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Environment

The eco swaps that will actually make your life more sustainable 

Plastic straws might get a lot of attention, but this Earth Day, here’s a selection of big and small eco swaps that actually make a difference.

Though saving the planet is something we should focus on all year round, Earth Day offers an opportunity to reflect on how we can all act to reverse climate and environmental damage.

Climate change and the nature crisis are obviously both large, systemic problems which will require collective action in order to solve. 

And while individual action alone won’t fix the problem, behaviour change remains a key part of the solution – with individuals in western countries having particularly high carbon footprints.

There’s a lot of different information out there about what “swaps” you can implement to help lower your carbon footprint, but it’s important to acknowledge that not all swaps will be accessible or affordable to everyone.

That’s why we’ve broken down our Earth Day eco-swap guide into two sections: “Big stuff” changes, usually requiring a greater lifestyle shift and, often, costing more, and “small stuff” changes, which are easier and cheaper swaps you can make. 

So read on to find out what swaps you can make this Earth Day to make your own small contribution to reducing waste and overconsumption

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The big stuff 

Swap petrol for electric – or ditch cars altogether 

In the UK, transport is responsible for a whopping 27 per cent of annual emissions, with road transport the primary culprit.

If you can afford to pay the upfront cost, switching from a petrol car to an electric vehicle (EVs) or a hybrid can mitigate the impact of your own vehicle emissions – and in the long run, EVs are actually cheaper to run than diesel or petrol cars. 

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According to transport charity Transport Environment, EVs in Europe are estimated to emit around 3x less CO2 than petrol or diesel cars, representing a significant carbon saving. 

EVs do still have some impact on the environment. Depending on how the electricity to power your EV is generated, the vehicle could still be reliant on fossil fuels.

Some concerns have also been raised about the sustainability of the materials used to create EV batteries, with lithium mining potentially damaging people and the planet. 

As such, giving up your car – and swapping it for a bike or public transport – is the most effective swap you could make to reduce your transport emissions. 

Swap planes for trains 

Most people will know by now that flying is one of the most carbon-intensive activities a person can partake in, with the aviation industry causing around 7 per cent of the UK’s annual emissions. 

Swapping out a plane for a train when you travel is, unfortunately, still a luxury for many given that flights tend to be cheaper and quicker than trains in most instances.

If you can spare the time and absorb a little extra cost, swapping air travel for train travel will have a huge impact on your carbon footprint – as well as being a much more scenic way to travel.

You can make this more cost effective through train passes such as the interrail pass, for instance, or by making use of Eurostar sales which happen at least once a year.

The Man in Seat 61 is a website entirely dedicated to train travel in Europe, and offers plenty of information, tips and tricks on how to get the best deal when travelling by train. 

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Swap meat for plant-based protein 

Meat and dairy products have a huge impact on the planet, driving up CO2 and methane emissions as well as contributing to global deforestation.

Research shows, in fact, that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single most effective way to reduce your impact on the planet.

If you’re not ready to go completely cold turkey yet, simply reducing your intake is a great place to start. You could try one meal a week, starting this Earth Day, where you switch out meat for a plant-based protein. 

Avoiding food products which have had to travel a long way – such as avocados – is another good way to reduce the air miles embedded into your grocery shop.

Swap convenience buying for local shops 

The convenience of Amazon and other fast-delivery retailers has pulled many of us into a trap of casually ordering items online whenever we feel like it.

By doing so, we’re generating emissions in the form of delivery, with items often coming from far away and sometimes from overseas to reach us. 

If you are able and can afford to, try to switch your shopping habits to be more local: only buy what you need and from shops close by to you. 

Alternatively when you do order items, see if there’s a greener way you can have them delivered – via cargo bikes for example.

The small stuff 

It’s key to note that on the smaller swaps, the effectiveness of the changes you make will depend on your lifestyle, so you should consider where in your life you may be creating or contributing to unnecessary waste.

If you drink a lot of takeaway coffee, for instance, reusable mugs will help reduce your impact. If you’re an avid writer, swapping out biros for a fountain pen could be most effective. Nonetheless, here’s a few important swaps to consider this Earth Day to help you get started.

Swap new clothes for second-hand 

Fast fashion is a nightmare for the planet, from the plastic used to create clothing items to the huge piles of waste burned in countries abroad when we discard our unwanted items.

If you can, try to avoid buying new clothes wherever you can, opting instead for second hand clothing. 

These days, charity shops aren’t your only option: there are tonnes of vintage shops and phone apps such as Vinted and Depop where people are selling on their second hand clothes.

Often, buying second hand is cheaper than buying new, so it’s a win-win for the planet and your bank account. 

Swap single use for durable, long-term use 

There are dozens of examples of everyday items which involve single use plastic, including takeaway food cartons, coffee cups and bin liners. 

One great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to consider what single use plastic items you can either eliminate from your day-to-day life or find sustainable swaps for – such as bamboo toothbrushes or reusable coffee mugs. 

Swap fossil fuel heating for renewable energy 

The energy market may be a little volatile at the moment for many people to consider changing supplier, but if you’re able to, switching to a renewable energy company like Good Energy means you’ll no longer have to heat your home using fossil fuels. 

Price comparison sites such as moneysupermarket or money saving expert can help you make decisions based on price and how green the supplier is. 

Switch to greener investments 

If you’re lucky enough to have savings, you may want to consider where you’re keeping them and ultimately, where they’re being invested. 

Switching to greener savings accounts – such as The Big Exchange’s ethical ISA – is one way to make sure your money isn’t being used to fund investments which damage the planet.

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