Student Blog: How to be environmentally friendly during a lockdown

Author William Pearce is a 1st year Economics student at the University of Liverpool. 

Every year, on 22 April, the world celebrates Earth Day. A massive environmental movement preparing for its 50th anniversary this year; Earth Day emerged in 1970 from the largest people’s protest in the history of the world.

The theme for this year is Climate Action, which is especially relevant as we begin to see the positive environmental effects of near-worldwide lockdown.

Of course, the purpose of the movement is not to pressure you to take shorter showers or turn the odd light off around the house. They focus on scientific advancement, on pressuring governmental policy and challenging large corporations.

In light of such an important day, it is worthwhile considering what we can do to help our planet. Especially as – for most of us – there’s not much else to do right now anyway!

Avoid buying lots of stuff

I know it’s tempting. You’re either walking the aisles in Tesco debating whether you should get an extra few tubes of Pringles to keep you sustained in lockdown, or you’re sat at home browsing Amazon looking for anything that could possibly keep you entertained.

‘Panic buying’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean loading a trolley full of toilet rolls, and it can be hard to notice yourself doing it. You might not feel panicked, but it can be so tempting to slip an extra bottle of wine into your basket ‘just in case’.

There are lots of environmental issues with this. The first is that people tend to over-buy, which leads to a considerable amount of food waste. When thrown into landfill this waste produces lots of methane, which is bad news for our atmosphere. In fact if food waste were a country, not only would it attract very few tourists, it would also rank third in the world for greenhouse gas emissions.

Another problem is that increased purchasing leads to increased production. If Tesco start to sell more Pringles than usual, then they will stock more Pringles, which means Pringles HQ will produce more Pringles, which means more Pringles trucks driving more Pringles to more and more places that catch on and start to sell more Pringles… you get the point. It triggers a chain of production which uses up a lot of energy and creates even more waste.

Cook more! (if you have the time)

For those of you that are key workers, try not to worry too much about this one. But, for the millions of people such as myself that are stuck at home with an abundance of free time (although I should definitely be doing uni work right now), please read close. Cooking isn’t that hard. You don’t have to be Jamie Oliver in order to cook a meal from scratch. Grab the simplest recipe you can find and follow the instructions as if you’re building an IKEA wardrobe.

I understand that I’m saying this in the most passive aggressive way possible (maybe the isolation is getting to me!), but ready-meals and pre-cooked ingredients are terrible for the environment. Not only do they generate more waste, a lot of which being plastic, they also require more refrigeration throughout their lifecycle compared to a homemade meal, and therefore consume loads of energy. It has been suggested that the harmful environmental impact of these meals are 35% higher than those cooked at home.

So, if you have the time and the necessary mental wellbeing right now, try throwing some fresh ingredients into a pan and cooking something. In fact, the more of those ingredients that you’re able to store outside of a fridge or freezer, the better. I don’t know why this seems to be the accepted phrase, but they’re both ‘energy guzzlers’ that you should aim to fill as little as possible. Honestly who says ‘guzzlers’ in any other context?

Eat less meat

The meat industry is one of the world’s biggest contributors to global warming. Consuming 4lbs of beef has the equivalent impact of flying by plane from New York to London.

I am not telling you to immediately stop eating meat out right, because that’s really hard. Meat tastes nice, I understand. But given the extra time at home for many of us, now could be the perfect time to explore new recipes and meat-alternatives.

Perhaps start by dedicating one day a week to being meat-free. So long as you don’t dream too big too fast, you should manage just fine. If you’re sceptical, I definitely recommend doing some reading on the subject, because the industry is pretty terrifying.

Don’t overuse water and electricity

Appliances such as dishwashers and tumble dryers are guilty of using up a substantial amount of energy. However, they ultimately only exist for speed and convenience. Whilst you’re in quarantine, why not fill some of your time by washing dishes by hand, or hanging clothes out to dry. Not only will this save a load of money for your household, it will also reduce your energy consumption and hence lower your carbon footprint.

Indeed, you can continue to save money (and the planet, of course) by shutting down laptops, tablets, computers and whatever other gadgets you own whenever you finish using them. I mean really shut them down. Don’t just whack them on standby. If you simply close the screen of your laptop without turning it off (I’m guilty of that), then the battery will continue to run down. It will require more consistent charging, and thus more household electricity usage.

Don’t put pressure on yourself

We are currently living through an incredibly stressful and upsetting time. In spite of everything that I have written so far, it would be utterly wrong for me to declare that we have been ‘gifted’ this free time. This isn’t a holiday.

Many people will boast about finally having time for their self-improvement missions, about learning new skills and enjoying some time off. All of that is fantastic, obviously. However, for the millions of people struggling with mental health issues, for those trapped with abusive family members, and sadly those facing bereavement, this is likely an indescribably tough time.

For those of you that are feeling drained by these issues, it is absolutely okay that you might not feel up to learning a new recipe, hanging out clothes, learning new instruments, picking up yoga… whatever you may see people around you doing. Just focus on surviving what will be an unprecedentedly difficult few months. Go easy on yourself and put yourself first. If you then find yourself with some energy and motivation, then please go ahead and try out some of the advice in this blog.

Anyway, now that the blog has come to an end, it’s time to turn off whatever device you were reading it on.