A person's carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide and methane) they emit in a year through activities like driving a car, consuming new products and using fossil fuels. According to the EPA, greenhouse gases from human activities have been the most significant contributor to climate change since the mid-twentieth century. The emissions target for long-term sustainable living on earth is an average of 2 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. Unfortunately, in industrialized nations, the average person currently has a carbon footprint of 11 tons.
You can estimate your own carbon footprint using the Environmental Protection Agency's free, Online Household Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Being eco-friendly doesn't need to involve radical lifestyle changes. The following tips for reducing your carbon footprint are simple to implement and inexpensive. In fact, many of them can save you money while helping to save the planet.
Change your light bulbs
If your electricity is generated from coal, the power used by a single incandescent light bulb over one year would require the production of up to 100 pounds of carbon dioxide. One of the easiest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint is by replacing your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) or LED bulbs. Both types of low-energy light bulbs use less than 20% of the electricity of incandescent bulbs and last up to 15 times longer. While changing your light bulbs requires an initial investment, over time you'll save money on your electricity bills and the cost of replacement bulbs.
Adjust your thermostat
If your thermostat controls both heating and air conditioning, you can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1,050 pounds per year by turning the temperature down by 3 degrees F in winter and up by 3 degrees F in summer. If you have a programmable thermostat, you can reduce emissions even more by setting the timer to lower the temperature during times when your family is away from home or asleep. In the winter, wear warm layers and only heat your house to the lowest comfortable temperature. In summer, use electric fans to keep cool and reserve air conditioning for the hottest days.
Eat locally and seasonally
The EPA estimates that 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from food production and transport. Seek out farm shops or farmers' markets in your area and buy direct from the producer. Farmers often sell fresh, seasonal produce at bargain prices. When you do buy fruit, vegetables, meat or seafood from supermarkets check the label for the country of origin and avoid imported foodstuffs.
Avoid food waste
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 40% of all edible food in the US is thrown away. Many people believe that because food waste is biodegradable it isn't harmful to the environment. However, as food decays in landfill sites it gives off methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plan your weekly meals, shop with a list and only buy what you need. Store leftovers in the freezer. Use excess fresh vegetables to make soup and excess fresh fruit to make smoothies.
Become fast fashion free
Discount fashion shops and online fashion influencers have led to the rise of fast fashion - cheap, trendy, poorly made clothing that is often thrown out after being worn on one or two occasions. According to the charity Oxfam, 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill every week. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing the equivalent of 1.2 billion tons of carbon per year. Choose second-hand clothes from thrift shops or swap shops. Use the money you save to buy a few well-made high-quality new items that will last for years. Give items you no longer wear to charity.
Pass on plastic
As waste plastic breaks down it releases the greenhouse gasses methane and ethylene. Even plastic deposited in recycling bins often ends up in landfill because local municipalities don't have the infrastructure to recycle it. You can reduce the amount of waste plastic you generate by opting for alternative, reusable materials. Use cloth tote bags rather than plastic grocery bags. Fill an aluminum water bottle from the tap rather than buying water in plastic bottles. Buy groceries packaged in more easily recyclable cardboard or glass.
Choose greener transport
Collectively, cars and trucks account for about a fifth of US carbon emissions. For every gallon of gas used, a vehicle will emit around 19 pounds of global-warming gases. Even more carbon is emitted during the extraction, production and transport of fuel. You can reduce a large percentage of your carbon footprint by commuting via public transport. Cycling to work is a healthy option for yourself as well as the planet. If public transport is limited in your area and you have a long commute, carpooling with colleagues could reduce your combined carbon emissions.
Plants consume carbon dioxide; so planting trees, bushes, flowers or vegetables is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. A fully-grown tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon every year. Planting trees in your yard might reduce green-house gasses even more. The shade and insulation they provide could allow you to use less energy for heating and cooling your home. If you live in an apartment, consider planting a balcony garden or window boxes. You could also join in with community tree planting or gardening events.
While governments and industries have major roles to play in reducing climate change and global warming, we can all do our part. If everyone made minor changes to their daily routines and greener choices as consumers, the collective carbon savings could have a huge impact on the earth's ecosystem.