As news broke on Monday of a new UN report declaring the world has a rapidly closing window to ward off catastrophe caused by climate change, many of us were left wondering what on Earth we can do about it.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the report as a “code red for humanity”, which would be enough to send anyone into a state of apathy. But now is not the time for indifference.
"It should be enough to ring alarm bells for humanity," says Geeta Pahlajani, founder of local sustainability-focused everyday essentials brand The Goodness Company. "It is clear that climate change impact will not just be seen in the next few hundred years, but will be prevalent in our lifetime as well. We can already see this via the wildfires in Turkey and more recently Greece, all of which have had a disastrous impact due to rising temperatures and heatwaves across the Mediterranean."
While it's on governments and big corporations to do the bulk of the work, we can all chip in, says Pahlajani. "Reducing climate change impact is a collective human responsibility. We can all do our bit by being mindful of our actions."
Here are 10 easy ways you can be more eco-friendly today:
1. Tackle the grocery store one step at a time
“It’s all about baby steps,” says Doua Benhida, who runs Instagram account The Zero Waste Collective. “Start with a reusable bag and use that for a couple of weeks or months. Analyse the foods you eat and how much plastic you use with it, so you can cut down.”
Sukriti Verma, co-founder of local e-store Shift Eco, advises keeping a reusable bag in your car, so you don’t forget it at home. “This will prevent you from bringing unnecessary plastic bags home.”
Once you’ve cracked that, Benhida says it’s time to get your reusable pouches for fruits, vegetables and pulses. If you don’t want to buy these, Verma says you could always insist on your fresh produce being weighed loose and having the stickers put on your main shopping bag, or the item. “This saves so much plastic in one grocery store visit.”
If you’re keen to take it a step further, Benhida says get containers for deli items such as hummus or spices. “It can be tricky, as you have to explain to the guy at the counter that he needs to weigh it, then null that weight and add the foods, but once you’ve eased into it it’s fine.”
Refillable bottles are also an option. “My go-to is Carrefour as it has so many options to be plastic-free. They sell coffee in bulk, bread in bulk, dairy, nuts, and so on. The one in Mall of the Emirates even has a refill section for oil and vinegar, and detergents, as does the Organic Food and Cafe.
“A lot more supermarkets are offering refill sections now.”
2. Buy local
While you’re at the supermarket, buy local products, says Pahlajani. “Whether this is seasonal fresh produce or local brands, choosing to spend your purchasing power wisely can be very beneficial for the environment. Local goods save energy spent in transportation, packaging and preservation.”
This doesn't simply extend to food, either, as buying furniture, clothes, toys and other items made in the UAE, or wherever else you live, also reduces the amount of energy expended on manufacturing and transportation. And you also help out a local business while you're at it.
3. Eat fewer animals
“Industrialised animal agriculture is a large contributor of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions rapidly accelerating climate change impact,” says Pahlajani, who advises consuming more plant-based meals.
“You don’t have to go vegan,” says Benhida, who also offers this advice, reiterating her earlier point of taking “baby steps”.
Nada El Barshoumi, the brains behind blog One Arab Vegan, says the same. “If you can’t commit to going totally meat-free, make it a point to eat as plant-based as possible – whether that means eating one plant-based meal a day, practicing meatless Mondays or going vegan during weekdays – every little bit helps.”
Benhida says, after time, you’ll find it easier to incorporate more veggies and less meat. “It’ll become a habit, and maybe you’ll even become vegetarian or vegan.”
Pahlajani adds: “There are plenty of plant-based vegan substitutes available in supermarkets today.”
4. Rewear your clothes
Most of us know by now how bad the fast fashion industry is for the planet, and while many won’t forgo buying new items altogether, we can at least commit to shopping less. “Take care of your clothes and shoes,” advises El Barshoumi. “Getting small rips repaired or old heels cobbled is a great way to lengthen the lifespan of your favourite wardrobe staples.”
For those special occasions when you may want to wear something new and fabulous, why not try renting your outfit? “The fashion industry is the world’s second biggest pollutant, currently accounting for around 10 per cent of humanity’s carbon emissions and 20 per cent of wastewater,” says Sophie Kjoller, co-founder of Best Kept Shared, a peer-to-peer luxury fashion rental platform that launched in the UAE last month. “On average, we buy more than 50 new articles of clothing annually and roughly 50 per cent of those items will be worn three times or less."
Kjoller says the best thing you can do is increase the number of times each item is worn. “We believe that if you cannot wear an item at least 30 times, then you shouldn’t own it, you should rent it.”
5. Say goodbye to cling film
There’s no need to use cling film and tin foil to wrap up leftovers anymore, says Verma. “Instead, get reusable silicone lids and ziplocks or beeswax wraps.”
6. Reduce refined sugar intake
Not only does this have an added health benefit, but it’s also good for the plant. “This is often a hushed topic by large corporations, but sugarcane crops are highly water intensive, produce massive emissions and solid waste during processing that flow into water bodies and negatively impact the environment,” Pahlajani explains.
“With sugar present in most products we eat today, large biodiverse regions are being cleared for sugarcane production causing irreversible damage to our ecology.”
Pahlajani says instead use natural sweeteners such as local date sugars or syrups or coconut-based sugars. "However, everything should be consumed in moderation as it's usually food trends that cause large spikes in demand leading to unsustainable practices being adopted in production regions negatively impacting biodiversity."
7. Use the 'four Rs'
This is a motto Benhida uses. “First refuse plastic, but if you can’t refuse it, then reduce it – for example, take the plastic spoon, instead of the spoon, fork and knife. If you can’t reduce it, then reuse it – there’s no problem with washing your plastic cutlery and then reusing them. And if you can’t reuse it, then recycle – remember it’s not OK to use plastic because you’re recycling, but it is OK to recycle the plastic you are using.”
8. Switch off your lights
There are so many easy ways to reduce your electricity consumption, which is not only good for the world, but also your wallet. “Switch off lights and air-conditioning when not in use,” says Pahlajani. Taking it a step further, she says you could even explore using solar energy sources. “Several electricity providers locally have started to offer solar-powered options. This not only helps with reduction of carbon emissions but can also lower monthly electricity bills.”
9. Don’t ignore your bathroom
While 90 per cent of packaging is recycled in kitchens in the UK, only 50 per cent is being recycled in the bathroom and, consequently, accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of total landfill waste, according to Recycle Now. There are numerous easy fixes to this in the form of shampoo and conditioner bars, bamboo toothbrushes, toothpaste tablets, reusable make-up wipes and more. Start with the toothbrush, and take it from there. For more information, click here.
10. Forgo paper
"Use paper only when necessary," says Pahlajani, who believes a "paperless society should be the ideal way forward". You can do this by using QR codes and digital tickets instead of printing out your passes to events or flights, for example. Sign up for magazine and newspaper subscriptions online. Take notes on your phone, instead of with a notepad. Think before you print. Use a digital calendar instead of a hardback organiser. If you do have to use paper? Make sure you throw it in the recycling bin afterwards.