Most of us want to play our part in making our world that little bit better for our kids and grandkids, but sometimes it’s hard to know what that ‘part’ should be and what actions we might take.
Well, the good news is that there are plenty of simple actions we can each take to make a positive environmental impact in our homes and communities.
1. Step up your recycling
We all know it’s better to recycle; it keeps valuable materials in use and reduces the pressure of creating new resources.
Plus it’s an easy way for us to do our bit for the environment – because a lot of our ‘waste’ is more recyclable than you might think.
If you have a kerbside recycling bin, check with your local council to find out exactly what you can and cannot recycle through this service (it will differ depending on where you live).
But don’t stop there! Supermarkets will often accept soft plastics for recycling and some big retailers have recycling stations for batteries, lightbulbs, clothing, TVs, computer items and old stationery.
The Federal Government runs a free TV and computer recycling scheme for old, broken and unwanted items, which you can drop off at designated points including Officeworks.
Terracycle is a company helping us recycle many of these hard-to-recycle items in this way for free – their website has a list of their free recycling programs.
It’s even possible to post some of these recyclables – such as old toothbrushes and empty beauty products – so even if you’re far from a collection point, you can still do your bit. Head to Planet Ark’s RecycleNearYou website to learn more about your recycling options.
No doubt you’ll find there are household items you didn’t even know you could recycle.
2. Get involved in the gifting and sharing economy
One person’s trash is another’s treasure, – so the home items you no longer need or want could be just what others are looking for.
And it works both ways – plenty of ‘unwanted items’ being given away via the gifting economy will be exactly what you’ve been looking for. After all, reuse is an easy way to save resources.
There are plenty of networks and platforms online that encourage the sharing and swapping of resources – from ‘buy nothing’ community groups or The Freecycle Network, to free online classifieds like Gumtree and social media marketplaces.
There’s no shortage of options to give away items you no longer require, or find those things you do need without buying brand new.
3. Pick up litter (and maybe even get paid)
Discarded rubbish, particularly plastic, has a bad habit of getting into our environment.
It looks unsightly, detracts from the natural surrounds, can harm wildlife and doesn’t easily break down – which means unless we take action, it’s there forever.
Sure, we might not have left the litter, but being proactive and picking it up is an easy way to ‘do our bit’.
Whether you challenge yourself to simply pick up three pieces of litter every time you head out or Adopt-a-Spot and keep one area you care about clean, small collective actions can have a big impact on the planet.
In fact, Take 3 for the Sea estimates that each of us picking up 3 pieces of rubbish whenever we go out removes 10 million pieces annually. Small actions really do add up!
Clean Up Australia Day happens every year on the first Sunday in March, which is the perfect opportunity to volunteer and play your part.
Container Deposit Schemes are also now operational across Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where you can claim 10 cents for any eligible containers you collect. Simply return them to a participating refund point and you’ll get paid for your rubbish!
You might not need an incentive to get out there, but promising the kids a little extra pocket money is a great way to get them involved.
4. When life gives you lemons
Lemons aren’t just great for eating – they make great cleaners, too.
Lemon juice is slightly acidic, meaning it’s great for removing alkaline stains like limescale and rust on taps. Just squeeze on some juice and it will soften and dissolve these deposits.
If your kettle has limescale build-up, pop a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice into the kettle with half a litre of water, leave it for an hour and then boil and empty – and your kettle will be sparkly.
You might need a second boil to lose the lemon smell, but your descaled kettle will now boil more efficiently.
Soaking your leftover lemon peels in white vinegar also makes a great cleaning spray. Simply add peels to a jar and cover with vinegar, then seal and wait two to three weeks. That’s it – you’ll have a zesty DIY cleaning solution ready to go.
5. Ditch the plastic wrap
Reducing the amount of plastic used in the kitchen is easy as swapping out one item at a time – and a great place to start is by ditching the plastic food wrap.
When storing leftovers in the fridge, place in reusable containers with lids or simply place a plate on top of a bowl. Wrap salad items in a damp tea towel to keep them crisp.
Alternatively, buy wax wraps or reusable silicone lids to help keep your leftovers fresh – and wrap sandwiches in unbleached paper rather than plastic wrap or use a lunchbox or reusable sandwich wrap. Easy.
6. Reuse your glass jars
Rather than recycle those empty pasta sauce and jam jars, repurpose them at home.
They’re great for storing leftovers or everyday grocery items like grains, nuts, beans and flours: keeping moisture, oxygen and pests out of your food so it lasts longer.
You can even freeze food in wide-neck glass jars – just be sure the contents are cooled and only fill the jar to its widest point.
Need more inspo? Think homemade candles and tasty preserves, or storing craft bits and pieces, indoor plants – the list goes on.
7. Compost your food scraps
Did you know up to 40 per cent of the average Australian household bin is food waste?
An easy way to cut your household waste almost in half is by setting up a compost bin. Add your food scraps – along with some carbon-rich material such as dried leaves, cardboard, straw or sawdust to keep it balanced and avoid bad smells – and in a few weeks you’ll have black gold (aka compost) on your hands. Your council might even offer subsidised compost bins or run free workshops to help you get started, so be sure to ask!
Even if you don’t have time or space to manage your own compost bin, community compost hubs are a convenient option. They’re open to the public to drop off food scraps and are usually managed by volunteers.
Contact your local community garden or head online to find out if there’s a community compost point near you
8. Love food, hate waste
While composting is a great solution for food scraps, why not try looking for ways to cut back on food waste in the kitchen?
Check what’s in the fridge and the pantry before you go shopping, so you don’t buy things you don’t need, and don’t go buying groceries on an empty stomach.
Get in the habit of putting your groceries away as soon as you get home, especially those that need refrigerating.
And don’t let ‘best ‘before’ dates put you off – they indicate quality, not safety, so no need to throw items out once they reach their assigned date. Just make a plan to use them up soon.