Do Your Part to Lower Your Carbon Footprint in 2021 by Taking These Easy Steps

We all have to step in to prevent climate change. Here are a few easy but impactful things you can do this year to help the effort.

Most people are aware of the severe threats that climate change has imposed, and will continue to impose, on our planet. It is also known that to prevent the spread of climate change, humanity must significantly reduce its carbon footprint, or generation of greenhouse gases, which become trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and cause its temperature to increase. 

According to The Nature Conservancy’s, the average carbon footprint per person living on Earth is about four tons, a number that would need to be reduced to two tons by 2050 in order to have a shot at preventing a two degree Celsius increase in global temperatures. The average American produces a carbon footprint of 16 tons per person. 

These statistics can make reducing your carbon footprint seem like a monstrous task, especially when you think about the approximate 7.7 billion people living on the planet who all need to do their part to prevent the Earth’s demise. Yes, thinking on this large scale gets overwhelming very easily. Instead, you can focus on how to reduce your own carbon footprint, taking what seems like an unmanageable situation and putting it into your control. 

Reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t necessarily mean drastically changing your lifestyle. In fact, there are several small tasks you can take and habits you can build that will reduce your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. This year, while you think about ways to improve your own life, also consider taking some time to reflect on some of these easy ways you can take that will reduce your carbon footprint and improve the Earth’s life. 

How big is my carbon footprint?

A graphic in the shape of a foot that shows the different components of a person's carbon footprint.
Many aspects of your lifestyle contribute to your carbon footprint, including the type of car you drive, the amount of heat and electricity your household consumes, and your individual eating habits. Image courtesy of World Culture Network.

You may be wondering how much of your lifestyle you need to change in order to do your part by reducing your carbon footprint. Fortunately figuring this part out is pretty effortless--several websites will calculate your carbon footprint for free. The calculation takes into account your travel habits, your diet, the number of people in your household, your electricity and heating expenses, as well as a few other categories. After calculating your carbon footprint, the Nature Conservancy offers the option to see how you rank compared to the average carbon footprint, which gives you an idea of how much of your lifestyle you may want to change in order to be more eco-friendly.

Things to avoid doing

Lanes of cars stuck in traffic.
Checking traffic reports and figuring out the quickest way to get somewhere before leaving your house can reduce the amount of time you will sit waiting in traffic. This will also lower your carbon footprint because it will diminish the amount of time your car is running. TImage courtesy of ZF.

Driving in traffic

The longer your car is on, the more CO2 is released into the atmosphere. By checking traffic reports and alternative routes before you leave for your destination, you can not only avoid waiting unnecessarily, you can also treat the Earth a little nicer in the process. If you’re willing to make a little bit of a larger sacrifice, in some cases, like when hitting rush hour traffic is inevitable, you can choose to leave a little earlier or later than you normally do in order to avoid sitting . This change will also improve your personal life, as less time sitting in the car means more time to do the more important things that you enjoy.

Eating meat and dairy

Raising animals that produce red meat requires a significant amount of land, water, and food. Cows, in addition, emit the greenhouse gas methane into the air. Some studies show that beef can give off more than six pounds of carbon dioxide per serving. Eliminating meat and dairy entirely can be a drastic lifestyle change, especially if they have a heavy presence in your diet. However, making an effort to limit your consumption to some extent can be a great way to begin reducing your carbon footprint.

Wasting water

The less water you use, the less energy is needed to clean, pump and treat and heat water overall. There are several ways you can conserve water in your house and therefore reduce your carbon footprint, most of which include paying more attention to all the ways in which water is being unnecessarily wasted. For starters, encourage yourself and other members in your household to turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth and scrubbing your hands with soap. Also be aware of any faucets that may be dripping after being shut off. If you’d like to take more substantial measures, replace your shower head with a low flow option and make a note to purchase water efficient toilet bowls, faucets, and dishwashers when the time to get rid of the ones you already have.

Using plastic water bottles

Plastic water bottles are fairly cheap and convenient to use, but when it comes to the environment, they pose a big risk. It takes a significant amount of energy to produce plastic, and some experts say that its incineration can create 56 gigatons of carbon by 2050. Nixing the plastic water bottles you buy at the supermarket for a reusable one is much more eco-friendly. Not to mention, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to finding a reusable water bottle that will reduce your carbon footprint as well as mesh well with your style and preference.

Things to start doing

A woman looking through shirts on a clothes rack.
Thrifting your clothes instead of buying them new in stores will reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills, as well as the amount of money you spend on looking stylish. Image courtesy of Lifebridge Northshore.

Recycling (the correct way)

When people think of helping the environment, they often think of recycling. There’s no doubt that recycling limits the greenhouse gases that are expelled into the atmosphere, but not everyone knows the correct way to recycle. When recycling, remember to follow the instructions posted on recycling bins and to avoid throwing food, liquids, plastic cups and plates, or straws in them. Check the bottom of plastic containers for a number on them--if it’s a one or a two then it can definitely be recycled, but if it’s between a three and a seven check to see if your community will recycle it. If you’re unsure whether something can be recycled, throw it out. This will prevent mistakes that can cause recyclable items to wind up going to landfills. 

Conserving electricity

Reducing the amount of electricity your household consumes, and thereby lowering the amount of energy you’re consuming, can be another easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Start by making sure you turn off all the lights after leaving a room and powering down appliances when they are not in use. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED lights can use up to 85% less energy and last up to 25 times longer. Lastly, take a few seconds to put your desktop computer to sleep when you’re done using it and to power off the monitor. These suggestions, while easy and requiring virtually not effort, will help you cut down on your carbon footprint without even realizing it.

Thrifting

Buying clothes at thrift stores does more than just save you a couple bucks on a shirk, it also helps to reduce your carbon footprint since you’re not buying new clothing items that need to be made with resources from scratch. The more clothing that you adopt from a stranger’s closet, the less fabric that ends up wasting away in landfills. 

Paying attention to what you do need and what you don’t need

In the highly materialistic society we live in, ask yourself what is a necessary and durable product that will stand the test of time and what is a less needed item that doesn’t fulfill a meaningful not functional purpose. Part of the process of reducing your carbon footprint means becoming comfortable with minimalism, the idea that less is actually more. By choosing to buy and use less items, you can prioritize the clothes, momentos, decorations, etc., that hold significant sentimental value and meaning. 

The human race can’t lower its carbon footprint and therefore reduce the effects of climate change unless people are willing to take individual action in their own lives. Saving the planet is a big and overwhelming concept, but there are several things you can do in your life that will actively help lower your carbon footprint and, in return, create a safe place where future generations can live without fear of losing their planet.

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Kaitlyn Nuebel

Kaitlyn Nuebel is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh with double majors in nonfiction writing & communication and rhetoric.
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