Climate change is hurting us all. With frequent massive floods, landslides and overflowing rivers, Honduras has been named the country “most affected by extreme weather events” in the world by Germanwatch, an international environmental organization. Mexico is facing a water crisis, with its capital — Mexico City — literally sinking as its drinking water wastes away. Most recently, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in what was the deadliest natural disaster in modern US history.
These extreme events, which have led to massive displacement, food insecurity and increased violence, are directly linked to climate change. While green politicians, like the recently sworn-in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, push for environmentally responsible policies in government, we, everyday people, also play a major part in preventing climate dooms. By changing small habits and buying more environmentally-friendly alternatives to the products we need and love, we can reduce our own personal impact on the environment and, as a whole, have a larger positive impact on our planet.
With that, here are 8 easy and effective ways to decrease your carbon footprint right now.
1. Recycle Everything
If you’re interested in being more eco-friendly, then chances are that you’re already recycling your water bottles, beer cans and newspapers. But just about any item in your home could be recycled. For instance, all types of batteries can be recycled, with stores like Whole Foods, Ikea and Best Buy accepting these items. Don’t have a local drop-off? Battery Solutions accepts them through the mail. You can also recycle books, electronics, clothes, furniture, eyewear, cars and just about anything else by donating them to your local thrift shop, shelter or charity or selling them on Amazon, eBay, consignment shops or junk yards. Before you toss something in the trash, take a moment to think if you could recycle it instead.
2. Cut Back on Disposable Items
Take a glance around your home and workspace and note how many disposable items you have. Let me guess: a lot. Without realizing, we collect, almost daily, a ton of plastic items, but we don’t have to. There are SO many options for reusable necessities. Rack up on tote bags to use when shopping instead of plastic and paper store bags. Try menstruation cups, period underwear or washable period pads rather than tampons. Start using shampoo and conditioner bars instead of accumulating countless plastic hair care bottles. Purchase washable produce bags, or ditch the bags entirely, rather than using those difficult-to-open, throw-out-instantly grocery produce bags. At work, take your daily coffee in a ceramic mug, drink out of a working glass or reusable bottle, sip your mid-day smoothie or Frappe through a metal straw, say no to the takeout plastic forks and spoons and use reusable utensils instead. Just like that, you’ve reduced your plastic waste.
3. Opt for Paperless
This is one of the easiest, and most cost-effective, changes you can make. We live in an electronic world, so take advantage of that. Opt for paperless billing and pay your bills online. Jot down notes on your cell phone, not a Post-it. Keep a digital journal, planner and calendar. Save on rolls of paper and clean with cloth, cutting up old t-shirts to create a rag. Remember: The less paper you use, the less demand there will be to produce paper and the more trees we’ll have in our forests.
4. Eat Less Meat
Eating less, or no, meat isn’t just good for your body — it’s also very good for the environment. That’s because 60 percent of agriculture’s massive and harmful greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy. Currently, more than 30 percent of our planet’s surface is being used to raise and support livestock. Cutting back on meat can reduce the overall emission of Global Warming Potential (GWP) gases of CO2. According to the Washington Post, if you just opted for beans instead of steak for a meal once a week for a year, you’d get 331 kilograms of CO2 out of the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to avoiding the burning of 38 gallons of gas.
5. Reduce Your Food Waste
Talking about food, we can all be less wasteful. Did you know that 38 million tons of food is wasted in the US every year? That’s more than the weight of 104 Empire State Buildings. Not only is this expensive — about $165 billion worth of waste annually — but it’s horrible for our environment. It takes a lot of resources to grow and produce food, and it’s almost impossible to recover that once the food ends up in landfills. Farmers and producers use around 25 percent of all of our country’s fresh water just to produce goods that are going to go in the trash. When this wasted food makes it to landfills, it emits carbon dioxide — and big numbers, too. According to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, the US’ total carbon footprint of food wastage is about 4.4. billion tons. To put that into perspective: that’s more greenhouse gas than any one country, except the US and China, emits — just on food waste. You can help reduce this by shopping smarter, freezing foods before they go bad and making meals using leftovers.
6. Cut Down On Energy
Energy conservation is one of the most important steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint — and it’s not that hard and could save you some money. Turn off the light switch and open the blinds. Unplug appliances and electronics when they aren’t being used. Limit your AC use and open a window. Wash clothes on cold. Use a drying rack. Run the dishwasher or washing machine only when there is a full load. When you can, use your microwave more than your oven, because it requires about half of the energy than an oven. When your light bulb is dead, replace it with compact fluorescent light bulbs, an inexpensive and eco-friendly solution.
7. Buy Local
Supporting local small businesses not only helps your economy and fosters community, it also reduces your carbon foot. That’s because there is less carbon created for these goods than there are for items that need to be transported to you or to a larger corporation near you.
8. Travel Different
Talking about traveling, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide every single year. To minimize car use, take public transportation, have your groceries delivered through van services in your area, which takes goods to multiple homes at a time, and, if you’re physically able, walk or bike to your destination.
9. Use Indoor Houseplants
Did you know that plants are the best natural regulators of carbon dioxide? Not only will a houseplant make your home more aesthetically pleasing but it will also absorb carbon dioxide — and other harmful toxins — and replace them with clean oxygen, decreasing your carbon footprint while simultaneously improving the air quality in your home.