10 Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

New year, new me! reads the caption in our heads as we pose for Instagram shots with ominous green smoothies and tight gym gear. It’s January 1st and we’re all set for another revolution around the sun that will be so better and healthier than the last.

February 1st, though, is where the new year resolutions go to die.

Making new habits is a slow process. It’s like the overused tortoise and the hare scenario – if you rush into this, you’ll burn out quickly and eventually just give up. But don’t worry, I’m definitely not here to tell you to go to the gym.

There are lots of little habits in our day-to-day routines; from how we wash our faces to turning off the lights and checking the doors at night. I know I’m not the only one that has to sing a lil tune when turning the straighteners off or locking the door so I know for certain I’ve done it.

The great thing is, several of our habits can be made more sustainable. And, in danger of repeating myself from previous blog posts, the more of us that can change our habits, the more likely that big corporations and the CEOs with fat wallets from our purchases will have to listen.

So here’s ten new year’s resolutions that can make your life that little bit more sustainable – into 2022 and beyond.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, skip to the visual and printable version here.

1. Don’t buy clothes unless you need to

Anyone else who gets that lil rush from clothes shopping, online or in store, will find this one difficult. But with time, you can train yourself to walk past the clothes shop, or simply not visit their websites. If they constantly bombard you with sales emails, unsubscribe from their newsletters (more on that later).

We should also stay vigilant against greenwashing – the process by which corporations make themselves sound wonderfully ethical and sustainable through broad, vague statements, when in reality they’re not doing much at all. For example, if a brand claims to have a range made from sustainable materials – it’s not technically a lie if their products contain only 20% cotton.

Further research into brands and products is so, so important to make sure we make the right buying choices and influence the markets (more on that later too!).

That’s why I love brands like Rapanui – not only are their clothes fully made of recyclable materials, but they’re also completely open about their process and where the clothes are made (in a factory in the Isle of Wight, but see the full journey here), only make to order, and even offer a cool recycling scheme once your Rapanui clothes are too worn to wear.

However, if you’re not fully sold on avoiding clothes shopping completely, you could instead:

  • add a quantity limit per month
  • add a monetary limit per month
  • add the clause that you can only buy from sustainable shops
  • add the clause that you have to give something to charity for each new item you buy.

2. Experiment with one new eco product per month

As I said in the introduction, changing up our habits is hard. They’re not habits for nothing! We seek comfort in the known, and once we find products we like, it’s difficult to persuade us to try something new. This is why I’d recommend starting off small – one product at a time. One change per month is a nice, slow target to reach for.

This could include swapping to:

  • refillable or non-liquid shampoo and conditioner
  • natural deodorant
  • a metal razor or razor subscription
  • eco-friendly candles
  • sustainable toilet paper
  • alternative milks
  • hand soap or refillable soap
  • reusable period products
  • an electric or bamboo toothbrush
  • bowl toppers and Tupperware instead of cling film
  • cleaning products
  • reusable coffee cup and water bottle
  • FSC notebooks and printer paper – or go digital.

Try this product out for the full month, as some (like shampoo bars and deodorant) take some time to get used to. At the end of this time, you might decide to go back to your old products, or you may have a changed habit for life!

3. Actively avoid plastic waste

Nothing annoys me more than seemingly pointless plastic, especially when it’s above a rating of 5 and can’t be recycled at home. I’ve always assumed it’s a myth to live in our consumerist world completely plastic free, yet somehow there are people that manage to do it!

There are however a few ways we can easily reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our bins, but some of these will depend on where you live and the variety of shops you can access.

Shop local

If you have local greengrocers, butchers, bakers, and farmshops, these are a great way to get fresh produce without all the plastic wrap. You can take Tupperware boxes for loose meat, and take along a bag for life or tote bags to collect your other produce. I’ve seen several reviews from people who regularly use these types of local shops often comment on how much larger and fresher the choices are compared to the big supermarkets.

If you don’t have any of these stores locally but have a large supermarket with a butchers or bakery inside, some will let you bring your own containers to use instead of all those plastic bags.

For other items, look for your nearest zero waste shop, where you can buy quantities of unpackaged dry goods like pasta and pulses, regularly used liquids like fabric conditioner or hand soap, and more.

Better supermarketing

Sometimes the food shop can be stressful and take hours out of your day, so the last thing you want to do is stand looking at a shelf full of condiments looking for the ketchup with the more sustainable packaging. Most of the big supermarkets have a list of all their products online, so you can spend five minutes doing research on the worst offending products before you go. Need to buy peanut butter? See if your supermarket sells a glass jar instead of a plastic one. Need peppers for your fajitas? Buy them loose instead of in plastic wrap.

4. Read up on sustainability topics once per week/month

In order to act appropriately, we need to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s worth setting some time aside every week (or month if you’re too busy) to read up on or watch a documentary about a sustainability topic you’re unfamiliar with. Here are some to get you started:

Visit my sustainability resources page for some more good places to start. You’ll be amazed at how much we don’t know!

5. Have at least one vegetarian dinner per week

We could make such a huge difference if everyone cut down their meat intake by one day per week – if everyone in the US did so, they’d prevent 1.2 million CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. Now imagine if everyone did!

A homemade roasted red pepper soup with blobs of creme fraiche and coriander leaves in the centre.
A homemade roasted red pepper and tomato soup

One day per week minimum really isn’t a big ask anymore – vegetarian meals have gotten so good in recent years, with some meat alternatives like burgers even tasting better than meat. Of course, not all of them are up to par with the OG proteins (‘facon’ still has a long way to go), but some meals are also great without a main protein, like risottos and pastas.

If you’re a foodie looking for more of a challenge, but you think going vegan is a slight step too far, then try Vegetarianuary instead, like I did. We learned so much from one month of vegetarianism, including that I actually really like mushrooms and that veggie lunches are far more difficult to plan than dinners.

Veggie meals are usually cheaper than meaty ones too, so give it a go – you’ve nothing to lose! And you may just be pleasantly surprised. We enjoyed it so much that we’re doing it again in 2022…

6. Promise to do product research

This ties in with resolution 3, but get into the habit of doing research before you buy things. This is a tough one to crack, especially if you’re an impulse buyer, but it can make such a difference if you learn to pause before clicking ‘place order’ online to just look in more detail at what you’re about to buy.

Here are a few questions you could ask:

  • Is it made from eco-friendly and sustainable materials? (and are these actually eco-friendly? Just because something is made of recycled plastic doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. Plastic microfibres that come free when washing your clothes can be harmful to wildlife).
  • Does it contain any unsavoury ingredients? Beware the sneaky inclusion of palm oil (looking at your Plant Chef burgers, Tesco!) and always be on the lookout for potentially harmful chemicals like parabens in shampoo. If you don’t know the purpose of a long, scientific-sounding ingredient – Google it!
  • Where is the item manufactured? Does it have multiple parts or processes from multiple countries? Are all of the ingredients locally sourced? If you’re buying food, is it in season in the UK or imported? If it’s not from the UK, there will usually be greater carbon emissions from transportation (but this depends on the production of the item and the method of transport – e.g. ships are significantly more efficient than planes).
  • Do you need it? Will you use it enough times to make the carbon emissions associated with making and getting that item to you worthwhile? If it’s replacing another item, can the original be repaired?

7. Keep your inbox clear

This may sound like a strange one, but what we do in the digital sphere isn’t without cost to the planet. According to Mike Berners-Lee’s book How bad are bananas?, the average email equates to approximately 4g of CO2 emissions, or 50g with an attachment.

Clearing out your inbox reduces the amount of storage your provider needs to take up. Even better, unsubscribing from newsletters will reduce the amount of digital junk mail you receive, and stress you out less at having hundreds of thousands of unread messages! This can also help you out with Resolution 1 by removing that direct temptation to buy more.

8. Aim for waste-free presents

A homemade hamper with a bottle of garlic olive oil, chilli jam, and coffee liqueur surrounded by shredded paper.

When we think about buying our loved ones birthday and Christmas presents, we often see it as a case of needing to get them something tangible and that feels like ‘the right amount’, rather than necessarily thinking about what they’d want.

I talked about this in my latest sustainable Christmas blog post, but an inordinate number of unwanted Christmas presents get sent to landfill every year. A good way to avoid adding to the waste pile is to try sticking to more thoughtful presents like experiences and homemade gifts, vouchers and digital items.

You can get vouchers for pretty much everything now – shops, restaurants, cafes, activities – you name it. And if you can’t find one you’re looking for, make one and include a promise to buy them lunch at their favourite restaurant, or to take them on a bowling or cinema date.

Of course, you can’t force everyone to board the same sustainable train as you, and there will be times (especially with kids) where you just have to give in and buy that plastic kitchen set they want. But where you can, small changes can make a big difference.

9. Reduce time online

A view of the sea in the distance at Penrhyn, with a meadow in the foreground and trees framing the photo.

It goes without saying, but more time spent outdoors in nature rather than online will not only do you the world of good, but will again knock down that energy use.

You could make a resolution to go for at least one short walk per day, or at least one long walk every week. Look at how often you currently get out and think of a way to enhance that. Maybe you could volunteer at your local gardens or allotment? Or walk the neighbour’s dog?

Otherwise, hop in your preferred method of transport and get exploring! The UK has some gorgeous spots in some pretty unexpected places. Try looking up some new ones near you!

10. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up with these resolutions. Just try your best, and don’t try them if you don’t feel comfortable with them. We’re still living in turbulent times, and setting yourself up for failure isn’t going to make you feel better. Take them at a steady pace, and they’ll be more likely to work out.

Remember too that there are far bigger contributors to climate change than the general public’s habits, but collectively we make an impact, especially on trends that will affect production and manufacturing processes.

Download the sustainable resolutions poster

If you want to challenge yourself to try all of the above, here’s a list of the resolutions that you can print out and stick on your corkboard, or just download as a reminder:

And that’s it! Do you have any sustainable new year’s resolutions for 2022 that aren’t on this list? Share them in the comments below, and let us know how you get on!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have a wonderful new year!

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