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10 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Everyday Carbon Footprint

It’s the middle of the afternoon and your daughter’s second-grade class has just returned from the playground. Sarah’s teacher settles her and her adrenaline-filled classmates down by passing out worksheets to introduce them to their carbon footprint, which asks questions like: “How do you get to school?” and “How do you dry your clothes?” Step 1 of Introduction to Greenhouse Gasses: complete, although Sarah may have innocently ratted you out for running a less than eco-friendly household — depending on how you look at it.

Like most things in life, the first step towards improvement is acknowledging the problem (so, hats off to Sarah for her honesty). Here is where we step in. We’re going to take that basic, elementary understanding of carbon footprints and greenhouse gasses, and provide some reasonable – yet impactful – ways you can reduce your carbon footprint while doing your part to help save the planet, all while avoiding the judgemental wrath of your school’s PTA.

1. Meatless Mondays

For those hangry meat eaters out there, yes, I hear the record scratch too. But did you know 2,400 gallons of water is used to produce 1 pound of meat? For a broader perspective, that’s 533,280 gallons of water used in a year to produce meat for a single person. Everything from the fossil fuels used in production to the square feet of land used for grazing and growing feed crops makes meat a devastating threat to our environment and can significantly grow your carbon footprint. We’re not suggesting you quit cold turkey here (pun not intended), but implementing Meatless Mondays can be an easy start to reducing your carbon footprint. Another option is to start adding other meatless, high-protein alternatives to your diet such as tofu, quinoa, or lentils.

2. Cut down on food waste

Next time you’re on a grocery run, be more conscious of what foods your household actually needs and plans to eat. Due to a lack of planning, many households often overbuy food and have to throw it away when it goes bad or expires. Unfortunately, most food waste ends up in the landfill, contributing to significant CO2 emissions.

Being more conscious of the food we purchase can help reduce food waste and our carbon footprint. For example, not all expiration dates signal that food has expired. Some expiration dates are simply a ‘best by’ date or tell a store when to sell an item. Meal planning can also help you cut down on food waste. Meal planning involves purchasing exactly how many ingredients you need for pre-planned meals, cooking dozens of meals in advance, and having them ready so that there’s never any question about whether more food needs to be purchased. You can also learn to make a simple compost pile to easily break down fruit peels, veggie scraps, eggshells, and more! Planning your meals and cutting down on food waste is not only an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, but also a great way to reduce the amount of money you spend at the grocery store too.

3. Buy food locally

Purchasing food grown locally can also help to offset your carbon footprint. Around 11% of carbon emissions in the United States come from transporting food alone. Purchasing food from different regions, or food that is out of season contributes to greater carbon emissions because those foods have to be transported from places around the world to get to your supermarket. Instead, be aware of what foods are in season and shop locally. Not only is this an easy way to reduce your everyday carbon footprint, but you’ll also support local farmers! To be even more eco-friendly, bring reusable bags and containers.

4. Unsubscribe from junk mail

Junk mail is viewed as irritating by many. Most households receive their weekly junk mail, then immediately toss it into the trash. Even if you recycle your junk mail, it still took a substantial amount of resources to produce. Over 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water are used to produce junk mail annually, and making and shipping junk mail creates an additional 40 million tons of CO2 every year. It only takes a few minutes to opt out of junk mail – many free websites such as the FTC offer resources to directly contact companies to opt out of their advertisements. This is a simple way to not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also some of the clutter in your mailbox.

5. Make your laundry eco-friendly

Laundry can have a large carbon footprint. Running your laundry and drying machines often can use a lot of energy, water, and soap. Clothing doesn’t usually need to be washed very often, either – jeans, outer clothes, pajamas, and other clothing items can be worn several times before washing. Eco-friendly detergent is also better for the environment, making your clothes clean without using toxic chemicals – extra points if it comes in reusable or sustainable packaging! Instead of drying your clothes, try hanging them (especially in the summer!). Hanging clothes uses less energy and typically makes your clothes last longer.

6. Ditch plastic (where you can)

Unfortunately, plastic packaging is found in everything. Food, cleaning products, and other everyday items are wrapped in plastic. Even if they claim to be recyclable, less than 9% of plastic waste actually gets recycled because recycling systems can’t manage the wide variety of materials that get sent there. Most plastic gets sent to landfills, polluting the earth in the process and leeching microplastics into many of the everyday products we use and eat like sugar and bread. On average, people consume 5 grams of plastic a week!

To reduce your carbon footprint, try swapping out some of your everyday plastic products with sustainable, reusable alternatives. Instead of buying pre-packaged water in plastic bottles (where you’re mostly paying for the plastic, anyway), try using water filters and reusable bottles. Carrying reusable bags, cutlery, and napkins can also prevent additional single-use plastic from ending up in the landfill, and is a great way to offset your carbon footprint. Lots of household goods can also be swapped out for sustainable alternatives, like bar soap and reusable cleaning towels.

7. Carpool

In 2017, transportation preceded power for the first time as the top source of CO2 emissions, coming in at a whopping 1.9 billion tons of CO2 annually. That means vehicles (planes, busses, cars, and boats) emitted more CO2 than all electricity used in the world for the first time ever. Sure, the number of people converting to electric or hybrid cars is increasing, but we can take that a step further by utilizing public transportation for the city folk out there, or enforcing neighborhood carpools. You can even catch a significantly cheaper fare with ride-share apps that allow you to share your ride with other users commuting to the same area.

8. Or, ride your bike

While this option isn’t possible for everyone, opting to ride your bike instead of driving a car can have a huge impact. While cars emit high levels of CO2, biking doesn’t emit anything. Riding a bike, skateboard, or other similar devices might be possible for kids who live near their school, for family bike rides to the park, or getting around town. Plus, biking is a great source of exercise and can keep you healthy, all while reducing your carbon impact!

9. Unplug your electronics

Many electronics consume power even when they aren’t turned on. As long as they are plugged in, they’re constantly sucking up energy, running minuscule processes that don’t affect your usage at all. In fact, these idle devices account for 23% of power consumption in a household on average. The simplest solution is to unplug devices when you aren’t using them – computers, chargers, televisions, and other devices that are constantly connected to power can simply be unplugged when you aren’t using them, making this an easy way to not only reduce your carbon footprint, but lower the cost of your electric bill, too!

10. Invest in slow, sustainable fashion

Outside of having clothes that will last for years and not break at the seams in the wash, avoiding fast fast fashion has another benefit: lowering your carbon footprint.. The textiles and fashion industry poses a huge risk to our environment through the clothing life cycle. Fast fashion is polluting the environment from chemical usage, to massive landfills and water waste. Being a conscious consumer is needed now more than ever.

Instead of choosing fast fashion, be more selective when it comes to purchasing your next piece of clothing. Consider whether you’ll really wear something and if you’re going to purchase a piece, shop brands that apply sustainable practices to their clothing production and are doing their part to save the planet or offset their carbon footprint. Look for brands that enable carbon-neutral manufacturing and shipping like EcoCart.  To look for brands that enable carbon offsetting to make your online purchases carbon neutral through EcoCart, install the EcoCart Chrome extension, which offsets the carbon impact of purchases at over 10,000 online retailers! 

Making the smallest changes to your daily activities can make a large impact on the world. No act of change is ever too small, and we hope you’re able to adopt a few of these easy practices into your daily routine to help future generations, like Sarah’s, have a clean and healthy planet for generations to come.