How can you make a difference?

2015-02-09 15:44

We live in a world of modern convenience and life has honestly never been better for the masses. On the flipside though we’ve done more damage to the environment in the past 100 years than the whole of humanity has collectively managed to do.

Yes there are scientists and activists out there fighting the damage, but we’re nowhere near making an impact – that’s only really going to happen when we galvanize the average Joe in the street and get him or her to change the way they conduct their day-to-day life. Sadly though, most people really don’t where to begin, even if they are interested in changing.

Luckily there are a number of easy day-to-day adjustments that you can make, most of which will save you money and mitigate the damage that you probably aren’t aware is being done to your system and body.

If enough people start making simple little changes like these and are more selective in what they buy and who they buy from, then, like the mass action that halted eTolls in its tracks, manufacturers and corporations will be forced to change their practices to meet the demands of the masses. When you mass boycott any company and they see an impact on their bottom line, they’re very quick to stop and listen.

Your day-to-day purchases

Consumer products that impact the environment do so in one of a few ways:

  • Is the product recyclable?
  • Is the product biodegradable or does it land up eating space in a landfill?
  • Does the product impact water supplies or the quality of surrounding earth adversely through its manufacturing process or when it is discarded and degrades?
  • Are the core elements of what the product is made of damaging to the environment when they are extracted, mined or grown?
  • If the product or base is imported from somewhere, what are the hidden transport costs and how much fuel was used in the supply chain?

Tampons, although there will be more than a few ladies who balk at the idea of what I’ll suggest next, are quite an easy thing to get rid of – replace them with sponges, or better yet, biodegradable sea sponges.

Yes, you’ll have to take the sponge out and wash it when you go to the loo, but throwing away one sponge every month or couple of months takes up a lot less landfill space than using a large box of tampons with every period. And if all the ladies around you are doing the same, then there is no shame in going up to the sink and washing your sponge.

At the same time, tampons and pads are bleached and full of chemicals that are harmful to your body, and if you’re one of the women who gets horrible symptoms like headaches with every period, you’ll probably discover that using a sponge reduces the severity of your symptoms, as the incidence of Toxic Shock Syndrome is actually quite high in the general population.

Sea sponges will biodegrade completely and can be used for up to a year, just boil them in salt water after every period to get them thoroughly clean.

With all the money you save you can probably afford to sponsor a sponge for a township girl or 10, as many of them are in circumstances where they land up missing school completely because they simply can’t afford any kind of feminine care and are often too embarrassed to ask for help.

At the same time you are throwing less chemicals into our water and sewage system. Our already-overloaded water purification systems are actually incapable of filtering out the chemicals, hormones, vitamins that we’re expelling into them daily, as they were really only set up to filter out large impurities when they were established all those years ago.

Disposable nappies & wipes are another really easy fix. Not only will it cost you significantly less to use toweling nappies, but a bucket of nappies soaking in Domestos is basically already clean when you have a full load to wash.

Be very selective about the packaging you buy. By only using plastic products marked 1 or 2 you are using the only truly recyclable plastics, and a large enough embargo on the other plastics by the general public will force manufacturers to revise which plastics they use.

Likewise receipts. We hardly keep or ever even look at most of our old receipts again, so begin by pressing your retailers to give the choice of a receipt before they print it, or make electronic alternatives available.

Most receipts are also plastic-coated for longevity and as such are full of Bisphenol-A or BPA, the horrible estrogen like hormone compound that was banned from baby bottles a few years ago.

Estrogen is one of the female hormones, and aside from messing with your endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating the hormones in your body, BPA could also be a major contributor to the weight gain and infertility issues we’re seeing around the world.

Simply holding a receipt in your hand causes BPA to leech into your bloodstream through your skin – can you then imagine what all that bottled water and warming your food in Tupperware containers is doing to your body?

Sugar sachets aren’t a new thing but over the last couple of years we’ve seen the use of them grow dramatically. Far from being properly recyclable, sugar sachets are another plastic-coated paper.

Yes there’s a convenience factor when you’re on the go, but is it really necessary to have them in restaurants as well? Some coffee shops, like Seattle, have reintroduced good old-fashioned sugar bowls and steel spoons instead of stirrers – not only are they saving costs, but on a daily basis they massively reduce the load they add to already overburdened landfills.

Bottled water & drinks are another huge problem, with estimates saying that we’ve gone from 1,8-Billion plastic bottles used annually to in excess of 8-Billion – and that number just keeps growing.

Even if the plastic bottle says plant bottle it still uses 70% virgin plastic in its production and is just another one of the ways that you are pumping your body full of BPA.

Likewise coffee cups, stirrers and take aways, many of which are handed over in plastic packets that we’re all-too-happy not to have to pay for.

Even if it looks like it’s made of paper, chances are really good it’s plastic-coated and therefore leeching tons of BPA into the food you’re feeding yourself and your family.

The volume of BPA and toxins released into the food from the plastic is known to significantly increase with exposure to heat, so not only are you filling your body with innutritious processed foods, but you’re killing your body’s ability to be able to fight back against the weight gain and toxins by overloading it with BPA.

Likewise the cheap toy giveaways that accompany all these meals… how many times have you sat and watched your kids put these BPA-laden toys into their mouths and then had to throw them away after a few days because they’ve already broken or fallen apart?

The majority of that plastic also can’t be recycled and so lands up in landfills, leeching all those dangerous chemicals into the earth and the ground water, or worse still lands up floating in oceans to be eaten by fish and make its way up the food chain back into our bodies.

Toilet paper is another little thought of consumer product that has a massive impact environmentally, and also gets into our water and sewage systems. Consider using single ply, using less sheets or even look for recycled paper options. If you have access to a bidet, then use that instead.

What else can you do?

Far from just impacting the environment, a lot of the choices we’re making are impacting our very economies.

Buy local and support local businesses – not only will you create jobs but you reduce the cost of everything because it doesn’t have to be transported.

Buy natural fabrics. Anything that isn’t cotton, wool or silk, actually has plastic as its base. Don’t believe me? Stick a polyester sock into the microwave for a couple of minutes and watch what happens.

Yes the clothes may be cheaper, but do you really need that many, or is the endless shopping every weekend just a way to fill the void because you have nothing else to do and your life has little meaning?

Spend a little more on items and you’ll be more inclined to look after your stuff… don’t chuck shoes in your boot or car, wear one pair at a time and then pack them away neatly. You’ll be surprised at how much longer they last.

If you really want to test the clothing thing to the extreme, pick 14 items of clothing and only use those for two months. You’d be very surprised at how little you actually need at the end of the day.

Similarly your devices & technology – do you really need a new device every year? Devices and circuit boards are chockfull of harmful chemicals like mercury and even precious elements like gold, most of which cannot be retrieved through recycling.

There are already massive landfills full of ‘old’ screens and technology leeching harmful chemicals into the ground and water and even causing birth defects in the people unfortunate enough to live near them.

This might sound like it comes out of nowhere, but do what you do with love – especially if you’re involved in the food and agriculture industries.

Like plants thrive and grow better when they’re nurtured and spoken to, food is more nutritious and delicious when it’s tended to and prepared with love. In fact anything that’s produced is more effective when it’s done with love and passion instead of just a motivation for money.

If you don’t know where to start, just start by doing what makes the workers happier – music is a great place. If you have the time or inclination, daily meditations make a massive difference to anyone, and fabulous free resources are and

What else do we need?

Hemp is a real alternative for a lot of the problems we’re facing right now and starting the conversation with everyone you can to get hemp grown everywhere in the world could really make a massive difference.

As the sister plant of marijuana, hemp is outlawed in most countries around the world, even though it has no drug-inducing effects. It can however be used to make clothing, paper, concrete, food, biodegradable disposable nappies, oil and a variety of other products. It also has the ability to rejuvenate the ground it’s grown in, yields multiple crops a year and uses surprisingly little water to grow.

We also need alternative energy sources like perpetual motion engines… but if you make one, do not take it to the big energy companies as they’re known for buying up the patents and leaving them dormant so that their market share in oil can’t be challenged.

Like recycled plastics can be used to make plastic furniture and decking, why don’t we have an industrious entrepreneur who is making adult sized Lego blocks that we can be solving the huge African low-cost housing problem with?

Speaking of housing… we have landfills of tyres so big that they can be seen from outer space. Used tyres packed with earth are an almost flame retardant and insulation perfect material for building houses. You’d use them like bricks, stacking them with concrete and mortar to create a permanent structure.

They might not be anywhere as pretty as a brick and mortar house but we have a massive housing shortage in SA and this is a low-cost solution that could also make huge inroads into the tyre-landfill issue.

The biggest sadness about all these issues is that those in power will have you believe you are powerless to change things, but they’re wrong.

Like the ants in A Bugs Life, we have the power of the masses.

Without us, these corporations have no audience, no income and no power. Their power exists because we give it to them with the money we spend and by putting our feet through their doors.

It’s time to turn the tide and take power away from those who don’t deserve it – and you already have every resource you need to be able to make a massive difference.

News24 Voices Terms & Conditions.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.