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How to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly

We may feel helpless in the face of climate change, but each small act can make a big difference to our own health and the world we live in.

By Sara Bunny

As we look for ways to boost our own health and happiness, it makes sense to extend that care to the environment, by living consciously.

That means taking a more active role in protecting the planet for future generations, and looking at what we can do to reduce our impact on the earth. And our health will benefit too. Less plastic and chemical additives in the environment means less of it in our air, food and water.

A cleaner planet means higher quality soil, healthier animals and crops, more settled climates and more food. Then there's the endless research on how being in nature benefits both body and our mind, plus the fact a healthy environment is essential for us all to thrive. We look at ways we can all live more kindly.

Stop using plastic straws

They look innocent enough, but straws take a huge toll on the planet. According to Sustainable Coastlines, who advocate for marine awareness, plastic straws are the 10th most common item littering our beaches.

They have removed some 55,000 straws from coastal areas around NZ and the Pacific Islands. But times are changing. Kiwi company CaliWoods make stainless steel reusable straws; cafés and restaurants are adopting paper and biodegradable versions, and fast food outlet Nando's has ditched straws altogether.

Reconsider your coffee cup

While that takeaway coffee cup might feel flimsy, the sad fact is that in New Zealand, most go straight to landfill. This is largely down to their waterproof lining, which is made from a slick coating of polyethylene plastic that can't be recycled.

And for those of us who grab a cuppa en route to work, it all adds up – five takeaway cups a week equates to some 14kg in landfill each year.

Fortunately, some Kiwi companies are doing something about it. Brands like Innocent Packaging and Ecoware create cups and lids from plant-based bioplastics, which break down in commercial composting systems. The other option is a reusable cup, like those created by Aussie company KeepCup.

Find ways to reduce your packaging

It's something your granny wouldn't have batted an eye at, and now the concept of refilling containers with bulk ingredients is coming back in a big way.

In Auckland, places like GoodFor Wholefoods Refillery are making 'sustainable shopping' cool again, offering everything from exotic spices to pantry staples.

Meanwhile, Ecostore has long let customers bring in their own bottles to refill with soaps and detergents, and old favourites like Bin Inn have been on the scene for decades. Not only is it more cost-effective to fill up with just as much or as little as you need, it's also another easy way to add some eco-savvy into your grocery shop.

Reduce your food waste

While it's easy to forget about that lettuce in the far corner of the fridge or the leftovers you'd planned to take for lunch, food waste is costing us big bucks.

According to Love Food Hate Waste NZ, we bin 122,547 tonnes of food each year, which is about $872 million worth rotting away in the fridge, at the bottom of your kid's school bag, and at the landfill. Gulp. Bread, potatoes, apples and poultry are among the most common items to be biffed, while cake and hot chips are also high on the list.

Check out lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz for tips on how to reduce your food bill, limit waste, and turn your leftovers into tasty meals.

Say goodbye to plastic bags

When it comes to single-use plastic bags, it's well-known that the long-term environmental harm they cause far outweighs the convenience factor. The vast majority end up in landfill where they don't break down – simply because the microorganisms responsible for the biodegrading process don't recognise the petrochemical polymers they are made from. Rips and shredding is common though, leading to tiny micro particles that are readily blown into soil and water.

And to add to the problem, research from Massey University says once plastic bags have been buried for a long time, they release toxic leachates, which can seep into the soil and, eventually, into our food chain.

But the world is waking up to the problem with plastics, and it's not only individuals taking a stand, but big businesses too. Countdown supermarkets have made the call to phase out single-use plastic carrier bags from their checkouts and online shopping by the end of 2018, removing the 350 million single-use plastic carrier bags that are given out to customers each year. So in a mere six months, it will be reusable bags only at Countdown stores across the country.

And it's not just about plastic bags. Countdown's move to recyclable meat trays has so far prevented more than 500 tonnes of foam trays from heading to landfill, and a recent change in banana packaging is estimated to save more than 15.8 tonnes of plastic wrapping.

For more health and wellness stories, pick up a copy of the June issue of Good Health Choices today.

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