If you know me, you know I am huge on educating individuals about their impact. I truly believe our small steps do make a difference. Carbon emissions and knowing our carbon footprint are intimidating to most people, but that shouldn't give us a reason to ignore them.
Let's break down what it means to calculate your carbon footprint, carbon offsets, ways you can volunteer, the relationship between waste and carbon, and how you can reduce your individual impact. Enjoy!
How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
I get it, it's hard to pin-point how much one person makes day-to-day because we all have different variables, including - diets, lifestyles, travel, geographic location, accessibility to local products, etc. According to nature.org, the typical American produces 16 tons of greenhouse gases per year, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Yikes!
A great way to find out your own carbon footprint and ways you can reduce it is by using this free carbon footprint calculator by Carbon Footprint. I urge everyone to give it a try and fill it in with as much honesty as possible. Chances are, you are going to be shocked by the results but don't let that discourage you, let it inspire you! Now that you have the baseline, you can start finding ways to reduce your overall impact.
Carbon Offsets, are they the answer?
Personally, I am not 100% sold on carbon offsets but I still use them. Let me explain...
Carbon offsets are when you buy credits or 'offsets' which fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are supposed to compensate for the extra GHGs you emit into the atmosphere, that you can't get away from producing like driving, flying, buying necessities, and using electricity.
Offsets are meant to be used as a last resort; when you have already looked at your lifestyle or business and reduced GHG wherever you could. For example, looking into energy-efficient lighting, low-flow faucets, reducing consumption, reducing outputs, etc. However, some companies and individuals are now using them to continue to pollute freely.
Since they are 'offsetting' their carbon, they believe it doesn't matter how much GHG they are putting into the atmosphere. Which is false. We aren't going to get anywhere as a community if we continue to believe that 'business as usual' is working.
I am far from perfect. I have to travel a great deal for work, but I make sure to offset my travel and don't fly when I don't need to. Sadly, it seems that we are starting to take advantage of this alternative and make it a 'solution.' When truly, it should be the last implementation instead of the first. Buying more carbon offsets doesn't give you the right to continue to pollute more.
Volunteering to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
There are numerous groups and organizations all across the globe that are doing great work in the carbon field. Most of them, if not all, are always looking for volunteers to help further their mission. A go-to resource I use is 1% For The Planet's non-profit partners page. It's a great way to find groups that are doing a stellar job and have been vetted by the 1% For The Planet team.
You can filter your search for non-profit groups and put 'climate' in or whatever topic you are most interested in. A personal favorite of mine is 350.org. They are a non-profit organization local to Vermont (my home state). 350.org is all about working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.
How Your Waste Relates to Your Carbon Footprint
I would say that most people forget that our waste consumption is linked to our carbon footprint. People tend to put waste in a completely different category and forget about its carbon relation.
Think about all the garbage you go through in a day. How was that waste created? How many resources did it take to produce that product? How far did that product have to travel to get to your house? All of these different variables and more, go into the carbon analysis of any given product. That's why it is incredibly important to purchase things that are durable and are not single-use (if you can avoid it).
It takes a great deal of energy and finite resources to make a product that is only going to be used once before it makes its way into the trash can. Once you throw something out in your trash can, it then gets hauled all the way to the landfill, emitting more greenhouse gases along the way.
This is a problem because landfills within the United States are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions. To put things in perspective, methane is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In 2018, landfills accounted for approximately 15.1 percent of Methane emissions. On top of all of this, the methanes released into the atmosphere from landfills represent a lost opportunity to capture methane and use it as a significant energy resource.
How You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint Today
*. Since we are in a pandemic right now, specific tips that I usually offer are currently not available.
Some general rules to go by are the following:
Reuse what you already have
The less you buy, the less waste you create. Therefore the less carbon you are emitting into the atmosphere.
When food shopping, shop in the bulk section with your reusable bulk bags. If bulk shopping isn't available to you, buy products in large quantities instead of single-use servings.
For example, switch out the single-serving apple sauce containers for a large jar of applesauce. Switch out the individual yogurt cups for the larger container that you can reuse afterward.
Shop local & in Season
If you have the ability to do so, shop local and shop in season. The average meal travels 1,500 miles to get to your plate.
By buying local food, even if it is just one item, you are significantly reducing your carbon footprint.
Practice mindful shopping
Most of us have the ability to shop for products at any hour of any day. The constant access to products results in unmindful shopping, which leads to overconsumption.
Before making a purchase, give yourself a day or two and see if you still need that item. Instead of looking for a quick way to satisfy yourself.
The best thing I did was give up shopping on Amazon. It's incredible to see how many things I can truly live without when I don't have the 'click and buy' option at my fingertips.
Your Individual Impact Matters
Your small changes do matter. Yes, huge corporations are our biggest polluters, but ultimately, we are the ones supporting them by buying their products or using their services. Think about that. We do have the power.
Choose where you decide to put your consumer dollars towards. Think about what stores you are purchasing before purchasing it, is it a necessity or is it unnecessary?
Change the way you think about waste. Just because something is considered single-use, doesn't mean that it actually is single-use. Look at Ziplocs, they are single-use products, but if you wash and sanitize them, they can be reused multiple times (except if you are storing meat.)
These simple changes add up to a more significant impact. The average American produced 4.5 pounds of waste daily, that's over 1,600 pounds per year. Imagine if we all tried to reduce our waste by one fourth, collectively that would be a HUGE impact.
Every day we are given choices, which means, every day, we can opt for a more sustainable one (when possible.)