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.
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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 traveler by packing only what you absolutely need and by choosing a smart carry-on, like this one from Solgaard, 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. Here are some other easy swaps that can reduce your carbon footprint.
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 tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019, according to the Center for International Environmental Law. Luckily, there are lots of eco-conscious skin-care products out there, like these reusable microfiber face wipes by croon. Each wipe can be used up to 400 times to remove makeup, cleanse, and exfoliate. Best of all, croon’s packaging is made from 100 percent recycled materials—and not a trace of plastic.
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 1 percent 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. Sign up for the services of a site like DirectMail.com or USJunkMail.com to get your name off mailing lists and stop getting most of that unwanted mail.
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 tee you purchase from its inventory of chic basics. Slip on a super soft tee made from sustainably harvested beechwood fibers—free of pesticides, biodegradable, and luxuriously soft, plus 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 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air, converting it into oxygen you can breathe for two years. To keep your trees in tip-top shape, check out these 20 secrets your arborist won’t tell you.
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 percent, according to Carbon Fund. Making sure your car is running smoothly helps, too.
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 percent 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, like the award-winning chocolate company ME to WE, which ensures that farmers earn a fair wage and that education is accessible to children in Ecuador’s local communities.
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 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Some companies are doing the thinking for you. Take Rumpl’s NanoLoft puffy blankets, for instance, each of which is now made from 60 post-consumer plastic bottles! We bet you didn’t know you could upcycle or recycle these 11 items.
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, like these from purifyou, which are ethically manufactured using raw, organic, unbleached cotton. You can also use these multitasking satchels for laundering delicates, carrying toiletries, or stashing office supplies. Don’t miss these 50 facts that will make you stop using plastic.
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. RightWater captures water from natural springs in 100 percent recyclable aluminum, BPA-free cans, which have a carbon footprint up to 21 percent lower than plastic. What about glass, you ask? That’s another viable alternative, and FOUND Beverage has it covered. The brand’s sparkling mineral water comes in 100 percent recycled glass bottles. Here’s some more good news: These 22 major companies are getting rid of plastic for good.
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. Pound the pavement in a pair of Allbirds sneakers instead. The ethical company produces stylish kicks using responsibly harvested, renewable materials and sound shipping methods. Looking for fancier footwear that’s gentle on the planet? Tread lightly in a pair of stylish, sustainable shoes from the Pacific.
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. Here are some small everyday changes you can make to cut back on air pollution.
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. So stock up on these bamboo clasps, and then let the fresh air and sunshine do what they do best.
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.
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. Start with a brand like True Source Honey, which is sourced right here in the U.S.A.
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 tons 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. Here are some other simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
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 2.5 gallons 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 20.9 billion pounds 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, one viable alternative is a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite. It emits less nitrous oxide into the air, since much of the nitrogen leaks slowly into the soil. Don’t miss these other eco-friendly ways to make your backyard even “greener.”