It’s no secret that our planet is in crisis. As you have probably heard, late last year the United Nations released a report predicting that temperatures will rise to dangerous and catastrophic levels by 2040. As humans, we are the ones that created this dire situation, and we are the only ones that can get us out of it. Wide spread governmental policy change is likely the only way to turn this around. Mandates to big corporations to become carbon neutral, taxes on environmentally harmful activities, and mass changes to our current means of transportation will have the biggest impact on our planet as a whole.
However, as citizens of the planet, what can the average person do, while the governments of the world catch up? Turns out a lot!
Higher Income = Higher Carbon Footprint
Before I list all the ways you can begin helping the planet, let’s talk about privilege for a minute. I recognize having privilege includes having the time and energy to focus on my personal carbon footprint. According to a British charity, Oxfam study (and likely many other studies), the wealthier you are the higher your carbon footprint. It makes sense. The more money you have, the more you consume. Remember a few years back when Leonardo DiCaprio flew on a private jet to accept an award honoring him for his work on climate change? Even though he cares about the environment, he has the ability to take a private jet, so his carbon footprint is likely quite high. To Leo’s credit, he has started to fly commercial since this incident.
I’ve never flown on a private jet so I’m already doing my part on behalf of climate change. If you haven’t either, good job! We are already changing the world!
If your income falls in the middle class or higher, then your carbon footprint is already higher than someone at poverty level or below, let alone someone from a less industrialized nation. Meaning, you should be thinking about this and what you can do to neutralize your impact on the planet. It won’t solve all of our problems, but I am firm believer that we have to start somewhere.
Tips to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
1. Reusable bags
By now, you’ve have likely heard about bringing your own bags to the grocery store. But then, you go to the produce section and use plastics bags for your fruits and vegetables. There are plenty of inexpensive reusable produce bags on the market. Many of them are actually better for storage and claim to keep your produce fresher longer. Neat!
2. Assess Your Consumption
While we are on the topic of the grocery store, think about everything you buy that comes in a one use package. Pretty much everything, right? It’s actually a little daunting to think about. But once you assess your consumption, you can assess where you can make some changes or look for options that might be better than others. For example, a bar of soap that comes in a small cardboard box is a little better than the bottle of liquid body soap. Purchasing bulk items are a little better than say, a whole box of individual squeezable applesauces (guilty!). Or even bring some of your reusable bags to shop the bulk aisle for items like nuts, candy, coffee beans, etc.
3. Buy from Farmer’s Markets
Better yet, if and when available, go to your local farmer’s market. Your food will be fresher, likely organic, and you will be helping a local business. You can easily shop at a farmer’s market without anything being held in a one-use plastic container.
4. Ditch the K-Cups
Truth be told, I love my Keurig. I need coffee the second I wake up, and coffee from a Keurig is the quickest, easiest route to my caffeine fix. But the waste is indisputable. Even the inventor of the K-Cup, John Sylvan has stated that he regrets his invention due to the waste that if lined up could circle the world ten times from sales in 2014 alone. If you love your Keurig like me, there are reusable K-Cups available for your coffee grounds. Of course, other methods of coffee making haven’t gone anywhere: drip coffee, french press, and Chemex.
5. Bring Reusable Cups
Bring your own water bottle and coffee mug everywhere you go. You will save money by not purchasing so many water bottles, and help the planet at the same time. Some coffee shops will let you use your mug as well. It’s a win, win.
6. Ban Plastic Straws
After the news of plastic filling our oceans and whales being found with an obscene amount of plastic in their stomachs, restaurants and other industry leaders took major efforts to reduce the use of plastic straws. What a great step! Paper straws are much more compostable, but having your own straw to carry around is even better. I personally don’t think paper straws work that well. Reusable straws are typically made out of silicone and come with a brush for easy cleaning.
7. Reduce Shipping Packaging
As a busy, full-time working mom, I thrive off convenience as much as the next person. Amazon has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion. Need a birthday present for the party this weekend? It will be there in two days. Yay, supermom here! However the amount of packaging they use for one item is out of control. There is an option to combine packages on multiple orders cutting down on your overall package waste. And buying items in a store cuts out the packaging all together.
8. Greener Hotel Stays
Many hotels have ditched the small shampoo and conditioner bottles for larger refillable tubes in the shower. Guests can deny or delay housekeeping services. This reduces the overall amount of laundry from your towels and sheets.
9. Reduce Paper Towel Use
At home, you can reduce or completely get rid of your paper towel use by re-purposing old towels. If there is an old towel that you were going to throw away, you can now cut in up into many pieces to use as a paper towel. These can be washed and reused until they fall apart.
Some progressive areas like San Francisco are offer compost pick-up along with trash and recycling. If you don’t live in one of these areas, you can create or purchase your own compost bin. You can really see how long things take to degrade, and even use it as fertilizer.
11. Go solar
Install solar panels. This is the priciest suggestion so far. As I mentioned earlier, if you can afford solar panels, then you likely have quite a large carbon footprint, and this would greatly cut that down. Now if you also purchased an electric car and you have solar panels, you are doing good things for the environment.
12. Shop used
Shop used stores. Admittedly, some used stores are better than others. I have found kids used stores tend to be pretty good for things like jackets, furniture and toys. Kids use these items for such a short amount time, and then they have out grown them. Why not extend the life of the item a little longer by purchasing from used stores and then donating it back when you are done with it.
13. Reduce Driving
Think about ways you could reduce your driving. Could you ask your boss to work remote one day a week or month? Perhaps some places you go are very short distances and you could walk or ride a bike. Is there a bus or public transportation near you? Asking yourself some of these questions could change some of your driving habits. Maybe you will get a little exercise too!
14. Write your legislatures!
By letting your legislatures know you care about the environment and support environmentally friendly causes, you can directly impact the course of new policies and laws.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the things you could do to reduce your carbon footprint nor is it a manual for how you should live your life. We all gravitate towards convenience, and with convenience usually comes less environmentally friendly options. However, if all made a few changes with a little conscious effort, we will all be better off. Let’s start saving our planet!