With so much negativity in the news, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless to make a difference. But after all, the collective is made up of individuals and their everyday habits. By starting the change from our homes – which is a space we have control over – we honour our personal lives and cultivate a sense of empowerment. What better place to bring consciousness into our daily life, than where we eat and sleep?
We’ve gathered five ways that you can become part of the solution, by changing everyday practices in your living space.
1. Help to stop deforestation and species extinction by avoiding products containing palm oil.
Palm oil and its derivatives have been shown to be present in 50% of products found in supermarkets: From soap and laundry powder, to packaged foods like pizza and cookies, to personal care items like toothpaste and deodorant. Sodium laureth sulfate, often a product of palm oils, is a foaming agent found in many brands of shampoo, liquid hand soap, hand sanitizer and shaving cream.
Product ingredient lists are not making it easy for buyers to discern, hiding palm oil and its products behind a variety of such innocuous names as “Vegetable Fat”, “Palm Kernel” or “Stearate”. These oils are all derived from the fruit of the Elaeis guineensis tree, native to Africa but cultivated on an industrial scale in the biodiversity hotspots of Indonesia and Malaysia.
With palms yielding a very high amount of oil per tree and per acre, this profitable industry has created plantation monocultures, destroying the species-rich native forests and wetlands of Southeast Asia. Endangered species such as the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino are finding their habitats shrinking from year to year, as demand grows for this highly versatile oil to meet consumer appetites.
Fortunately, alternatives to palm oil products are available. Look for coconut-oil-based soaps and local, organic foods. In India, a traditional cleaning agent is made from soap nuts – also known as “soap berries” – dropped by the Sapindus tree. Soap nuts are sold at markets by farmers and otherwise unemployed villagers, who collect them off the ground. These contain saponin, a natural foaming and cleaning agent useful for making laundry detergent and floor cleaner.
As with every industry, exploitation comes in with large-scale, commercial production. When buying coconut or soap-nut-based cleaning products, check with the shop to make sure that ingredients are locally sourced, and do not come from large plantations on deforested land.
2. Protect your local soil and groundwater by choosing a natural dish soap and laundry powder.
A major contributor to groundwater pollution is the grey water from kitchen sinks and washing machines. Phosphates are often added to laundry and dishwashing detergents to make them tough on stains and oils. Unfortunately, these chemicals inevitably end up in local water bodies, leading to eutrophication – a change in chemical composition – and sudden algal blooms which kill fish and other animals by blocking sunlight and draining oxygen from ponds. This has led many countries to ban the use of phosphates in laundry detergents.
Instead of reaching for the big brand dishwashing soap, choose a natural dish bar or liquid. For laundry, use a coconut-based, eco-friendly laundry soap or powder with probiotics, which regenerate the soil wherever applied. Using chemical-free cleaning agents enriched with probiotics will have the added advantage of protecting your pipes and washing machine from calcification, and your skin from rashes.
3. Reduce microplastics and microfiber pollution by cleaning your kitchen with biodegradable products.
Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces less than five millimetres long, which massively accumulate in the oceans, ending up in the bodies of marine animals. More recently, they have been found in food and water, lingering in the human body1 with unknown effects.
Some microplastic beads are shed from kitchen sponges during use, and others occur wherever plastic waste disintegrates. When particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, they are known as nanoplastics. A related problem are the microfibers shed by synthetic clothing and kitchen towels, and often released to the environment in laundry water. Microfibers are a major contributor to water contamination, and have been shown to make their way into foods like honey and sugar2.
By switching to coconut scrubbing pads for your kitchen, you are committing to fighting the microplastics crisis. Next, you can ensure that you use natural dish towels for your kitchen, and that your clothes are made of biodegradable materials like cotton. If you have a farm, avoid tarpaulins which disintegrate in sunlight and rain. Drop the single-use plastic bags, and drink from a reusable water bottle.
4. Stop adding to landfills and plastic pollution. Shop in bulk with reusable containers.
Every year, landfills continue to grow with the volume of empty plastic bottles and food packaging. Often, these are even discarded in nature or on the side of the road. These items do not biodegrade, and most of them are perfectly reusable.
Some stores selling household cleaning products in bulk now allow customers to return their empty bottles for refilling. Grocery stores are going back to traditional practices by selling loose food – such as dhal and nuts – by weight, to be carried either in a paper bag or in a container brought by the shopper.
Carry reusable bags with you in case you need to go shopping. Bring your own containers to the store for cleaning products, and for food items – grains, dhal, nuts etc. Finally, carry reusable containers such as tiffin boxes for your lunch and takeaway meals.
5. Save energy and reduce carbon emissions by switching off lights and fans when leaving the room. Other energy-wasting electronics to watch for are air conditioners, TV sets and computers.
Besides saving on your energy bills, you will reduce the amount of current drawn from the substation, which depending on your location, may be generated by burning coal.
Air Conditioners will switch off and save power once the room reaches the set temperature. Ensure all windows are closed and properly sealed, to keep outside air from cancelling the AC’s effect. Your room will reach the desired temperature quicker and require less energy from the AC.
We hope these tips can help you to become an everyday ecowarrior and connect with your environment!
1. Osborne, M. (2022). Microplastics Detected in Human Blood in New Study. Smithsonian Magazine.
2. Liebezeit, G. and Liebezeit, E. (2013). Non-pollen particulates in honey and sugar. Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A