygreenchapter.com to buy your system), which will decrease your contribution to landfills while giving you the option to grow your own vegetables. It’s a win-win.
☐ You have a water-saving shower head
We probably don't have to tell you that wasting water is, well, wasteful. Anyone in a country where water is readily available should not take it for granted. Many people refuse to bath to avoid wasting water, and time their showers. A water-saving shower head, can cut between three and 13 litres of water per minute. Another way to save water is with the UAE's waterless car wash (www.waterless.ae).
☐ You don’t eat avocados and almonds from far, far away
Trendy cafes in the UK have actually begun removing avocados from menus due to environmental concerns. Seasonality, sustainability and the distance the fruit travels to get to our plates are the main reasons. Almond milk is another luxury many are beginning to avoid, because of the damage that plantations are doing in California, and just how much water is used to produce the nuts. The consumption of imported products – something many of us in the UAE do without thinking – is damaging the environment, and we should all be aiming to eat locally grown produce when possible.
☐ You’ve discovered reusable nappies
An estimated three billion nappies are thrown away every year in the UK. In the US, diapers generate four million tonnes of waste per annum. Most of the disposable ones are not recyclable, and end up in landfills or are burnt (both options produce greenhouse gases). Reusable nappies are a better solution, both environmentally and cost-wise. In the UAE, Sofi Chabowski, founder of Eggs & Soldiers shop in Times Square Centre, Dubai, has been advocating the use of cloth nappies since 2014 and now sells them. She's used the same ones for all four of her children, which, she says, also potentially saved her Dh19,000 to Dh22,000.
☐ You pack a waste-free lunch
To have a truly waste-free lunch, it's all about preparation. First, buy package-free products. Use canvas bags. Get organic meats or dairy, or opt for vegan meals. Cook it yourself, and make sure none of it goes to waste. Cover it with a biodegradable wrap (not a sandwich bag!) and take it to work in a bento box with non-disposable cutlery that you will later wash and wipe down with a cloth (not tissue paper) and use again. And don't forget your reusable Thermos for your drink (home-made juice from yesterday's food scraps, anybody?).
☐ You recycle your old mobile phones
E-waste – discarded laptops, mobile phones and other electronic goods – is the world's fastest-growing waste problem and has a projected growth of two million tonnes per year. Greenpeace says in the past decade alone eight billion devices have been manufactured, and more than 60 elements are used to make each one. As disassembly is practically impossible, recycling is not a particularly eco-friendly option. But you can swap or sell old devices if they're still usable, or hand your scraps back to its maker (Apple has a trade-in service, for example).
☐ You don’t eat meat, including fish
Most of us know about the environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industry, so we won't get into that, but what about fishing? Authors of a UN-backed report last year said exploitable fish reserves in Asia-Pacific waters were on course to reach zero by 2048. Another study showed only two-thirds of fish caught actually make it into our stomachs, and yet, annual global growth in consumption has been twice as high as population growth. So we're overconsuming and overfishing, but it's not just the catch, or even by-catch (the fish accidentally picked up by nets), that suffers, but the other inedible marine creatures who lose out on food because we're snatching it from them.
☐ You turn your Wi-Fi off at night
It's not just your lights you should be switching off to save energy at home, but also as many electronic devices as possible, including your Wi-Fi router (which, incidentally, also means you can properly hit the off switch at night, too). And while UAE residents understandably may not want to turn off air-conditioning units, turning it up a couple of degrees significantly lessens output. So instead of setting it at 21 degrees, try 24 (the optimal temperature for the human body) and hit "auto", not "on".
☐ You use renewable energy sources
We're not asking you to move to Dubai's Sustainable City, but there are ways to weave renewable energy sources into your household. For example, you could get a solar energy-powered phone or USB device charger or drive an electric car or switch to LED light bulbs. Of course, don't throw out all your old items in order to buy new stuff, but it's great to be aware of what eco-friendly options are out there next time you're shopping for home appliances.
The results: what was your score?
1-6: It’s time to eco educate yourself
While you’re certainly aware of the world’s environmental concerns, you haven’t necessarily cracked eco-friendliness yourself. Perhaps you don’t know where to start, or don’t really see how one person can make an impact — whatever your reasons are, it doesn’t need to be as complicated as you think. Start small and build on those good habits. For instance, start by recycling your plastics. Try reusing takeaway cartons, and choose the nocutlery option when possible. Also take stock of what you’re buying in: is there any way you can reduce your weekly grocery shop? Not only is it a less-is-more approach and kinder to the environment, it’s also easier on your wallet.
7-11: Well done. You’re on the right track
Now it’s time to take your eco efforts to the next level. You probably already recycle, are choosing plastic-free products and never leave home without your forever shopping bag and keep-cup, but perhaps it’s time for you to start exploring the worlds of renewable energy sources, DIY toiletries and veganism. It’s easy to think you’re already doing your bit, thus sacrificing the next steps to sustainability at the alter of convenience, but we can all try harder and do better. Just don’t overwhelm yourself — continue to take it a step at a time and you’ll have given your lifestyle a full eco overhaul in no time — without it having an impact on your stress levels.
12-16: Bravo. You’re a veteran eco-warrior...
... And an inspiration to us all. Over the years you’ve reduced, reused and recycled your way to a little- to zero-waste household. Your friends and family come to you for sustainable lifestyle hacks. They can count on you to whip out the bamboo straws at every occasion. Even your neighbours know you’ve got a list of all the nearby recycling stations. Our only feedback? Make sure you’re not stressing yourself out nor alienating loved ones with your wary ways (i.e. don’t berate yourself when your drink automatically comes with a plastic straw, or refuse the next paper-wrapped gift you get). Otherwise, keep doing what you’re doing and inspiring others to follow suit.