In light of the recent United Nations climate report, it's important we all do our part to protect the environment. According to the report, we only have 12 years left to reverse climate change without creating catastrophic damage. If this disturbs you, I do have good news: You can make a difference. The battle has just begun, and we all need to take part in it this time around. Here are 5 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and put a stop to climate change.
1. Eat less meat & dairy
Believe it or not, one of the best things you can do for the planet is cut back on meat and dairy consumption. There are many reasons for this. First, it takes a lot of resources to raise livestock, particularly water. From the water needed to grow food for the animals, to the water needed to clean them and keep them hydrated, there’s a lot of water waste. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. That huge water footprint is mainly due to the water needed to grow cattle feed, plus the water the cattle needs to drink and be washed with.
Plants, on the other hand, take much less water to grow and produce. Try to go meatless at least once a week (if not more), or at least choose meat with a smaller water footprint (like chicken—generally, the smaller the animal, the smaller the water footprint it has).
Another reason to eat less meat and dairy is because the animals are given feed riddled with hormones and antibiotics, resulting in bigger problems when their manure is put in the ground. The manure gets flushed into an open lagoon, liquefying it, where it’s known to leak, seep, overflow, and even rupture. To make matters worse, this stuff is untreated, causing even further damage to the environment when it leaks or gets out of the cesspool. When these cesspools leak, they can spill into the natural habitat and wreak havoc, killing wildlife and poisoning water supplies. Disgusting, right?
Last, but certainly not least, cattle, sheep and goats emit methane during digestion. Methane is an infamous greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming (much like carbon dioxide). This adds up, considering there are nine million dairy cows living in factory farms in the United States (that doesn’t account for other kinds of livestock that produce methane gas either!). Imagine the amount of methane produced from those nine million dairy cows alone.
By choosing to avoid dairy and consume less meat, you’ll truly be cutting down on your own environmental footprint altogether. Consider going vegetarian, avoiding products made from animal skins and furs, or even going vegan.
2. Switch energy providers
Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is by switching your energy provider over to a renewable, sustainable source. You can call up your current utility and see if they offer any sustainable energy plan options. Some will be more than happy to set up solar panels on your roof for you or introduce you to an energy saving program.
You can also join a community solar farm if your roof isn’t ideal for solar panels. The idea behind community solar farms is you don’t have to install anything on your property. It saves you some money while also helps out the environment, since you’ll be getting your electricity from a renewable source. You can also look into other renewable energy options near you that may be better for your area, such as wind power, geothermal, or hydropower. You’d be amazed at how many options there truly are.
It’s important to switch over to renewable energy because, according to the recent United Nations report, we’ll need to be completely off fossil fuels in 12 years (assuming we want to avoid cataclysmic catastrophe). Fossil fuels pollute our air and emit toxins when transported and burned. Not to mention they’re dangerous and hazardous to wildlife and natural habitats (oil spills are just one example of why we need to switch to renewables). And fossil fuels are a limited, finite resource as it is. Might as well get a head start on cutting back on their use now, right?
To make an even bigger impact, consider switching over to an electric car, as well as changing energy providers. Since we need to be off all fossil fuels in 12 years, soon you won’t be able to drive an oil powered car anymore. Why not make the switch now and help the earth stay healthy?
Another great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to compost your food scraps. I live in a small apartment and I still manage to compost. It’s pretty simple, and there are so many options to choose from. For apartment dwellers like me, I recommend saving all your food scraps in a glass or plastic container and storing it in the freezer. Come Saturday, head on over to your local farmers market. There should be a food scrap drop off location at the farmers market (be sure to call and check ahead of time, of course). You can just dump all the food scraps there, then repeat the process the following week. It’s definitely a more hands-off approach to managing food waste. If you don’t have a farmers market near you that collects food scraps, consider finding a community garden that will take the scraps off your hands.
For those with a bigger space to work with, you can purchase an enclosed compost bin for your yard, or a tumbler. An enclosed bin is low maintenance—you simply dump your food scraps in it and leave it there. A tumbler is a little more work, because you have to crank the tumbler, churning the food scraps in the process. The churning helps speed up the composting process, so you’ll have fresh, earthy compost in a shorter amount of time. Either way, there needs to be a balance between greens and browns in your compost bin. Some examples of greens include egg shell; vegetable peels and ends; fruit peels, ends and cores; and coffee grounds. Some examples of browns include twigs; paper (no plastic coating); paper towels; leaves; grass clippings; and cardboard. Making sure your compost has a healthy balance of both greens and browns will ensure it composts quicker and successfully. When it finishes, there should be an earthy smell to it and it should look a lot like soil.
When you throw food away, into the trash, it ends up in a landfill where it produces methane gas. It’s also terrible to waste food when there are so many people starving in this world. Consumers in America toss at least 40 percent of their food away. That also means they’re tossing money away, without even realizing it. Cut back on food waste by composting your food scraps or any food you cannot finish on your plate. You’ll be helping the earth and your wallet!
4. Commute to work
Remember how I mentioned in 12 years’ time we’ll need to be off all fossil fuels? Well, most cars are still very reliant on fossil fuels. This needs to change, but until it does, commuting to work will definitely help take the edge out of things. By reducing how much you drive, you’re cutting back on how much pollution is put into our atmosphere. Cars release a deadly amount of fumes each and every day (it’s one of the reasons they say never to forage near a highway). Do your part by commuting to work via bus or train. By riding a bus, you’re putting fewer cars on the road, resulting in less emissions.
5. Go zero waste
Last, but certainly not least, go zero waste. Zero waste is a 21st century movement designed to reduce the amount of trash we send to the landfill. It’s designed to turn our linear economy into a circular economy, ensuring no item is wasted or designed for single use. While there is no such thing as being truly zero waste (at least not in our current system), we can still get very close.
Personally, I live a zero-waste life. It’s not hard, and I’m always learning new things, but I truly love it. I’ve never felt more connected to the earth, and my own items, as I have after adopting this lifestyle. I’m happy to say I don’t create waste on a daily basis, and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made (and will continue to make).
The average American creates 4.4 pounds of trash a day. Think about that for a moment. Are you comfortable with that number? This trash is then sent to a landfill where it will sit and not break down for hundreds to thousands of years. Most of the items we use on the daily without a second thought (ex: disposable cups, plastic cutlery, plastic water bottles) are not at all recycled. In fact, only 9 percent of all plastic is recycled. Considering we’ve made 8.3 metric tons of plastic since it’s been invented, I’d say that’s a lot of wasted plastic, doomed to end up in landfills or worse—waterways and the environment. When plastic reaches our waterways, it has the potential to do real damage to marine life. Often times, animals mistake plastic for food, wind up ingesting it, and thus die from starvation. It’s a sad reality to realize our plastic consumption and our fast-paced disposal culture has gotten this out of hand.
If you were to sit down in a room with all the trash you’ve ever produced in your lifetime, would you feel proud? I can guarantee you most of it would still be perfectly intact, considering plastic doesn’t break down right away. It would certainly be a very uncomfortable experience. So why not do something about it?
Going zero waste is one of the best things you can do for the planet. To go zero waste, I recommend following this simple two step plan: Analyze your trash, and transition. Once you understand where most of your trash is coming from (be it plastic water bottles, to-go containers, or paper towels), you can start to limit it. It’s fun to challenge yourself and learn new ways to reduce the trash you make.
Here are a few simple ways to cut back on trash immediately:
- Make a zero waste to go kit full of items that will help you stay waste free on the road.
- Cook with real whole foods and avoid junk food (often wrapped in plastic) whenever you can.
- Craft your own toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant to keep personal hygiene plastic free.
- Refuse single use plastic whenever possible (such as straws and bags).
- Start composting (like I mentioned earlier) to cut back on food waste.
- Learn how to shop zero waste at the farmers market and at bulk food stores.
- Ask for reusable plates, cups and utensils whenever you go over to someone’s house or at a party.
- Make your own makeup products to avoid plastic waste and toxins in conventional beauty products.
Any little bit you can do will help this Earth so much and drastically reduce your carbon footprint.