Shrink Your Footprint Tip no. 2 – Make Do and Mend!

Various shirts on clothes hangers
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Another everyday choice we make that has a big impact on the environment is what we wear. Like the food choices in Tip no. 1, buying and disposing of clothing and other textiles has a much larger effect on the planet than most of us realise, because most of it is indirect. For example, when you take a shorter shower or water the garden with greywater from the laundry, you’re reducing your direct water use. But when you buy a new T-shirt, 2,700 litres of water has been used (on average) to create it. You might not have been the one who turned on the irrigation at the cotton plantation or filled the dye vats at the factory, but that much water – the equivalent of filling your bath 36 times – has been used to make something for you. And if that sounds like a lot, consider the water footprint of the average pair of denim jeans: 10,800 litres!

Textiles have other effects on the environment, too. Around 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton crops. Greenhouse Gas emissions are created when the raw materials are transported and processed, and again when the fabric is sewn into garments and shipped to retailers. And when we throw a garment that’s torn, stained or no longer wanted in the bin, it becomes landfill, creating pollution and further GhGs (such as methane) as it breaks down. Synthetic textiles, of course, won’t break down for many lifetimes, if at all.

One easy way to reduce our environmental footprints, then, is not to buy or throw out new clothes! Here are two key things you can do instead:

  • Resist those ads for cheap, fast fashion! Consider whether you really need that jacket or dress – and if you do, try shopping for one secondhand instead. Op shop styles are better for the planet and SO much cheaper!
  • Learn to mend, resize or upcycle the clothes and other textiles you already have. Found a hole in your knitwear? Can’t get that coffee stain out? Lost a button or two? The internet is full of instructions on how to invisibly or decoratively mend clothing (try Pinterest!). You can also find out how to print or dye fabrics, patch holes and turn old clothes into something new in my Make the Future books. Here’s a page from the most recent one to help you.
A description of the stages in sewing on a button
From Make the Future! Hands-on sustainability lessons for Years 7 & 8

Shrink your footprint, TIP no. 1: Swap out the meat!

Hamburger showing a bun filled with a lentil patty, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise. (Burger with the lot – find this sustainable recipe in Make the Future! for Years 7&8 Image: Nansi Kunze)
Burger with the lot – find this sustainable recipe in Make the Future! for Years 7&8 Image: Nansi Kunze

The simple act of reducing your meat consumption can reduce your personal ecological footprint by a HUGE amount. Meat products have a massive ecological footprint. Producing just 1kg of beef creates over 75kg CO2e*, uses over 17,000 litres of water and requires about 330 m2 of land on average. While beef is the worst culprit, other meats aren’t good news for the planet either – for example, 1kg of lamb is responsible for around 51kg of CO2e, over 8,700L water use and 370m2 of land use.

If we just look at Greenhouse Gas emissions, one person’s choices make this much difference:

Eating a beef steak twice a week for a year creates more emissions than if you flew from Melbourne to Brisbane and back 8 times.

Choosing a plant-based alternative (e.g. a bean burger) instead of each of those steaks would reduce those emissions to less than a third of a single one-way Melbourne to Brisbane flight.

Swapping to lower-impact foods is almost certainly easier than you think, and has a bunch of other benefits – including to your wallet! Try these suggestions to start off with:

  • Instead of mince, use TVP (or another dry plant-based mince) in your usual recipes for pasta sauces, lasagne, pies or stews. TVP is also called soy mince, and can be found in the health food aisle of many supermarkets. There are pea-protein and sunflower minces too. Just add hot water to it to reconstitute and make the rest of the recipe as normal – most people won’t even notice the difference!
  • Swap the meat in curries and soups for legumes, such as chickpeas or lentils. Tinned legumes are easy to throw into any recipe, and red lentils cook quickly from dried.
  • Take a look at the plant-based options when you order takeaway  (or if you’re lucky enough to not be in lockdown, when you eat out!). Whether it’s a mainstream chain like Domino’s or a fully plant-based fast food company like Lord of the Fries, meat-free options are everywhere these days, and they’re seriously tasty.

Finally, check back for no. 2 in my Shrink Your Footprint tips next week!


*Greenhouse Gas emissions are usually measured as CO2e – carbon dioxide equivalent. Because all the different Greenhouse Gases have different levels of effect on the atmosphere (for example, 1 tonne of methane has the effect of 25 tonnes of CO2), this is a way to show their impact without having to calculate each gas separately.

Sources:

Make the Future! series and the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change

Hand holding up a glass globe against a leafy backdrop. Photo by Margot Richard on unsplash.com

The release of the United Nations IPCC report on climate change this week has caused widespread anxiety, with headlines describing the report as “code red for humanity”. But while it is a much-needed wake-up call, the IPCC itself says: “The report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate.” We are in a climate emergency, but we have not lost. What we’re facing now is not inevitable doom, but an unprecedented opportunity to change our world for the better.

When people talk about saving the planet, there’s a tendency for the discussion to head in a couple of unhelpful directions. The first is the Too Hard path: the assumption that an eco-friendly lifestyle is expensive, difficult and one of joyless self-restraint. The other is the I Can’t Make a Difference mindset: a belief that the actions ordinary people take have such minimal impact that they’re not worth doing, and that governments and corporations are the only drivers of significant change.

I spent most of 2015-19 researching personal environmental footprints – reading major studies, including as previous IPCC reports – and what I found debunked both of those myths. You can massively reduce your impact on the planet even if you don’t eat fancy organic meals while living in an architect-designed eco-home next to a public transport hub. In fact, a kid with a shopping list has the potential to reduce their family’s environmental footprint further than if their parents were to switch to an electric car. And while lobbying governments and large companies for change is important, conscious consumerism can be incredibly powerful and encourage far more rapid change.

So how do we – as individuals, families, schools, workplaces – produce this significant change? The first step is learning what the impact of our everyday choices is. Taking Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions as an example, many of the things we associate with reducing our impact, such as turning off the lights when we leave a room or drying our clothes on the washing line, aren’t actually major factors in our GhG footprints. While positive actions in themselves, they are a drop in the ocean compared to our indirect emissions – that is, the CO2 and other GhGs that are emitted in creating the foods, textiles and other products we consume. These household items are heavily responsible for some of the most powerful GhGs, such as methane (which has 25 times the warming potential per kg that CO2 has) and nitrous oxide (288 times as powerful as CO2). IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai reported this week that “limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.” My hands-on sustainability series, Make the Future!, focusses on the simple – and enjoyable! – actions we can take to cut these emissions, along with water and land use, pollution and other impacts.

I designed the Make the Future! books around this quote from the Australian Government’s Sustainability Curriculum Framework:

Sustainability is about reducing our ecological footprint while simultaneously improving the quality of life that we value – the ‘liveability’ of our society.

This concept, which seems counterintuitive at first, is in fact eminently achievable. When we choose products that use less resources, they save us money at the same time as reducing our impact on the planet.

With the right recipes, we can create healthier and far more eco-friendly versions of our favourite foods. By learning to upcycle, mend and buy second-hand, we not only cut down our damage to the environment, but gain the chance to express ourselves with customised gear that we’ll value more than the bland throwaway alternatives  in shops.

The difference those everyday choices make is substantial. For example, by swapping out one high-impact meal twice a week for a year, you could easily save the equivalent emissions of driving from Melbourne to Townsville and back in a large 4WD. Add to this the collateral benefits of living more sustainably – from increased personal happiness to improved social justice  outcomes – and it truly is an amazing opportunity that confronts us.

I’ll be posting tips and extracts from my series regularly on my website and social media, so please check back soon to find out how you can make the future better … for our world, and for yourself.

Make the future series by Nansi Kunze

Reducing our environmental footprint

Make the Future series by Nansi Kunze

This week you’ve probably heard some talk about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. At first glance, the news in the report can seem overwhelming, but all is not lost! There are small actions that make a HUGE difference to your environmental footprint. I spent four years researching and writing a hands-on sustainability series and I’ll be sharing regular tips on Twitter about how to drastically reduce your environmental footprint through small, easy actions. You’ll find me on Twitter at @NansiKunze.