Last week we outlined the first part of a practical guide to reducing your individual carbon footprint. We asked you to consider the impact of your travel—car, bus and flying. We also talked about what you eat, especially the big contribution of emissions from red meat, as well as what is best to eat.
We finish up the guide by N.Y. Times writer Livia Albeck-Ripka by summarizing the contribution of what you eat and continue on with the impact of waste, what you can do in your home, the positive merits of recycling, and how to dress sustainably.
Weighing Your Options
In the case of food, most greenhouse gases happen during production, rather than transportation. What you eat is more important than where it comes from. Eating local is not necessarily the answer.
On average, Americans waste around 40% of the food they buy. Here are some simple steps to cut waste and save you money:
- Taking stock—organize your fridge regularly to see what you have and make shopping lists before you go to the store.
- Be wary of bulk—low priced foods aren’t a good idea if you don’t end up eating it before it goes bad.
- Plan—don’t cook more than you can eat and adapt recipes to your needs and the number of people at the table.
- Get creative—reuse leftovers instead of throwing them away.
- Doggie bag—take home half of over-sized restaurant servings.
- Skip disposable dishes—washing dinnerwear by hand or in a dishwasher is more environmentally friendly.
- If you order take out, wash and rinse the plastic containers that food often comes in.
In Your Home—Save Energy and Money
The average American home uses 25% of its energy to heat spaces, 13% to heat water, 11% for cooking, and the rest on appliances according to the National Resources Defense Council. Making even small changes in any of these areas can make a big difference:
- Turn down the heat—use a smart thermostat and/or keep blinds closed to keep temperatures stable inside.
- Lower the water heater—120 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient.
- Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Turning off appliances at the power outlet will save even more energy.
- Stream movies through your smart TV, not your game console and you’ll save 90% of the energy.
- Use a laptop rather than a desktop computer. It uses less energy to run and charge.
- Replace lights—LED lights use 85% less energy and lasts up to 25x longer than incandescent lights.
- Set your fridge and freezer according to the U.S. Energy Dept.
- 30 to 38 degrees for the fridge and 0 degrees for the freezer, according to the U.S. Energy Dept.
- Look for an Energy Star symbol when buying new products—it means this product has met energy efficiency standards for the U.S.
How to Recycle
Americans generate roughly about 258 million tons of trash each year. 159 million tons, about 60%, ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to a 2014 report from the EPA. Americans recycled and composted the 69 million tons of municipal solid waste that some year which served the same amount of energy as generated by 25 million homes.
Here are some tips to make sure your waste ends up in the right place:
- Look for a number inside a triangle on the bottom of plastic containers. Those indicate what kind of resin was used and whether the container is recyclable in your city or state.
- Empty and rinse food containers before putting them in the recycling bin.
- Recycle paper, steel and tin cans.
- Before throwing anything away, ask, “Can I reuse or repair this”?
- Donate broken or working electronics.
- Contact your local municipality or car dealer to recycle dry cell or car batteries.
Make Your Home Energy Efficient
Small upgrades to the insulation of design or your home can help reduce your carbon footprint. Before starting, you can do an energy audit or have a professional come in and score your home’s energy efficiency.
- Seal your home well—including the attic, windows or doors where heat and A/C can escape.
- Insulate your home to help keep it temperatures stable.
- Install a cool roof that reflects light away from your house.
- Plant trees and shrubs around your hose. This is an easy and pretty inexpensive fix, especially for older homes.
- Check for incentives you may be eligible for, like tax credits or utility rebates.
How to Dress Sustainability
According to the World Resources Institute, 20 items of clothing are manufactured per person per year. As the price of clothes drops, the environmental costs increase.
Minimize your impact when you purchase clothes:
- Look for a fair-trade or similar logo which indicates the clothes were made sustainably.
- Shop vintage—you’ll save money and the environment.
- Ask yourself: “How many times will I wear this?” Don’t buy clothes that will wear out quickly or you’ll barely wear.
- Consider the fabric—think wool over synthetics.
You shop for a lot more than clothes; groceries, home goods, toys, etc. Sometimes you shop and/or can’t avoid doing things that contribute to your carbon footprint, but you can support projects and initiatives that affect these initiatives.
Try to make as many contributions as you can.