The Sustainability Diaries
My relationship with sustainability has never been impressive. Not even halfway to impressive. Making sustainable choices to me has always been something I know I should do, but for whatever reason, don’t. It’s like getting in the car to go to Coles for dinner ingredients, but somehow ending up in the McDonald’s drive-thru for the third day in a row. But much like talking to your personal trainer and being presented with some hard truths, (what do you mean I can’t eat nuggets everyday and still be fit?) learning about sustainability this semester has forced me to face up to some facts I had previously been blissfully ignorant to. Up until now, making ethical and sustainable choices has never been my priority when purchasing products or performing day-to-day tasks; I’m usually more of a cost and convenience person. For this reason, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself, the most uneducated sustainability student I know, to live as environmentally-conscious as possible for five days (I wanted to make sure I could set an achievable goal) in the hopes that I might be able to create new proactive habits and make better choices in the long term.
To keep myself accountable, I kept a journal over this time where I made notes and observations about my habits throughout the day, and things I changed in my routine to be as sustainable as possible. The journal itself was an old book I had sitting around that I had intended to use for uni before I went completely digital last year. Not a bad way to start the challenge, I thought! For this blog, I wanted to pick key things from each day that I found challenging or surprising. So, here we go!
Day one of the sustainability challenge and it has not been a walk in the park, but I feel as though I’m going okay so far. I looked around my room this morning and noticed that I have an alarming amount of plastic water bottles. I have a really bad habit of going to fast food outlets and because I don’t drink soft drinks, I just ask for water instead. Nowhere really allows you to swap the drink for something else, so I can’t really see a way around it, except to just boycott altogether, which is something I’m going to challenge myself to this week anyway (if I could lose weight during this process, that would be a great bonus, hah!) Anyway, instead of throwing out all the extras, I filled them all up and put them in the fridge, which sounds like a really simple task, but something that I do very rarely (I did say I was bad at being sustainable). I made sure to put one in my gym bag as well because I forget water all the time, and end up having to buy one from the shops before I go.
Today was a work day, and for the first time EVER, I packed my keep cup that has been collecting dust pretty much since I bought it. A lot of establishments still aren‘t accepting keep cups, but my workplace does bend this rule for staff, because we’re around each other all the time anyway and it helps save a few cups for customers. I was actually pretty proud of this, because I’ve always been simply too lazy to take my cup with me to work and I feel guilty everytime I make myself a coffee and put it in a takeaway cup, but I just never do anything about it. This way, I can just wash it at work and leave it under the bench for every shift, which at the moment is five days a week. That’s at least five coffee cups and lids saved, which I guess isn’t a lot, but I already feel like I’m contributing a little to helping the environment.
Tuesday is always my ‘life admin’ day where I catch up on chores that I haven’t had time to do between work and uni. I was determined to do everything I could to be sustainable as I wasn’t working or on campus so I felt I could be more in control of things like waste and energy consumption. First up, I did all my washing for the week. Generally I have to do two loads, and this week I had sheets to wash as well. A habit I’ve always had incorporated into my routine is hanging my clothes on an airer rather than putting them in a dryer, but this has usually always been for cost purposes, as running a dryer is way too expensive for me to maintain. This being said, I always put my sheets in the dryer because I find them too big to dry inside, and my roommate has monopoly over the clothesline. In the interest of being sustainable however, I hung what I could inside (using chairs, desks, shower railings, you name it) and for the big items I bartered for a bit of clothesline space. Simple, easy and no dryer used at all!
Next up was the gym. A normal week consists of five gym sessions but because of the odd hours of my job (hospitality life) some of these sessions are at night. I live pretty close to my gym, but because of habit and sheer laziness I have always driven there. Today I challenged myself to walk instead, which as well as saving petrol and fumes, I was also clocking steps through my Apple watch, which is something I would do on the treadmill at the gym anyway. I wasn’t a huge fan at first, I’m pretty impatient and my gym bag was heavy. But it gave me time to get my mind right for my session, get sweating, blood circulating and the body warm, so when the time came to go lift some weights, I actually felt super energetic and ready which was something I found really surprising! I actually did a crazy amount of walking during isolation last year to stay active, but it became so repetitive that I didn’t bother to keep it up when gyms reopened.
I won’t lie, walking home was tough when I was tired, but the fresh air really helped clear my head and I felt amazing when I got home, knowing I had been so active!
Wednesday is my main campus day for uni. I started my day with the decision that I would take the bus instead of drive. Not only that, I would walk to and from the bus stop instead of driving there at all. I always tell myself I will walk/take the bus but I somehow always run out of time and end up driving instead, however today I made sure that I woke up early enough to factor in the extra time, as tempting as it was to hit th4e snooze button and go back to bed.
As I’m now in my final semester, I’ve developed a comfortable campus routine and I’m able to plan things like my meals and snacks around my trip. For example, I know as soon as I get to uni I’ll grab a coffee. I actually intended on trying UQ Sustainability’s Green Caffeen initiative for the first time, but it actually proved to be more difficult to navigate than I thought with the combination of baristas being busy and me being in a rush. I was a bit annoyed at myself for having to opt with a disposable cup, but thanks to my newfound recycling knowledge (thanks iSustain FB group!) I could at least feel a little better knowing my cup had been disposed of correctly.
For lunch I usually always go to Guzman Y Gomez in between classes (who do a good job of using compostable packaging for their meals), but this week I decided to head to Subway instead, out of sheer convenience. I got a salad and was happy to see that I was provided with a bamboo fork BUT my salad came in a non-biodegradable plastic container. I was under the impression that single use plastics were now banned so this was pretty perplexing, and something that could be worth the UQ sustainability office looking into further.
I’ve gotten into the habit of grocery shopping on Thursday nights after work and my biggest challenge without fail is remembering to take a shopping bag with me! I have a pretty ghastly collection of Coles bags sitting in the kitchen waiting to line my bin as a result of my constant forgetfulness. I set a reminder on my alarm and put it in my work bag as soon as I got up, but I do need to figure out a system that doesn’t rely just on my memory.
When shopping I paid extra close attention to packaging to see what brands were incorporating more enviro-friendly and biodegradable materials and made the decision to buy them over my regular go-to’s. One thing I didn’t prepare for was the plastic bags provided for fruit and vegetables. I had quite a bit to buy and I unfortunately didn’t have a sanitary alternative to putting them in the plastics. However, I have seen lots of people using woven fruit and vegetable bags, so I’m thinking I will invest in those as I did need quite a few bags just to transport my fresh produce home.
As previously mentioned, I’m pretty slack at performing duties that take effort when there’s a lazy solution, i.e: cooking fresh, healthy food when Ronald McDonald can do it for me. Another big problem of mine is over-buying and not eating, thus contributing to the already insurmountable percentage of food wastage in Australia. Knowing this, I planned out my food for the week and made a specific shopping list, which I don’t usually do. I bought enough produce to cook meals in bulk for the week and I made sure all my snacks were either long life or small fresh produce items like grapes so I could minimise my food waste.
I also made a decision at the beginning of the week that I would wash all my dishes by hand, instead of the dishwasher to save some power. This became a little challenging towards the back end of the week, especially later at night when I was tired and just wanted to rise and forget.
My housemate has a nifty recycling system happening that I’m embarrassed to say I rarely use due to sheer laziness. This is actually one of the first things I wrote down as an easy change I could make to my routine for the week, and made sure all my packaging went into the correct recycling containers.
Friday was a big work day, so I thought for this entry I would focus on sustainability at work. I work for a large leagues club and we produce a lot of food waste and packaging waste; glass bottles and single use plastics especially. COVID has played a big part in this, with single-use items becoming necessary to ensure we are operating in COVID safe conditions. For example, all straws, cutlery, salt and pepper etc have to be packaged, creating more paper waste than we have produced previously. The introduction of the single-use plastics ban did help this somewhat, as we introduced biodegradable bamboo straws and containers for takeaway items.
We currently have a glass recycling system in place in all our bars; we collect certain sized glass bottles in a special bin and dispose of them in another dedicated skip bin that is then collected by local scouts and traded for money. I’ve always loved this initiative because we produce so much glass waste and it feels good to know that it now goes towards something good for somebody else. However, it can be a struggle getting all of the staff to follow the system, and preventing general rubbish being thrown into the glass bins. I’ve discovered that no matter how many signs are put up, people are still likely to ignore it if it takes more effort. I also noticed that there were no recycling systems in place in our staff common room areas, which could be contributing to the collective nonchalance towards recycling. I asked management if we could get an extra bin placed in our lunch area for bottles and cans, so we could do our part. They agreed, and I’m excited to see how the rest of the staff respond. It’s not much, but as I’ve learned from this experiment, any small step is still a step in the right direction.
Conducting this sustainability experiment on myself has really opened my eyes to how simple living more sustainably can be just by making a few small choices. Of course, there were a lot of challenges to overcome and plenty of bad habits to break, and some solutions aren’t easy to come by. But I feel enlightened by the adjustments I was able to make to my daily routines, and adapting that to work environments was a rewarding feeling. I really hope that I can turn a five day challenge into a lifestyle! Stay tuned…