Every day we are bombarded with another way the Earth is in crisis. Forests burning, glaciers melting, destructive storms, rivers dying, animal extinction, the list seems to go on and on. Some of us may be living where we can see this on a daily basis. All this is happening at alarming rates and can seem overwhelming, however, there are things you can do to lessen your contribution to it. 

Here are our top 6 picks for things you can easily do no matter where in the world you live. Many people say ‘it’s so hard where I live because we don’t have recycling’ or ‘because the public transport is rubbish’ and these issues genuinely make it difficult so we have deliberately chosen things that you can implement in your life regardless of where you live.  

Don’t ever be discouraged and think nothing I do will make a difference. Every habit you develop or change makes a difference. It might only be a tiny difference but lots of tiny differences add up to a small difference and lots of small differences add up to a big difference. However, for this to happen we all need to do our bit.


1. Always take your own shopping bags

This is a no brainer and such an easy habit to get into. The less plastic you take the less you have to dispose of. It doesn’t matter where you live you can do this. Whip out your bag at any store, fast food restaurant or supermarket. Your local shopping haunts will soon realise you are the people who bring your own bags and happily accommodate you. 

The world is drowning in waste.

Microplastic pollution is absolutely everywhere now. The particles most commonly found in drinking-water are fragments of plastic from water bottles. Jennifer de France from the WHO’s Department of Public Health has stated that in general bottled water contains higher particle numbers of microplastics than tap water (another reason not to drink bottled water). 


2. Don’t buy palm oil

Palm oil is in so many products unless you check the labels of everything you buy its hard to avoid. Get your kids onto this – they will quickly become experts at spotting it in the ingredients list. You would be amazed how many products don’t use it in their production of a product in one region but use it in another. Don’t assume just because the product you buy where you live doesn’t have palm oil that it won’t have it in another region. 

Deforestation due to oil palm plantations is rampant. Oil palm plantations now cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. That is a lot! These areas are often referred to as ‘green deserts’ because they contain virtually no biodiversity. That is no biodiversity in an area roughly the size of New Zealand. For anyone who has visited Borneo, you can see for yourself the devastating effects of this and why endangered species such as the orangutan, Sumatran tiger and Borneo elephant are being pushed closer to extinction. 


3. Chose greener rides

Chose a bike or public transport whenever you can. More and more towns and cities are investing in bike paths which makes biking a more realistic and enjoyable option for lots of people. Consider an electric bike if you have hills to negotiate during your commute or daily life. The investment will be worth it. Many large cities have great public transport systems. Take the time to figure it out and you will be amazed how quickly you learn all the different alternatives especially for your regular routes.

If riding or public transport are not realistic options where you live look into ridesharing or carpooling. Imagine if rather than 4 people taking their cars to work every day only one car was going. These habits take a while to get used to and require more flexibility than what people are often used to but once you make that midset change it just becomes your new habit. 


4. Go for natural cleaning products

White vinegar and baking soda are your friends! The chemicals in many household cleaners are common pollutants that contribute to smog, leach into the drinking water and are toxic to animals. It is easy to cover a lot of your cleaning needs using just white vinegar and baking soda. These are available almost everywhere although baking soda can be a little harder to find in some places. They are usually both cheap and easy to store. 

A quick google of white vinegar, baking soda and cleaning will give you a whole range of ideas and concoctions you can make to clean your house with. Most of them are simple and work just as well as more conventional products. Not only are they better for the environment but they are better for your health and your wallet. 


5. Add another meat-free day to your week

Some people have already introduced a meat-free meal to their week. Try and extend this to a meat-free day or another meat-free meal. The aim is to slowly over time decrease your meat consumption. This can be a tricky one for people and it can take a while to figure it out and change the way you plan, shop and cook your meals to incorporate it.

Try and go meat free more often

Eating meat has a big impact on the environment. Farming livestock takes up 83% of the farmland of the world but provides only 18% of our calories while producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.  In reality, we need to eat far less meat and dairy than we eat today. Set some family goals of how you are going to reduce your consumption. Try and think long term how you would be able to reduce your consumption by 20%, 40%, 60%. No one expects you to do it overnight but think of what you can do over a year or two.


6. Buy less

This is pretty simple. You can read our full article ‘The minimalist expat life’ on how to reduce what you buy but the crux of it is just buy less. Be intentional about what you buy. Think before you purchase. Do you really need it, how will it add to your life and what will happen to it after you have finished with it? Work on reusing things rather than buying new. So many things can be reused that just get thrown out. Everything from zip lock bags to clothing. 

Consider setting us a freecycle Facebook group for your area where people can post things they no longer need but might be of use to other people. Work on the school community to have jumble sales to coincide with the changing of the seasons. Organise a walking school bus. Push for a bike safety class at the school so more children are set up to bike to school. Some of these initiatives take a while to take hold but don’t give up, keep plodding away and slowly you will get more people on board. 

It’s not enough to default to ‘it’s too hard where I live’ or ‘it won’t make a difference’ we all need to start doing more. Take some time to look at your lifestyle as a family and figure out where you can make a difference. Encourage your children to look around themselves at school and look for ways waste can be reduced and then back them in pushing for the change. There was never a better time to stand up and advocate for the environment. Good luck!

Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.