Avoiding palm oil, eating a plant-based diet, recycling old gadgets and encouraging wildlife in your garden and local community can make a difference to the future of our planet.
Avoid palm oil in your diet and at home
Palm oil is used in wide variety of products including soap, shampoo, frozen pizzas, biscuits, chocolate, candles, detergents and more.
The creation of oil palm plantations has caused widespread habitat destruction, and has negatively impacted many species including orang-utans, Bornean elephants and Sumatran tigers. The rapid expansion of these plantations in South America is likely to affect wildlife, such as jaguars, there as well.
Some conservationists recommend avoiding all products containing palm oil. However, the issue of palm oil is a bit more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Oil palm is a very efficient crop, producing more oil per acre than soybean or coconut. Between 4 to 10 times more land area would be required to get the same amount of oil from these alternatives.
Look out for products certified by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which have met certain standards for growing and sourcing palm oil. You can also read more about how and why to avoid palm oil from WWF.
More advice on how you can help the environment
Eat less meat and dairy products with vegetarian and vegan food
Alongside checking products for sustainable palm oil, changing your diet can also help wildlife.
If you don’t wish to become vegan or vegetarian, or are unable to do so due to existing dietary restrictions, you may still be able to make some sustainable changes.
The range of milks available now can be quite bewildering, especially when you start to factor in their environmental impacts. All non-dairy milks have been calculated to be better for the environment than dairy milk – less land and less water are required, and fewer greenhouse gases are generated.
Digging deeper, almond has the lowest land use and the lowest emissions, however it has a very high water requirement – 80% of the US’s almonds are grown in California, which has gone through a number of severe droughts. Other issues with almond milk include the use of pesticides, and their effect on bees and other wildlife.
Although giving up meat isn’t an option for everyone, you can help the environment and wildlife by reducing the amount of meat you eat. According to experts, changes in global agriculture are needed in order to combat climate change, and to reduce the destruction of habitat loss. With the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, it’s becoming easier to make swaps.
Recycle mobile phones and tablets
As you may know, mobile phones and other handheld gadgets include small amounts of gold and other minerals such as coltan and tin, which are mined from areas of Africa around the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mining destroys the natural habitat of gorillas, and also increases the chance of hunting.
One gram of gold can be recovered from between 30 and 40 phones – find out more about how to recycle your phone with the Jane Goodall Institute.
Remember to go into the phone’s Settings first and select the option to Restore to Factory Settings, which will remove all your personal data.
Protect the environment and animals on your holidays
One way you can reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce the number of flights you take; some people aim to eliminate them completely – find out more at Flight Free UK. There’s plenty of amazing places to discover in the UK, whether you’re into cultural city tours, camping or beach holidays.
If you do travel abroad, consider offsetting your flight’s carbon emissions through charities such as World Land Trust; that money will be invested into projects to reduce deforestation, provide energy efficient stoves to rural communities, and other suitable schemes.
Once abroad, think about how you’re impacting the local wildlife and environment. Around the world, many animals are abused for the sake of entertainment, often for tourists. Follow the advice of Responsible Travel: do your research on establishments with animals before you go, and avoid buying souvenirs that are made from endangered species, such as coral, medicinal products, fur, crocodile skin, and ivory.
Support the UK’s garden wildlife
In the face of news stories about orangutans losing their homes to oil palm plantations and rhinos being poached for their horns, it’s easy to forget that UK wildlife needs help too.
Making your garden wildlife-friendly is one of the easiest ways to help wildlife, as well to see the wildlife you’re helping. There are plenty of different things to do, depending on which species you want to attract.
- Put out bird feeders, baths and nest boxes
- Feed hedgehogs and provide hedgehog habitat and connect with local gardens with a hedgehog hole
- Provide plants for pollinators, including foodplants for caterpillars
- Build a bee hotel or a log pile
- Leave some of your garden untidy
- Reduce the amount of time your pets spend outdoors
For all of these options, it’s best to follow the expert guidance from appropriate organisations. For example, bird feeders should be cleaned regularly to minimise the risk of spreading trichomonosis.
Megan Shersby is Editorial and digital co-ordinator for BBC Wildlife magazine; find more wildlife advice and news on Discover Wildlife.