Climate change is the phrase on everyone’s lips at the moment. From controversial protest by extinction rebellion to paper straws and fast fashion.
With time running out before we cause the planet irreversible damage, looking after the environment has never felt so urgent.
At the moment, it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to completely change our lifestyles. To buy reusable cups, bottles, straws, change our diets and the way we shop. It can feel overwhelming to the best of us.
How easy it is to live sustainably can heavily depend on living circumstances.
When you live alone, and only have yourself to shop for, creating more waste can be a problem.
Which can leave those such as students and older people struggling to make these changes.
In the video below mum and daughter, Elaine and Sally, talk about what it’s like to try and be sustainable in their different living situations.
Middlesbrough Environment City is a charity that promotes healthy and sustainable living in the town. They do this using the One Planet Living initiative.
Mark Fishpool, Director at MEC, said: “One planet living is a very simple way in which we can talk about living sustainably.”
“It’s based on the fact that if everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as people in Britain, we’d need three planets to sustain us all.
“It’s ten principles which are about the environment, but lots of them are also about people.”
The people-based principles, Mark says, are about health and happiness, culture and community, and the local economy.
The environmental principles include zero waste, zero carbon, reusing and recycling, and sustainable transport, water and food.
He said: “I think it’s fair to say that Middlesbrough is still using more than it’s one planet’s worth of resources, as is everywhere else in the UK, and that’s because it’s actually really difficult not too”
“If all we ever do with sustainable living is to ask individuals to change their behaviour, we’ll never get there.
“We’re part of a town, we’re part of a system, and you have to change the system at all levels if you are gonna make a sustainable place to live.
“If we actually had cheap, reliable bus services and train services then people have got a choice, but just prodding them and saying ‘can’t you use the bus more can’t you use the train more’ won’t achieve anything if that service isn’t there for them to use.”
One problem in Middlesbrough is recycling. Despite a large student population, many student houses do not have recycling bins.
How are we meant to make changes on an individual basis when our councils and ultimately our Government, aren’t committed to supporting us?
Not to mention that a lot of young people don’t actually know what they can recycle, according to a survey by YouGov, 18-24-year-olds are the least likely to know what can and can’t be recycled:
Whilst a lot of us can find making sustainable choices challenging at the moment, there is a growing amount of people and families proving that living a zero-waste lifestyle is possible.
The Johnson family live in California, and their yearly domestic waste fits into a half-litre jar.
Their children don’t receive Christmas presents, and Bea Johnson, their Mother, uses one packaging-free bar of soap for her hair and body.
However, she insists their family isn’t deprived or unhappy, they’re able to go on a number of trips around the world with the vast amount of money they’ve saved by selling the majority of their possessions and only using, she says, 20% of what they do own.
Though this is an incredibly admirable way to live, it probably feels unattainable to most of us.
California and Middlesbrough are two very different places to live. Middlesbrough’s average yearly salary is £25,000, versus around $70,000, or over £50,000 in California where the Johnson family lives.
Particularly with the large student population in Middlesbrough, a lot of us don’t have the money or time to go to farm shops and buy everything packaging-free, and we certainly don’t have the resources to be making our own shampoo.
Ambroise Baker, a Biology Lecturer at Teesside University, thinks that even small changes can make a difference.
She said: “I’ve got a reusable mug that I can use when I go for coffee with a colleague then I don’t need to have an extra disposable cup.”
“It sounds a bit absurd, but if you have one in your office, one in your bag, and one at home, at least you’ve always got one. That’s one good way to reduce waste.
“It’s necessary that everybody, not only students, makes an effort to have more environmentally friendly behaviour to make our lives more sustainable. If everybody does it, it will feel seamless.”
With young people seemingly at the forefront of the climate change battle, it’s no wonder we are seeing more action by students in universities.
Elizabeth Edwards is an Environmental Science Student, who is starting up a “green team” at Teesside University.
Elizabeth said: “The University’s Green Team wants to make a change to the university campus and the wider Teesside area through ecological activities, such as litter picking, campaigning for more changes on campus and even simple activities like walks through the local countryside.”
“The main goal is to educate people so they are more interested in ecology and the environment.
“We want to see the university and students really making attempts towards more sustainable lives.
“Something as simple as providing recycling for uni accomodation or reducing the amount of energy the university uses as a whole would all be little, but beneficial changes.
“My advice is just start small. You don’t have to drastically change your whole lifestyle, just one or two small changes will do.
“Get rid of the facewash and toothpastes that use microplastics and use a bar of soap and microplastic free toothpaste instead. You could even invest in metal straws and bamboo toothbrushes if you wanted!”
So, is Middlesbrough an environmentally friendly place to live? Perhaps not… yet.
However, there are so many brilliant people who are trying to make a difference.
With small changes from everyone, we’ll begin to see a big change to the environment.
Middlesbrough isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly on the up.
Second year journalism student. Head of Music Management at TU Xtra radio. Producer of The New Music Show.