An environmentally-friendly lifestyle can be challenging, but it's possible
OPINION: Transitioning to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle can be challenging. Where do you begin? How do you know what you're buying is actually environmentally-friendly? Don't you have to go to weird hippie shops?
I interviewed two Kiwis who have changed their lifestyles to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Hopefully their wisdom will inspire you.
Niva is an 18-year-old student in Wellington who has chosen to make all her toiletries plastic-free. While it may seem like a daunting task, Niva claims that it was actually a slow process. "It took about 6 months of preparation and then roughly 8 months of totally phasing out."
Instead of throwing out all her unsustainable products and immediately getting new ones, she slowly used up products and then replaced them with plastic-free alternatives. Bamboo toothbrushes and solid soap, shampoo and deodorant bars are some of the products she uses.
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"Going cold turkey would've created more waste as I would've been throwing out half used products, so I was able to ease into it, becoming more aware each time I bought something."
Niva emphasised the importance of being realistic with your goal in order to remain optimistic.
Making this lifestyle choice was an "entirely beneficial change", Niva says. She tells me it not only makes her feel better mentally for being a conscious consumer, but also physically, as the plastic-free products have been better for her skin.
For those wanting to follow in her footsteps, Niva advises that you should spend time doing research on the products that are coming to the end of their lives, as you can often discover an environmentally-friendly, cheaper alternative.
"It's really not too hard for anyone to do if you tackle it on a small scale and work upwards. Yes, immediate big change is great, but change that chips away and works up to big is still a great help."
Melanie is 47 years old and from Christchurch. She has been environmentally conscious for a very long time, and is now (in my opinion) a bit of an expert on these things.
She is a "conscientiousness consumer" who bases her purchasing on how it affects the earth. She goes by the mantra "refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot", which became especially important when she realised the items she put into the recycling bin were being sent to another country or not even being dealt with.
Melanie became more environmentally friendly when she learned of the Plastic Free July Challenge in 2016, and started looking for zero-waste products. She started to buy her hair care products from Ethique, a company selling shampoo and conditioner solid bars, rather than liquids which need to be stored in containers and bottles.
Another product Melanie told me about is a Guppy Friend, a washing bag which collects microplastics released from clothing which would otherwise be consumed by marine organisms. Even products which she thought were environmentally friendly, such as fleece jumpers made from recycled plastic bottles, had their issues. Melanie recommends the Facebook page Zero Waste in New Zealand, which will help individuals learn which companies are practising what they preach without "the overhyped green-washing".
"As time wore on," she told me, "and I learnt more about alternatives. I realised that actually, I don't need 10 different cleaning products for my house, [as] white vinegar sourced at outlets such as Bin Inn - where I can also refill my own containers - cleans everything".
Melanie believes it is "absolutely important" that everyone takes action to reduce the impacts of climate change. "Changes made now actively educate the next generation to do better".
Plastic is not only a terrible pollutant which requires the burning of fossil fuels to create, but it also breaks down in the ocean, releasing toxic chemicals which harm crucial parts of the marine ecosystem. Prochlorococcus, tiny marine bacteria with photosynthetic properties, are found to create 10 per cent of the world's oxygen. Changes to the chemical environment inhibit the bacterium's ability to photosynthesise, essentially halting its oxygen production.
Your choice to go plastic-free in any part of your life can make a huge difference. "Change doesn't happen overnight but if everyone did their little bit, imagine globally what a difference we can all make," Melanie says. "Be the change you want to see in the world. Maybe Gandhi didn't say it, but it's not a bad mantra to live by."
Mia Sutherland is a Christchurch high school student, an organiser of School Strike 4 Climate NZ, and a Stuff columnist.