7 ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle

As consumers, how can we both consume more sustainably and influence companies to produce more sustainably? A final-five finalist in the 2018 Trinity College Dublin and developmenteducation.ie development issues series, Maebh Ni Ghuairim presents her 7 top tips.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals that I feel is often neglected is number 12, which is ensuring Sustainable Consumption and Production. We often feel helpless looking at the SDGs because, as individuals, we feel we can’t do much. However, I believe that this is one of the SDGs that every single person can make a meaningful contribution to.

As consumers we can both consume more sustainably and influence companies to produce more sustainably. Read on for some tips on how to do exactly that.

1. Start using the reusable alternative to disposable items

Photo: Photo: IMG_1014.jpg by Tom Page (March 4, 2012) via Flickr. Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Cutting down on plastic bottles, coffee cups and plastic bags seems obvious, but it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce your waste. 2.5 billion (!!!) disposable cups are used every year in the UK. By asking your local barista to make your coffee in your flask rather than a disposable cup, you help cut down number of items going to the landfill after a single use. Companies like Costa are now offering discounts to those who don’t use disposable cups – an extra incentive to cut down on your waste!

2. Start shopping at bulk stores

What are bulk stores? These are shops where you bring your own containers to buy  packaging-free dry goods like grains and pasta. Shops like Aldi and Lidl are starting to cater to the demand too, by offering nuts, fruits and veg unpackaged. This means that buying unpackaged goods doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. The rise in demand has also lead to bulk stores popping up all over Dublin – check to see if there’s one near you and try it out.

3. Start buying ugly produce

When you see a slightly bruised banana, or a misshaped apple, be sure to pick those up. Our first instinct is to avoid less-than-perfect produce, but there’s usually nothing at all wrong with it. However, our preferences are having a devastating effect on food wastage – up to 30% of vegetable crops are not even harvested because retailers have rejected them on the basis of them not looking pretty enough. Then there is more wastage in shops, as shop owners must throw away rejected produce not bought at the end of the week. By choosing “ugly” foods, you’re showing the retailer that there is still demand for all types of food, and helping reduce food waste.

4. Start repairing

Nothing is less sustainable than buying new cheaper shoes every 3 months because you’ve worn through your old ones. Try investing in one good quality pair of shoes, and bringing them to your local cobbler’s if they get damaged. You’ll be surprised how cheap it is, and how much you save when you repair instead of replace. The same concept applies to all your belongings – clothes, tech gadgets, and everyday household items. Sites like iFixIt offer free repair guides for everything you can think of. No better way to stop unnecessary consumption, and save some much needed money.

5. Start going to swap shops & using services like Nu.

Everyone knows how amazing charity shops can be, but swap shops are the new Big Thing. They’re basically pop up markets, where you can exchange your clothes for tokens, and spend your tokens on other second-hand clothes. You should also check out Nu., an online store where you can borrow and lend clothes for special occasions. You can get a whole new wardrobe regularly through these services without having to rely on cheap clothes shops. Fast fashion is disastrous for the environment, and is the second dirtiest industry in the world, after oil. By refusing to shop from these stores, you’re taking a stand against the epitome of unsustainable production.

6. Use a Menstrual Cup

To everyone that doesn’t have periods, skip to number 7. But I had to mention menstrual cups, because they’re an insanely sustainable alternative to tampons and pads. You only have to buy one, and they last you up to 10 years. Feminine care is not the type of waste we like to think about, but it really does add up. A woman uses 11,000 tampons in a lifetime, which don’t break down quickly in the landfill – imagine how much waste you could avoid with one simple change?

7. Repurpose

Use jam jars as containers for bulk store shopping. Use old pillow cases as cloth shopping bags. Use empty wine bottles as vases. The options are limitless.  As you begin to repurpose more, you buy less new things, and less old things end up in landfill.

Don’t forget to go easy on yourself

The first couple weeks and months of becoming aware of how much waste one person can produce can be hard. Trying to change that is a huge lifestyle shift, and that’s never easy. You may slip up or have to be wasteful in certain circumstances, and that’s okay. As long as you know you’re putting your actions behind your values, and helping shape a more sustainable world

More info:

For more, see the developmenteducation.ie sections on overconsumption and ethical consumption

Are democracy and ‘development’ linked? Comparing homelessness in Damascus, Dubai and Dublin

Is the status of a country’s democratic health a fair measure of human development gains? What about when we test this idea against the case of homelessness? A final-five finalist in the 2018 Trinity College Dublin and developmenteducation.ie development issues series, Ghalya Farahat argues it’s time to de-link the idea that living in a democratic country is a guarantee of ‘development’.

When discussing topics of development, to many people what often comes to mind is technological advancement, modern looking cities, and high levels of income. For an ordinary citizen who is not so concerned with what development entails, delving into all the indices and technical measurements is not what shapes their perception of development. Each anecdote of experiencing development differs from one person to the other.

There is no arguing that some aspects of development are universal and hence are not dependent on the context in which they exist. If we are to take the definition and common measurements of development at face value then Ireland and the UAE would score much higher than Syria would.  In that respect, the United Arab Emirates ranks very high in human development, sustainability and efficiency, as well as in innovation scoring highest within Arab countries as well as globally. The same applies to Ireland. My argument here is not focused on the more formal assessments of development, but one that I’ve personally witnessed.

The stark differences between Damascus, Dubai and Dublin have left me nothing less than puzzled when attempting to assess how ‘developed’ each was. While all are very different, Ireland is the only democratic state out of the three that I’ve lived in. Visiting Europe for a holiday is very different to living in it. There are things that go unnoticed and that you only become aware of once you’ve become more familiar with its streets and its lifestyle.

Photo: Homelessness 011 (January 13th, 2014) by fio.PSD comunicazione via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Reflecting on when I used to live in Damascus prior to the war, not once did I see a homeless person sleeping on the street. This is not to say that there weren’t any people living in extreme poverty, but even the poorest person in Damascus had a roof over his head and could afford three basic meals. Does that make Syria developed in the aspect of homelessness? One could argue that it does when compared to European countries that are supposedly much more developed but still suffer from large numbers of homeless people dying on the streets from the cold.

The same applies for Dubai. However, emigrating to the UAE is not so easy if you aren’t financially capable of sustaining a living or if your employer is not covering your visa and living costs. Although there is a lot of controversy around the poor working conditions that labour workers coming over from India and Pakistan have to endure, Dubai is still a city that pays construction workers much more than their home-countries would while still covering transport and house rental costs. This gives them a chance to send their money back home to their families.

On the other hand, in democratic European cities including Paris and Dublin, the amount of homeless people I’d seen was absolutely shocking in comparison to what I was once used to. Although welfare support systems and their importance is much more emphasized in developed democratic countries, the stark difference between this issue here in Dublin and back home in Damascus (pre-war times) was very eye-opening. This may not be a conventional measure of development that one would necessarily consider. However, as my running argument suggests, what we see is what we process in our minds and shape our perceptions around. When you see many homeless people living and sleeping on the streets with death reports coming in often, you can’t help but question the extent to which living in a democratic country really is directly attributed to development.

  • Featured photo: Homelessness 011 (January 13th, 2014) by fio.PSD comunicazione via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

‘The large house in which we live demands’ – Martin Luther King on Development Education

‘To many millions of American Negroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophet of their crusade for racial equality. He was their voice of anguish, their eloquence in humiliation, their battle cry for human dignity. He forged for them the weapons of nonviolence that withstood and blunted the ferocity of segregation.

And to many millions of American whites, he was one of a group of Negroes who preserved the bridge of communication between races when racial warfare threatened the United States in the nineteen-sixties, as Negroes sought the full emancipation pledged to them a century before by Abraham Lincoln.

To the world Dr. King had the stature that accrued to a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man with access to the White House and the Vatican; a veritable hero in the African states that were just emerging from colonialism.’

These were the opening paragraphs of King’s obituary in the New York Times on April 5th 1968. He is justly recognised as one of the key architects of civil rights, not just in the United States but also internationally.  The mere mention of his name conjures up the DNA of rights campaigning, of the key role of struggle for rights, of the vision of a better world devoid of the bile and hatred of racism and the image of a movement and of thousands and thousands of people marching for this.  The relevance of his message, the movement he led and the values he was so passionate about becomes all the more prescient in these times of willfully incited hatred and racism in Europe.

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Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is considered to be one of the most iconic political speeches of all time:

  • It can be read on the Presentation Magazine website which also contains a video of the speech plus an analysis of its power and context
  • For the typed version of the original speech in full, you can get it from the US archives
  • An excellent overall ‘archive’ of his life, work, impact and significance can be found in an interactive feature on the New York Times and the Time Magazine One Dream feature (see the Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez quotes in particular)
  • The National Civil Rights Museum (at the Lorraine Hotel, where he was assassinated) provides rich pickings for those of us engaged with rights education.

King is less known for his work in development education yet many commentators have highlighted his words, activities and impact on the poor and oppressed of the world beyond the US.  King’s ‘global vision of justice’ has been outlined in detail in a book In a Single Garment of Destiny edited and introduced by Lewis Baldwin (2012, Beacon Press, Boston).  To quote King in 1964 (from the book):

‘…it would also enable everybody to understand that we are clothed in a single garment of destiny, and whatever affects one nation directly in the world, indirectly affects all.’

The book contains almost 200 speeches, letters, statements and letters from King on a vast range of topics from Apartheid to colonialism, the ‘octopus of poverty’, non-violence, the Middle East, Vietnam, religion and liberation to Gandhi and Nehru.

Three quotes:

‘The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst.  The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible.  Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.  No individual or nation can be great it does not have a concern for the ‘least of these’.  (1967)

‘My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil; but nonviolent resistance to evil.  Between the two positions, there is a world of difference… Let each of us go away this evening (King was addressing a 1959 meeting in New York of the War Resisters League) with a new determination to stand against the evils of our day.  The challenge is here.  To become the instrument of a great idea is the privilege that history gives only occasionally.’  (1959)

‘One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change.  Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.  But today our survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.  The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighbourhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools’. (1967)

  • Note: This week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Featured image: BlackWorkerJustice-3159 (April 4, 2017) by Annette Bernhardt. Via Flickr (CC-BY-SA)