New Year, Same Recycling Habits? 5 Creative (But Realistic) Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Author: Stacy Corneau
Most of us are happy to say goodbye to 2020. From the pandemic wreaking havoc on our daily lives, to global protests in support of racial equality on the back of tragedy, to political uncertainties, last year was a fight for many. But the beginning of a new year is full of promise.
A new year gives us the opportunity to make a change and to step forward in meaningful ways. A new year brings rest, hope, and revitalization. In other words: it’s that time to create your new year resolutions and start achieving your 2021 goals.
New year resolutions are not one size fits all. They are deeply personal, reflecting who you are and what impact you want to have – on yourself and your community. If you’ve been wondering how you can have an impact on the environment by reducing your carbon footprint, below are a few resolutions that may be for you (beyond your parents’ “reduce, reuse, recycle” – no offence, mom and dad).
Before we get into them, what is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by our actions, such as the creation, use, and end-of-life of products or services. It includes various gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. These gases trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in global warming. Quite a few things can contribute to a carbon footprint, but on an individual level the majority will be linked to food, housing, and transportation. For example, biking to work will result in a very different carbon footprint than driving.
Is reducing your carbon footprint a new year’s resolution? Here are five creative, COVID-19 appropriate, and realistic ways to reduce your carbon footprint in 2021.
1) Eat More Sustainably
Eating local and less meat is better for the environment. According to the University of British Columbia, animal agriculture accounts for 18 per cent of all greenhouse gases. A number of things contribute to these emissions, from energy use to the methane from the animals. As of 2018, 6.4 million Canadians were already reducing or eliminating meat, and over 32 per cent were contemplating reducing their meat consumption within the next six months.
Eating locally, sustainably grown food can also reduce your carbon footprint. When food isn’t flown or driven thousands of miles to get to your plate, the impact on greenhouse gases is much lower. Eating local can also support sustainable agricultural practices, as consumers want transparency along each step of the supply chain.
Are we suggesting eliminating meat from your diet completely and eating only locally sourced foods? No. For many, this simply isn’t sustainable or realistic. But consider having Meatless Mondays, replacing one meat meal a day with a plant-based alternative, and buying locally-sourced meats from farmers or visiting farmer’s markets in the warmer months for your produce.
2) Waste Less Food
Food waste happens to the best of us. Feeling energetic on the weekend, we get a bit overzealous with our grocery list, commit to making complex recipes, and by Thursday something in the back of the fridge has grown legs. Sound familiar?
In Canada, 58 per cent of all food produced is lost or wasted (that’s 35.5 million tonnes!). At the consumer level, about 2.38 million tonnes – over $10 billion worth – is lost. What does that mean for your budget, though? Each year, households waste $1,766 to avoidable food loss.
But your wallet isn’t the only thing hurting. In Canada, about 56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions are created from food waste. Food rotting in landfills emit methane gas, something that’s 25 per cent more toxic to the environment than carbon dioxide. All this waste puts pressure on the food supply chain, from production to shipment, to supply communities with more food as higher levels are thrown away.
How can you cut down on your household’s food waste? Before heading to the grocers, know what’s in your pantry and freezer first. It may sound simple but taking stock of what you already have and putting together a grocery list can help eliminate unnecessary purchases and waste. Meal prepping (and knowing what can freeze well!) is also a great way to avoid throwing food in the trash. You don’t need to commit to prepping a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners though; starting with something realistic to your lifestyle will be much easier to maintain in the long run.
3) Analyze Your Energy Bills
Ask yourself: when was the last time that you sat down to review your energy bill and consumption? Turning down your heat when away from home and using cooler water helps. LED or energy efficient lightbulbs use less energy. Replacing appliances? Replace old fridges or stoves with energy efficient versions (and these tips can help you save money).
4) Dress to Impress (and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint)
Even though we’re staying home to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many of us still want to look cute (from the waist up, anyway). Fast fashion, which is the clothing created cheaper and faster in large quantities following trends more than seasons, not only feeds our consumerism but also hurts the planet.
With the increase in clothing production, environmental stressors, such as water pollution, happen more often. It takes a whopping 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt (the equivalent of two and a half years worth of drinking water per person). Clothing and textile production are carbon intensive, emitting more greenhouse gases than shipping and aviation combined.
Slow or sustainable fashion is an environmentally friendly alternative, with clothing made of much better and longer-lasting material than what you’d find in a $10 t-shirt. Some sustainable fashion can have higher price tags, though this isn’t always the case. But if you’d like a fashionable way to lower your carbon footprint, sustainable clothing may be for you. Other options also include thrift shopping or buying vintage!
5) Speak Up
These suggestions are things you can take on at an individual or household level. If you have ideas to help your community lower their carbon footprint, you can contact your MP.