So, it’s over, I’ve done it — kind of. The past week was the final week of my Plastic-free July (and a bit) challenge. Since I’ve started the challenge a week into July, I also finished it a week into August because I’m an honourable girl scout.
The past month trying to reduce my plastic use has had its ups and downs (mostly downs), but I think I learned a lot: both about plastic use and its impact on the environment, and surprisingly, about myself and how I react to challenges.
Before I get to my conclusion here are some lifestyle adaptations I made — or was already doing — and some that I decided weren’t worth it/necessary for me personally.
Switching single-use plastic water bottles with reusable ones. This one is pretty simple and I believe effective. It’s also cheaper in the not-even-that-long run. I already had a bottle that I was given at some conference so this didn’t cost me anything.
Bringing your own grocery bags. Again, a simple switch and one that I already had done. To be clear, I’m not saying go ahead and buy new fancy bags for your groceries. Surely, you have a backpack, some cloth bags laying around: use those instead of buying new. “Repurpose” is one of the important ‘r’s of sustainability.
Carrying your own to-go coffee mug. I think this one is very circumstantial. I buy hot beverages on the go very rarely so, for me, buying a reusable cup isn’t necessary. But if you’re someone who buys hot beverages often, getting a cup might be a good solution for you.
Avoiding plastic-straws and plastic cutlery. You can read how I feel about the whole avoiding plastic straws campaign here. This for me is an almost too simple step: if you don’t absolutely need them, don’t use them.
Buying a soda maker to avoid plastic fizzy drink packaging. No, absolutely not. I’m not buying a 90 E soda maker for the one bottle of mineral water and a can of Sprite I drink in a month.
Avoiding plastic wrapped fruits and vegetables. I’d say this was the biggest change to my lifestyle and something I will keep on doing. Trying to avoid plastic wrapped fruits and vegetables led me to shop from my local, smaller markets which turned out to be convenient, and cheap.
All in all, I think it all comes to this: if you have the option to reduce your plastic use without it costing you a lot of time and money, or the planet resources, then absolutely do so. But keep in mind that reducing your daily use of plastic has such little effect on the environment, it’s basically the leg of a fly on the tip of that iceberg.
I was sceptical about the whole thing from the beginning of the challenge and I had my “hype-allergies.” In all honesty, I saw this challenge mostly as something eco-lifestyle bloggers do to get more followers and pat each other on the back.
A lovely scoop of cynicism on these hot summer days.
As with the #stopsucking campaign, encouraging people to stop using plastic straws, I had my suspicions that the plastic-free July debate was diluting the conversation about ocean pollution, climate change and sustainability and turning people complacent because they believed they were doing their part just by not using plastic grocery bags.
At the end of the month, I came to the conclusion that I was both right and wrong. I still think challenges like this carry the risks I mention above, but I also think they can be opportunities that open people’s eyes to other, bigger conversations.
In the end, I am a believer of grassroots movements and the power of collective action. In this case, maybe the impact of these challenges isn’t directly related to reducing waste or slowing down global warming, but it might be pushing large companies and governments toward implementing changes to their attitudes about the planet.
Sign up for our newsletter. Every week, our founder Mathys will send you the best stories about the world of doing good.
December is the time of year when mailboxes, both physical and virtual, start to fill with requests for donations from charitable organizations of all kinds.
Often, people would like to contribute but are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of requests they receive.
"Will the organization make good use of my hard-earned money? How can I know if they have been involved in scandals? Are their interventions actually effective?" are some of the questions we all want to ask before we make our Christmas donations.
As you might know, here at Kinder World we're all about effective giving. That's why we picked 11 outstanding charitable organizations that we thoroughly vetted and determined to be worthy of your cash.
If you want to know more about how we vet organizations, please have a look at the dedicated page.
As you will see, under each organization there's the possibility to donate to them thanks to our freshly minted donation widget. If you also want to know more about our donation tools, have a look here.
The first Favela Painting project took place in 2005 when artists Haas & Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) painted a large mural with local community members in Rio de Janeiro.
The local and global impact of this project inspired them to continue creating large-scale community art projects across the world.
Strongminds empowers impoverished African women by treating depression at scale and enables these women and their families to lead more healthy, productive, and satisfying lives.
Depression is the most prevalent mental illness in the developing world. In Africa, it’s devastating: 66 million women are suffering. The great majority have no medical services to turn to for help.
Cool Earth is an organisation that works alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation and climate change.
Of them, Sir David Attenborough said: "Helping Cool Earth to halt tropical deforestation makes a real difference. Perhaps the biggest difference we will make in our whole lives.”
Sightsavers works on preventing sight loss and avoidable blindness in some of the poorest parts of the world by treating conditions such as cataracts and fighting other debilitating eye diseases.
In 2017 alone, the organisation has supported more than 316.000 cataracts operations.
Steun Emma is a children’s hospital in Amsterdam. They have a renowned neonatology department that provides premature babies and their parents with care and comfort in this most difficult time along with high-quality scientific research.
They are now on a mission to improve their facilities to make the lives of parents and babies easier and the hospital’s research even more extensive to help as many people as they can.
Simavi is an organisation tackling water, sanitation and health challenges to stop preventable diseases, reduce mortality rates and boost social and economic development.
Guided by the principle that "health is the first step out of poverty", they are working to guarantee basic health to everyone.
NSGK is a Dutch organization that helps children and youngsters with disabilities to get rid of obstacles.
They want to make society more accessible for disabled children, strengthening their self-confidence and contribute to positive imaging so that children with and without disabilities can play, learn, play sports, live and grow up not apart but together.
Human Rights Watch is an international organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.
Founded in 1978, it publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries each year.
Dutch branch of Proveg International, it's an organization whose aim is to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50 percent by the year 2040.
In particular, Proveg inspires and motivates people to live a plant-based lifestyle by raising awareness about the importance of doing so. They support everyone who is interested in changing their eating habits by providing practical information about how they can transition to animal-free alternatives.
After their child Max died at 8 months old from a viral infection, Joke and Steven Le Poole decided they wanted to save as many children as possible around the world and created the Max Foundation.
With their MAX-WASH approach, they aim to prevent child mortality in the most effective and efficient way.
Amref Flying Doctors is an international organisation focused on health in Africa.
In October, we wrote about their effective intervention against female genital mutilations (FGM) in Sub-Saharan Africa. This intervention, called Alternative Rites of Passage, aims to replace FGM with humane rites of passage.
Most of the household products that we use for cleaning — from our bodies to last night's dishes — are 80 percent water. Which means most of the packaging for cleaning products is used to contain water which most of us have on tap at our homes.
It also means that when all those cleaning products are transported from the factory to under our kitchen sinks, we're carrying around 80 percent water.
All the additional packaging and transportation means more pollution and more carbon emissions aka more poison for the planet.
There are, of course, alternatives to your run-of-the-mill cleaning products. You can purchase sustainable detergents, dish soap, and even a spray to clean your dog's little accidents. But these products usually focus on using natural ingredients instead of the amount of water the product contains or its packaging and transportation.
Another alternative is to make your own. Which arguably is the greenest option you have. There are many recipes online for any product you can imagine. You can make your own fabric softener, silver cleaner, deodorant, and even sunscreen.
And that's the issue with making your own. It's a bit of a gamble when it comes to how effective your cleaner will be and, in the end, it's not very sustainable if you need to use four times the amount of a regular cleaner.
Dutch designer Mirjam de Bruijn has come up with a solution to these dilemmas. Her project 'Twenty' proposes the non-water ingredients in cleaning products to be concentrated and sold as powder, bar or liquid capsule.
What sets De Bruijn's idea apart from solid shampoo bars and, well, soap is the idea that the customer would buy the concentrated cleaning agent and add water to it at home.
De Bruijn's sleek design is still in the concept stage but the change it suggests is promising. It takes very little effort, from the customer, but means a great deal when it comes to reducing the unnecessary carbon emissions caused by packaging and transporting water.
In the Global West, we're privileged to have safe water at our disposal but one in ten people in the world don't have access to running water and two out of five have to use contaminated water resources.
The lack of clean water leads to diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio, which results in over 1000 deaths a day. Simavi is a non-profit organisation tackling water, sanitation and health challenges to stop preventable diseases, reduce mortality rates and boost social and economic development. You can support them by donating below.
Moderation is the last thing on people’s minds at Christmas. Shopping, travelling and eating reach peak levels – putting pressure on our planet. Even Santa poses a problem. If you don’t believe in flying reindeers, that sleigh must be rocket-fuelled to reach the supersonic speeds needed to travel around the world to visit hundreds of millions of children in just one night using conventional engineering.
The example goes to show just how many presents we buy and send each Christmas – creating problems with packaging and transport. And as the population increases, so does the pile of presents. To get round this, presents have got smaller and virtual gifts such as an experience day have risen in popularity.
This has an added benefit of reducing packaging and transport problems. But virtual presents have a carbon footprint too. Electronic downloads still have an impact, as data has to be stored and transferred, using energy. So everything we buy has some impact, even through the electronic process of buying.
So how can we have a greener, more sustainable but generous Christmas? Here are five gold circular things!
The amount of food wasted at Christmas has a massive carbon (and water) footprint. Using less and storing excess in a winter wonderland – your freezer – is a great way to avoid waste. If leftover food doesn’t go in the freezer, cooked turkey and vegetables will keep for up to three days in the fridge.
However, not producing excess in the first place is the best way to avoid waste. Portion size is a big part of this and so is cooking things you actually like. Just because something is traditional does not make it compulsory. For instance, sprouts can be very controversial – so, if you don’t like them, skip them. You could also try an alternative to the traditional meat option, such as a nut roast. Vegetarian and vegan choices at the Christmas dinner table can massively cut the impact of your Christmas.
Lower the impact of gifts through choices of paper and packaging. A lot of seasonal wrapping is non-recyclable as it is coated in plastic. This is concerning as plastic tends to spread everywhere – it has even been detected at the North Pole. A better approach would be to use wrapping paper made entirely out of paper. Gift bags are another great option – they can be reused and therefore help cut a massive amount of waste.
You can give twice if you buy your presents second hand from charity shops – supporting worthwhile projects while also reducing consumption. You can also buy locally produced goods and support your local economy. Buying second hand potentially halves the carbon footprint.
A typical T-shirt alone has a footprint of around 8.77kg of carbon dioxide and 2700 litres of water. If 1% of the 55.6m people in England alone bought just one second-hand T-shirt instead of a new one, they would be saving around 4.9m tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving 1,049 passenger cars for a year, and a whopping 1.5 billion litres of water.
Christmas decorations and fashion are basically the same every year. So celebrate your Christmas collection and reuse it, over and over again. It is a tragedy that only one in four Christmas jumpers are ever reused. According to the Carbon Trust, an artificial tree needs to be used around 10 times to have an equivalent footprint as its real counterpart.
There are few holidays that are so focused on being caring, helpful and generous as Christmas. So celebrate this and try to avoid buying unnecessary stuff that people don’t want anyway. Donations and acts of kindness really lighten the load on that sleigh. A colleague once bought me a toilet for a family in Sierra Leone. No wrapping, no plastic: the best present ever – and Santa didn’t have to lift a finger!
➡️Another gift idea to make your Christmas more sustainable might be to donate to Cool Earth, a high-impact organization that we thoroughly vetted.
Cool Earth is not only an offset scheme. It provides grant funding to rainforest communities, supporting community work in rainforest protection and ensures their voice is heard in agreements about the future of the rainforests.
You too can help to save our planet. A more liveable Earth is just a click away 👇