Being Vegan is an all encompassing thing – in many ways, it’s the most incredible thing I’ve experienced in my life.
Last year, when I wrote this post on why I became vegan and whether I truly believe it’ll save the planet, I wrote “Probably not, because it’s just one of the many, many problems our planet faces. But it’s a perfect start, because once you successfully make a change to something as fundamental as food, you start questioning other aspects of your life and that will make a difference.”
This being my first plant-based year, I did question a lot of things in my life and began to scrutinize every tiny thing around me that could use a little planet-friendly upgrade. Again, the key is moderation. If you wake up one day, and start throwing away everything you own to replace it with eco-friendly ones all at once, that’s neither smart, nor ever going to last, trust me. The trick is to do it slowly and steadily, so you end up tricking yourself into thinking that’s the norm. Yes, let yourself trick you into a better, safer life, and you’ll one day thank you for going steady and stealthy at it.
Here are 20 main changes I made over the course of this year. I didn’t know there were that many, until one night I sat down and began jotting down the changes. Funny how much change you can effect when you don’t even know you’re at it.
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#1 : Soap bars
I must say, this was the biggest change my husband and I made this year – moving away from a body wash to plain old-fashioned soap. I hated the bulky plastic packaging that the liquid came in, especially factoring in the fact that we use this product everyday, resulting in an inevitably large number of discarded empty bottles per household at the end of the year. Buy soaps that come in paper/cardboard packaging, which can be composted, leaving almost nothing behind.
Photographed above: Handcarved Jitasil soap from Thailand
#2 : ‘Coconut Oil’ body lotion
Another product that comes in chunky plastic packaging is body lotion, and yes, we use this one everyday too. Especially during the winters, when it’s really not optional, unless you want desiccated zombiesque looking skin that itches and cracks. I find that coconut oil is the closest I’ve come to a non-greasy natural lotion alternative and in the winter – it keeps my skin hydrated better than any lotion ever could. Do a little research to find a natural oil alternative that works for you, and make sure you purchase them in glass jars that you can either recycle or reuse in your kitchen and home. (
# 3: Homemade Lip balm
I just realized that this list is starting to look like something you’ll see in a beauty blog, but stay with me please.
Lip balms indubitably come in plastic packaging, and I go through like a billion of them a year and that’s not even a hyperbole of the fact. I keep one in almost every room of the house (yes I have a chapstick in one of the kitchen drawers), one in my handbag, one in the car, you get the idea. Hence, when the eco-culling came to town, I knew this one had to go, but of all the things I had to let go, this was the hardest. While the soap and lotion are a once a day deal, the lip balm is a 20+ times a day thing. The solution had to be practical as well as effective.
1. You need tiny jars that you can carry around. Me, I like-a-da-reusing. So, as a hoarder, I keep those tiny glass jam jars you get in hotel breakfast bars, and they are perfectly small enough to fit a decent month’s worth of lip balm as well as being perfectly portable. If you don’t hoard everything like me, hoping that one day it’ll be useful, then I found these aluminium and glass alternatives from amazon. Make one batch, spread them across the house and you’re good for a few months.
2. There are so many options and recipes for natural lip balms out there (with flavors), so find your favorite one. I didn’t want to go through the ordeal of working with beeswax (vegan or otherwise), so I use all coconut oil, because in an air-conditioned home like mine, it keeps its form pretty well. During the summer though, I guess I’ll have to switch to a 1:1 coconut oil + wax recipe for better stability. For now, I measure coconut oil to fit into the balm jar. Then melt it over a double boiler with a pinch of turmeric and a bunch of lemon balm leaves. Once the liquid is warm, golden and fragrant, I remove it from heat, remove the leaves and let it cool on the counter, before popping in the lid and using. See the video in Instagram story highlights. The flavors and colors are optional, of course. You can just use plain coconut oil. (Instagram post)
#4 : Make up remover cloth
This is the last beauty one, I promise. If you use make-up, you’ll inevitably use makeup remover. I switched to this makeup removal cloth a few years ago, but it still warranted a mention in this list because it still works! I throw it in the wash every week and it’s been three years and going strong! If you use waterproof makeup, a little dab of olive/coconut oil helps remove the strongest of products. No chemicals necessary and it’s better for the skin.
#5: Room fresheners
As easy as it is to just spritz a dank room with a room freshener spray when you’re expecting guests, it’s not so good on the environment. So I burn candles and incense sticks instead. Also, I only buy candles in glass jars with lids, because it can be washed and reused in the kitchen/home. And for incense, I found this really cute wooden tower burner that holds upto 4 sticks, and one incense cone. It’s covered and you only see the smoke and none of the ash mess, which can be composted.
#6: Indoor plants
Incense and candles are just temporary fixes to a good smelling home. The real, most effective method is plants. They absorb not just the bad odors, but untraceable harmful chemicals from the home as well. It is a bit of a commitment to keeping plants alive, but the effort will repay not just in health, but your mental well-being as well. I find having plants in the home a very zen-like experience, and despite the problems that come with it (fruit fly infestations, water/soil spills, dead foliage that needs regular cleaning, upkeep, etc.), I’d have it no other way.
Yes, home composting is back! I know it was never gone for most of you folks, but it’s now ‘cool’ to compost, thanks to hippie millennials and tumbling gizzmos like these. I’ve only had one of these for half this year, but I can tell you from personal experience, while it’s really, really difficult to get started on this practice, over time, it gets easier and easier. You’ll be surprised how much waste we send out to the landfills is food scraps, the nutrients from which can be recycled in our own homes, for our own kitchen gardens. I also use this organic compost starter, which helps break down the waste faster.
For those who have this burning question like I once did – doesn’t all decomposition create methane? Yes, it does, but in giant landfills, when food decomposes in stagnant piles, it undergoes anaerobic decomposition, creating methane. In home composting, because we toss and turn the pile every few days, the introduction of air creates aerobic decomposition, converting the methane to CO2, which gets re-absorbed by the plants around you and doesn’t count for the global carbon emissions.
With composting, in my two-member household, we only take out the trash every alternate week or so. And what goes out is mostly dry, and many a time doesn’t even require a trash bag. Additional planet points there!
#8 : Natural scour pads
Considering that we go through one of these at least once a month, I bet they warrant a change. I remember growing up in India, we used coconut husk, sand and other natural scrubs for a long time to get out stubborn burnt-in stains, forever dreaming of a better, civilized life. I never thought a day would come when I’d miss those primitive tools. These natural scour pads are supposed to be biodegradable, and there’s a couple cooking in the compost bin right now. I’ll update with whether or not it broke down completely over the winter. Until then, I like the idea of using kitchen scrubs that are made from plants and recycled materials.
#9: Biodegradable Sponge cloths
I used to buy the Scotch Brite Sponge cloths before I learnt they’re not biodegradable. I’ve now switched to these biodegradable, vegan sponge cloths which out perform any wiping cloths in the home. I love that they are stiff when dry and soft when wet, can be microwaved everyday to sanitize, and absorb spills and more liquid than paper towels can.
#10: Reusable produce bags
This past year, I’ve had at least 7 fellow-shoppers and 10 check-out counter people gush over these reusable produce bags(true story!). I throw them in the wash every two months or so along with the regular load of kitchen towels, napkins, tablecloths and aprons and it comes out squeaky clean, ready to be air-dried in a jiffy. The trick though is to remember to take them with you to the store. So, besides always leaving a small stash of grocery and produce bags in the car, when each bag gets emptied after the vegetables are cooked, I take them to their place by the garage door. This way, I remember to always grab them on my way out. It’s actually worked well this year. I’ve only ever gone to the store twice without the grocery bags.
#11: No plastic wrap
Yes, it is possible to live a civilized life without plastic wrap. This year, I refused to stock my home with plastic wrap and you know what? Everyone is fine! No one died, and there were no nuclear spillage that caused devastation and massive trauma. I’ve gotten by with screw-top jars, these stretch silicone lids, two sheets of beeswax wrap, and a lot of Furoshiki-ing vegetables and gifts. The cabbages don’t oxidize to form icky black crust and everything looks happy and swaddled in the vegetable drawer. Throw them in the wash and repeat.
#12: Christmas Tree/ornaments
All my life, I thought plastic reusable trees were planet-friendly (the word ‘reusable’ is confusing, guys!). I had my views drastically changed when I did a little research on whether real or faux Christmas trees were better for the environment. While I won’t ever feel good about bringing in a cut tree just to doll-up for a few weeks, I will however look into a potted tree in the future. For now, I’ll be happy with my mini Rosemary tree and edible cookie ornaments to supplement my holiday merry making! (Read more.)
#13: Buy products in glass jars.
Yes, like plastic, glass can never decompose, BUT can be melted and reshaped into other glass products infinitely, or crushed back into sand from which it came from to supplement the rapidly eroding beaches around the world. So when in doubt, always choose glass over plastic. In fact, almost always, the final decision on which product I end up buying is based on how pretty the glass jar looks, or if it’s even glass at all. If I can reuse it, it gets into my cart.
#14: Read labels.
My eyes now scan labels quite professionally, if I may say so myself. I look for words like ‘recycled content’, ‘biodegradable’ , ‘100% natural’ , and ‘fair trade’ to decide on which brands to buy. Choose foods with fewer processed ingredients. Knowledge is a powerful thing, so educate yourself on what’s good for you and the planet. Easy is as easy does, but in the long run, it’s like smoking or alcoholism. It’s great while you’re at it, but you’re just killing yourself willingly.
#15: Reduce, Reuse and ONLY THEN Recycle.
While it’s really great to fill up your recyclable trash bin with empty cartons, tins, cardboards, paper and such, and feel like you’ve done your part to save the planet, things don’t always get recycled. For one, there aren’t that many recycling programs in the country/world. Most trash gets shipped to China, but this year, they’ve refused to accept anymore plastics to be processed, leaving shipping containers carrying trash stranded mid-ocean, or returning their loads to landfills to be burnt or worse, become methane-spewing toxic waste grounds (methane is 30 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas).
The brutal truth is, we create way more trash than we know what to do with it. There’s a reason that the popular environment mantra starts with REDUCE. But for some reason, we only look to the RECYCLE at the end, because it’s seemingly the easiest, since we don’t do it ourselves, rather push the responsibility to some unseen trash agency.
I was at a store, looking at a glue gun longingly ( I’ve always wanted to have one, loving DIYs and all), when I turned to my friend for that final acknowledgement, to hear her say ‘get it!’. Instead what she said ended up changing my life and becoming my new slogan. She said: ‘If you’ve lived this long without a glue gun, you don’t really need it’.
So now, before buying something, I ask myself these three questions:
1. Do I really need it?
2. Is it biodegradable? (as in, after I’ve bought it, can I be sure it will naturally return back to earth one day?)
3. Can I compost/reuse the packaging?
There are other questions to be asked, carbon footprint, fair trade, natural, etc, but only when the answer to all these three main questions is YES, do I press BUY.
#16: Solar Power *
I know, having solar panels in the house, besides being lunky, expensive and space grabbing, might not be allowed by most home associations because it ruins the curb appeal. BUT, check your local power company to see if they offer plans where you can partially or wholly use power generated from their solar fields. Read those mailers they send you to find ways to conserve energy, especially during the summer.
#17: Invest in a smart thermostat
Besides making your home look ‘cool’, smart thermostats (like Nest), actually work towards power conservation. In the long term, it can reduce energy usage while learning your preference patterns to find temperatures to best suit your needs. Check if your local power company offers rebates for purchasing a smart thermostat for additional savings.
#18: Buy second-hand products
No, it’s not as icky as you think! I reserved thrift store shopping just for vintage props and such, but this year, I began choosing to buy a lot more stuff for the home from thrift stores – like mason jars, planters, baskets, etc. If it can be sanitized to your satisfaction (boiling water, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lime, baking soda, etc can work wonders as disinfectants!), and is in a good condition, I’ll take it and give it a new home, because why buy newly manufactured products when there’s already one, almost just as good, mere inches away from rotting in a landfill?
#19: Re-use Resealable bags
I actually thought life without Ziploc/Hefty bags was impossible, but I’ve lived this year without buying any new ones. I wash and reuse the few I already have, or re-purpose the ones I get. My coconut sugar comes in really tough resealable bags and after I’m done transferring the sugar to it’s canister, I wash and reuse the bag. If it tears, try and find other uses for it around the home (like using a small piece to seal travel shampoo/lotion containers from spillage) before absolutely having to toss it out.
#20: Flatten shipping boxes for reusing
My husband and I moved into our first home earlier this year, and we did not have to buy a single moving box! I’ve been saving all the boxes that everything we ever bought came in (there’s nothing more snug than original packaging – I’m looking at you giant plasma TV!) and that’s how we moved. I flatten every box and store them in a shelf, and when needed, re-box it up with tape and it’s good to go. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, mind you, and we had re-purposed the washer-dryer room into a storage space. If I can do it, anyone can! After moving, I re-flattened the boxes and they’re all there in the basement now, tied up and organized by size, ready to be re-used again. With everyone shopping online, there’s a ridiculous amount of cardboard boxes in perpetual motion. Either reuse, or give it away to someone who needs it (Facebook Marketplace is a great place to look before moving).
There you have it! My 20 changes and yes, I feel very, very good about myself. And I am entering 2019, looking forward to the next 20! If you have any additional tips for me, comment below and let me know! I am eager to learn and change my ways for the better!