I guess the first step to understanding how I can reduce my carbon footprint is to find out what it looks like currently. I used the Nature Conservancy‘s free Carbon Footprint calculator to calculate my household’s carbon footprint (there’s just me and my husband in my house), and my individual carbon footprint. Take into account that my husband commutes 80 miles to and from work every day, and I ride my bicycle to work. My results were SHOCKING!
My household carbon footprint is: 59 TONS of CO2 per year!
My individual carbon footprint is: 13 TONS of CO2 per year!
The average person in the world has a carbon footprint of 5.5 tons of CO2 per year.
The average person in the US has a carbon footprint of 27 tons of CO2 per year.
This calculator doesn’t take things into account like buying in bulk instead of buying packaged materials, using plastic or reusable bags, etc. The criteria was strictly house-related energy consumption, driving/travel energy consumption, consumption of meat/organic foods, and recycling/waste output.
My goal is to have an individual carbon footprint of 0 in 365 days. I’m also going to make a goal of reducing my household carbon footprint to 30 tons of CO2 per year in 365 days.
So now, the question becomes, how do I do that?
Steps we can all take to reduce our carbon footprints:
- Drive less! Most people think they don’t have the time to ride their bike. My commute is 4.1 miles each way, and it takes me about 15 minutes to drive, or 25 minutes to bike. Is it really that hard to get up 10 minutes earlier? Most people drive less than 5 miles to get to their supermarket/grocery store of choice. Why not bike there instead? Invest in a nice rack and some pannier bags to get you and your purchases home safe and sound.
- Turn the lights off when you leave! I know it’s nice to come home to a not-so-dark house, but leaving lights running is not good for the environment (or your PG&E bill!). Also, installing CFL bulbs instead of regular incandescent bulbs will dramatically cut energy usage.
- Buy organic and local! Local food hasn’t had to travel on a cargo ship or airplane or truck to get to you. It was produced right where you are! Makes sense to suck it up and eat what is fresh and in season. Organic food has a lower carbon footprint than non-organic food because less fertilizer and energy is required to raise it.
- Package smarter! Do you really need tons of plastic packaging for something small, like a flash drive? Do we really need plastic clam shells around apples? Pay attention to how the goods you buy are packaged. When possible, choose the option with less packaging.
- Get smart about recycling! Aluminum is very easy to recycle, as long as it doesn’t have a plastic lining. Check out your canned foods, soda, and beer cans to ensure they don’t have this! Some plastic is very recyclable. Pay attention to the number inside the recycling symbol. Plastics #1 and #2 are almost always recycled (and very efficiently) by recycling plants. Avoid the rest when you can! Also, note that the appearance of the recycling symbol does not mean the item or packaging is recyclable. There is almost no regulation on this symbol.
- Find reusable alternatives for everyday items! No one needs a brand new disposable cup for every cup of coffee. Invest in an reusable insulated coffee cup instead! Going to a festival this summer? Bring your own 16 oz. cup for beer! Heading to the store for some groceries? Leave reusable bags in your car, in your purse, or on your bike so you won’t forget to bring them and use them! The possibilities are endless. Be creative and resourceful!
- Simply buy less! We live in a society that values consumerism above all else. Break that cycle and your own bad habits by only buying what you actually need. Thrift shop or shop yard sales when possible. Trade stuff you don’t need for things you do need. You can organize a clothing swap day with friends to get rid of clothes that you are tired of and get new-to-you stuff. All these things will save carbon, and money!
- Reuse, and re-purpose before you recycle! Recycling is always a better alternative than pulling raw materials out of the earth to be used for goods. However, many things labeled as “recyclable” are almost never actually recycled. It’s always better if the buck stops with you and you find a way to turn trash into treasure. Buy butter in those Tupperware-like plastic containers and use the container for other foods when the butter runs out. Turn old fence material into raised beds for the garden. There’s a lot you can do with trash! Be creative!
All the little things add up. Stay tuned for more ways to get your carbon footprint down to 0!