5 ways you can start dealing with your carbon footprint

Hazel Needham

Hazel Needham

Concept of ecology.

What is a carbon footprint? And how do I reduce mine? We’ll explain 5 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint from the overall water you consume in your home, to what you eat and how you buy online. 

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What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases that we generate through our actions. Our carbon footprint is impacted directly by our everyday actions, including how much we drive, whether we splashed out on double glazing and how much local produce we eat. It is also affected indirectly: Almost 50% of the UK’s carbon footprint comes from emissions released overseas to satisfy UK-based consumption. These gases, including the infamous carbon dioxide, trap heat in the atmosphere and warm up the Earth.

How do I reduce my carbon footprint?

Baby steps. Everyone has the power to reduce their carbon footprint, and we’ll discuss some of the ways you can address greenhouse gas emissions in your daily lives. 5 small steps for your carbon footprint and one giant leap for Mother Nature.

Graphic image of a dripping tap where the water source is a tree in the palm of a human hand

1) Tap into your Household Water Consumption

96.5% of the water on earth is too salty for human consumption. Two-thirds of the remaining freshwater is locked away in polar ice, glaciers and permanent snow, therefore inaccessible – until it melts away into the sea. The remaining drinkable water sits at a measly 1.2%. 

This means our tap water goes through a lot of processes before we can drink it. Across the UK, wastewater treatment plants are estimated to consume more than 30 terawatt-hours per year of electricity, meaning the energy we use treating our water supply is enough to sustain 500 billion light bulbs. That’s all of the lightbulbs in the world 62 times over. It also gives us a bill of about £1.5 billion in annual electric costs.

Hidden in our daily routine are plenty of places we can tap into our water consumption and reduce our carbon footprint. For example:

Teeth-brushing: 

Turning off the tap as you scrub those pearly whites can save up to 64 cups of drinkable water each day.

Showering:  

Showers use 2.5 gallons of water per minute, and each gallon uses 3 ounces of carbon dioxide. Shortening your shower time by 2 minutes a day has the same benefit on your carbon footprint as growing 25 trees.

If it’s yellow, let it mellow: 

Depending on your toilet, one flush can use anywhere from 2-7 gallons of water. If you are using the toilet several times a day, you could be using more water than you are in the shower! 

Image from the BBC of Mr Chen standing next to the rickshaw he used to cycle across the world to promote the Olympics.

2) Become a Cycleopath

Transport is estimated to be the biggest culprit when it comes to hefty carbon footprints. Good job there’s a vehicle that operates without any financial or environmental cost, waiting for you to obsess over! Plus, it will keep you fit and healthy in a growing world of screens and remote-working. It’s time to become a cycleopath.

Admittedly, cycling isn’t always the best option. You wouldn’t want to pedal from London to Beijing (unless you’re Mr Chen.) But don’t underestimate the importance of daily journeys: almost three-quarters of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions come from road vehicles. Subbing a car-commute for a bike ride can make a huge difference to your carbon footprint. If Mr Chen could overcome floods, war zones, mountain passes and temperatures of -30C, I’m sure we can brave the helmet hair.

standby-savings

3) Save your Energy

Sustainable energy is the future. Whole towns, and soon – whole countries – will no longer rely on fossil fuels. But in the meantime, even if you’re not in the position to slap a load of solar panels on the roof or pay the extra tariff to switch to a green supplier, you can still reduce your carbon footprint from home. Plus, just like being a Cycleopath, reducing the energy consumption around your home comes with the added benefit of saving money as well as the planet!

A few examples:

Never do things by half

New, eco-friendly dishwashers can save up to nine times as much water as traditional under-the-tap washing up, provided they are used when they are full. It’s the same for washing machines. Washing at half capacity means half of the energy and water being used is completely wasted.

Be careful not to spoil the brew!

British households are wasting a combined £68 million a year in energy costs by overfilling their kettles when they make a hot drink. Only boiling enough water for the hot drink you are making at the time will reduce your carbon footprint without you even thinking about it.

Don’t stand by. 

Appliances still use electricity when we’ve put them on stand-by. Households in the UK ramp up a total of £227 million a year in electricity costs from failing to switch their devices off properly. Shocking stuff!

Image of David Attenborough and his quote “We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat eaters.”

4) Eat Responsibly

One-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food. The production of food requires energy, land and water (agricultural irrigation accounts for 70% of the world’s water usage) meaning what you have for dinner can have a massive impact on your carbon footprint. 

Excessive food consumption goes hand-in-hand with unsustainable farming, particularly noticeable in the meat and dairy industries. Our population has doubled since the 1960s. World meat production has quadrupled. Experts say that agriculture’s contribution to the climate crisis is still underestimated and as David Attenborough urgently points out, the planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters.

If reducing meat doesn’t seem like an option, consider where it comes from 

Becoming vegan may seem a little extreme, but one day of plant-based-eating, on average, saves 1,100 gallons of water, 20kgs of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 9kgs of carbon dioxide, and one animal’s life. If reducing meat doesn’t seem like an option, consider where it comes from. British-based beef, where livestock has been grazed in extensive grass-based systems, creates a carbon footprint that is two-and-a-half times lower than the global average.

It is even possible to reduce your carbon footprint by simply ensuring you don’t buy too much. 27% of all food produced in the USA is wasted, which is enough energy to air-condition at least 200 billion good-sized living rooms. Only buying what you need from the supermarket, or better still, growing your own food will majorly reduce your carbon footprint.

5) Get with the Trend and Ration your Fashion

The clothing industry contributes up to 10% of the pollution driving the climate crisis – more than all maritime shipping and international flights combined. It uses enough water to meet the consumption needs of five million people. Just like food, excessive purchasing has led to excessive production, which is detrimental to our carbon footprint.

The answer is simple. Stop buying what you don’t need. In some countries, 40% of the new clothes people buy are never even worn. 

Invest in your clothes 

To reduce the need for new clothes, dabble in the second-hand scene. Whether it’s charity shops, hand-me-downs, or swanky websites like Depop and Vinted – recycling clothes preserve the Earth’s resources and cuts down on that carbon-heavy production process.

Invest in your clothes. Cheap materials and poorly-made clothes won’t last more than a few washes. Sustainably-made and higher quality garments may initially cost more, but are better value for your money longer-term and minimise your carbon footprint.

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