Our everyday habits are causing the environment a lot of harm. According to the World Bank, the globe’s cities generated two billion tonnes of solid waste in 2016, the equivalent of 0,74 kilograms per person per day. Thanks to urbanisation and rapid population growth, annual waste generation is expected to increase to 3,40 billion tonnes by 2050. While many of us feel that recycling is the answer to this challenge, the reality paints a grim picture. Statistics South Africa found that in 2011, only 10% of general waste in the country was actually recycled. The remaining 90% of the estimated 59 million tonnes we produce went into landfills.
The good news is that we can still help the planet by making a few better choices daily!
In recent years, there’s been a major focus on reducing plastic: most restaurants no longer serve plastic straws and we’re seeing more people walking around with bamboo coffee cups. Of course, our planet is damaged by more than just general waste and plastic. There are a number of things we do as humans that damage the environment on a daily basis. However, there are also a number of things we can do every day to put an end to our bad habits.
1. Turn The Lights Off
While you may think that electricity is a clean and safe form of energy, the way it is generated and transmitted has implications for the environment. Power plants, as we South Africans are only too aware, rely on coal, oil, natural gasses, or nuclear energy. Despite our recent woes with blackouts, the reality is that the country, like countless others, is generating a significant amount of electricity. This releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, contributes to air pollution, and even exacerbates waste disposal challenges. An easy habit to adopt is to switch off lights and switch plugs off at the wall when you’re not using them. If enough of us do this on a daily basis, imagine the amount of energy that we can save.
2. Don’t Just Dump It
Our connected lifestyle has also lead to a new and challenging form of pollution: electronic waste. Have you stopped to think what happens to your old smartphone, its battery, or even your broken television, computer, or laptop? Sending these appliances to landfills results in even more environmental pollution because of the lead and other dangerous components. Just imagine the effects of this on soil and water quality. Not to mention the resources required to manufacture one computer and monitor (240kg of fossil fuel, 21kg of chemicals, and 1,5 tonnes of water).
Going forward, make an effort to recycle all your old electronics. Many countries, including South Africa, have recycling depots that can process e-waste. Alternatively, there are a number of big retail stores such as Makro, Woolworths and Pick n Pay that have collection points for e-waste.
3. Know Thy Sunscreen
Something as innocent as applying sunscreen is bad for the environment. A study has found that many sunscreens contain ingredients that break down coral, causing it to lose its nutrients, turn ghostly white, and die. Close to 6 000 tonnes of sunscreen enters reef areas annually, with the main harmful ingredients being oxybenzone and octinoxate. Thankfully, there are brands of sunscreen out there without these damaging chemicals. So it’s important to do some research to find out which products are less harmful to coral reefs before buying another bottle.
4. Stop Overdoing It
Smoking (releasing pollutants in the air as well as the impact tobacco manufacturing has on the environment), over-eating (food waste releases methane gas, not too mention the impact of factory farms on animals), and even over-flushing the toilet (water wastage) are all seemingly trivial things that amount to massive environmental damage. These are all habits we can change to make a real difference.
Ultimately, as individuals we need to start taking more responsibility for what we’re doing to the environment. Making little adjustments in our everyday lives and just generally being more aware of the things that damage the planet will contribute to making the world a healthier and more sustainable place.
Compiled by Food and Decor Editor, Claire Badenhorst