20 Tiny Everyday Changes You Can Make to Help the Environment
Yes, big changes are needed, but little ones add up. These simple lifestyle choices can reduce your carbon footprint—and make a major impact.
Earth is in trouble
Scientists around the world are in almost unanimous agreement that our planet is facing a catastrophic climate crisis. Carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are on the rise and wreaking havoc on the Earth’s atmosphere, and experts believe that human activity is largely responsible. While instituting changes on a grand scale would obviously help reverse the problem, the little things do add up. By making some small changes today to reduce your carbon footprint, you can help give the environment a fighting chance.
Master the art of packing light
Dragging half your wardrobe around in an overstuffed suitcase doesn’t just wreck your back—it also takes a serious toll on the environment. Planes, trains, and automobiles burn massive amounts of fossil fuels to transport heavy baggage, bombarding the atmosphere with carbon emissions. In fact, the transportation sector is the single biggest culprit in this department, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Be a responsible traveller by packing only what you absolutely need and by choosing a smart carry-on, instead of a huge suitcase. Limiting your luggage to 33 pounds (15 kilograms) can save up to four gallons of fuel—and eliminate those hefty excess baggage fees.
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Clean up your skin-care routine
The quest for a flawless complexion comes at an unfortunate price to the planet. Beauty-product packaging relies heavily on plastic, which has an enormous carbon footprint throughout its life cycle. Plastic’s production alone is projected to generate about 850 metric tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019, according to the Centre for International Environmental Law. Luckily, there are lots of eco-conscious skin-care products out there, like reusable microfibre face wipes.
Unplug your coffee machine
It might not occur to you to unplug electronic items like your coffee machine, microwave, and computer when they’re shut off or powered down. But they’re actually consuming “vampire energy” in their dormant states. Since most of the energy used to power homes is made of fossil fuels, little leaks add up to serious environmental damage. Vampire energy actually accounts for one per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, according to Harvard University. You can remedy this—and lower your utility bill—by unplugging your appliances.
Prevent junk mail from piling up
Junk mail is a major nuisance, but did you know that it’s also predatory to the environment? The average adult gets 41 pounds of junk mail per year, which has a carbon footprint of about 48,000 cars, according to the Matador Network. Today is the day to end the madness.
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Buy a tee, plant a tree
What if you could reduce your carbon footprint simply by taking the shirt off your back and replacing it with one that prevents deforestation? Amour Vert, a sustainable clothing manufacturer, plants one tree for each top you purchase from its inventory of chic basics. Slip on a super soft tee made of renewable fabrics like beechwood, mulberry silk, and organic cotton, and automatically contribute to the company’s partnership with American Forest. According to One Tree Planted, each new tree will eventually remove about 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the air, converting it into oxygen you can breathe for two years.
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Fine-tune your driving skills
Carpooling and investing in hybrid cars aren’t the only things that can reduce your carbon footprint (though they do help). Making little adjustments to your driving style can also get you on the right environmental track. Things like accelerating slowly, obeying the speed limit, and trying to avoid stopping short can help scale back your car’s carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent, according to Carbon Fund. Making sure your car is running smoothly helps, too.
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Breathe life into your backyard
The concept of photosynthesis is simple: Plants “inhale” carbon dioxide and “exhale” oxygen. Since this natural conversion process helps pull excess carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, planting a garden is an easy way to do your part. Pro tip: Try an edible garden. Not only will you be growing your own “organic” food, but if you replace 20 per cent of your store-bought food with home-grown food, you’ll also generate about 68 fewer pounds of carbon emissions per year, according to the Climate Action Business Association.
Swap supermarket sweets for fair-trade treats
Opting to bypass major manufacturers and shop fair trade whenever possible is a carbon-footprint game-changer. Not only does the industry support the economies of developing countries, but it also holds product suppliers to rigorous environmental standards. To sell fair-trade products like chocolate, coffee, and produce, farmers must diligently monitor and cut back on their greenhouse-gas emissions. Plenty of companies have gotten in on the fair-trade game, which ensures that farmers earn a fair wage and that education is accessible to children in local communities.
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Make treasures from trash
One pretty effortless way to reduce your carbon footprint is by upcycling: the creative and cost-saving art of reinventing things you no longer use instead of trashing them. The benefits are hard to dispute. Just ask the EPA, which coined the term “sustainable materials management“ to describe the plight of consumerism. Allegedly, the phenomenon contributes to about 42 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
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Trade plastic produce bags for renewable mesh
Plastic may be one of the most ingenious inventions of our time, but it’s also become one of the biggest threats to our environment. Plastic is made up almost entirely of fossil fuels, meaning that its carbon footprint is off the charts. Want to start eliminating plastic from your life? Start small by ditching those little produce bags you usually get at the supermarket. Instead, keep your kale in reusable mesh produce bags, which are often ethically manufactured using raw, organic, unbleached cotton. You can also use these multitasking satchels for laundering delicates, carrying toiletries, or stashing office supplies.
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Swap single-use plastic water bottles for cans and glass
It happens to the best of us. You forget your reusable water bottle at home, and now you have to figure out a way to hydrate responsibly on the go. Thankfully, some resourceful product manufacturers have finally put water in a can instead of a plastic bottle. Switch to water bottles that you can reuse because you should never refill your plastic bottles.
Walk the walk
The average pair of running shoes is responsible for about 30 pounds of carbon emissions, according to one study from MIT. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of that pollution comes from the manufacturing process. But traditional packaging and delivery methods aren’t great for the environment either. Opt for sustainably made local footwear to decrease the footprint of your footwear.
Put the brakes on fast fashion
The low cost and convenience of fast fashion come at an enormous price to the planet. When major retailers scramble to manufacture massive amounts of disposable clothing—much of which is made with synthetic fabrics—carbon emissions go through the roof. In fact, the textile industry is the second largest contributor to pollution after the oil industry, according to the journal Nature Climate Change. The next time you need some retail therapy, skip the mall and head to a secondhand store or local designer instead. Odds are, you’ll get your paws on some longer-lasting threads, to boot.
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Put your clothesline to use
Modern conveniences have their downsides, and tumble dryers are no exception. More than three-quarters of your laundry’s carbon footprint comes from using dryers, not washers. But air-drying your clothes can reduce your household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year, according to Green America. If it’s been a while since you gave your clothesline a workout, you might be in need of new clothespins.
Launder your clothes in cold water
While washers emit significantly fewer carbon emissions than their tumble-drying counterparts, they still contribute to the crisis. An easy way to clean up your domestic routine is to wash your clothes on a cold cycle. Many of the greenhouse gases generated by a washer are released when the water is being heated. Simply choosing cold temperatures can reduce the appliance’s carbon emissions by 75 percent. It can also save you money in the process.
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Get sweet on ethically sourced honey
Despite all of its hard work pollinating fruits and vegetables, the average bee will produce only about one teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. The production, processing, packaging, and shipping of such a delicacy generate a dangerous amount of greenhouse gases. As a result, ethically sourced honey farms led by balanced beekeepers are cropping up everywhere, so making the switch should be pretty painless.
Give beef the boot
Good news, meat lovers: You don’t have to go full vegetarian to substantially shrink your carbon footprint. But cutting beef from your diet can have a big impact. That’s partially because whenever a cow passes gas, it emits atmosphere-destroying methane, a greenhouse gas, into the air. And, of course, a higher demand for meat equals more cows utilized by the meat industry. Eliminating beef from your diet for just one year can reduce your carbon footprint by 882 pounds, according to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems. Food production already contributes to about a quarter of the Earth’s greenhouse gases, but it’s the beef industry that packs one of the biggest punches.
Swap four wheels for two
The typical car produces up to 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon per year, according to the EPA. A bicycle, on the other hand, doesn’t directly produce any carbon dioxide at all. Bicycles are fueled by humans, and humans are fueled by food. So, for those of you keeping track, bikes indirectly generate carbon emissions because of their link to the food industry. Still, this is a big improvement. Experts say that riding a bike instead of driving a car can make your carbon footprint ten times smaller.
Shave one minute off your shower time
A hot shower is one of life’s pleasures, but it’s also a major carbon-emission culprit. The average showerhead produces 9.5 litres of water per minute, and water heaters work hard to heat up all the H2O. As a result, hot showers generate a quarter pound of carbon each minute. If we all decided to cut our clean routines by just one minute each day, we could save a shocking 9.5 billion kilogram of carbon emissions each year, according to Mother Jones.
Switch to eco-friendly fertilizer
Fertilizer may be crucial to healthy lawns and gardens, but the synthetic store-bought kind, which is filled with nutrient-enhancing nitrogen, dumps loads of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. How does this affect your carbon footprint? Brace yourself: Nitrous oxide is about 300 times as harmful to the environment as carbon dioxide, and it can linger for more than a century. While eco-friendly fertilizers are still in their infancy, a viable alternative is a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. It emits less nitrous oxide into the air, since much of the nitrogen leaks slowly into the soil.
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