The United Nations' Secretary General Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés warned that we only have 11 years left to prevent catastrophe caused by climate change. A tall order, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 45%. This call to action is a matter of life and death indeed, as according to Garcés, “[w]e are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet.” Scientists calculated that at the current rate of carbon emissions, the planet is bound to be 4 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100. If we don’t manage to cut down emissions in the next decade, the Earth may no longer be livable.
It’s overwhelming to see that children all over the world have taken it upon themselves to demand action on climate change. They are demanding governments and multinational corporations to take accountability for the damages they have caused to the environment, and to do something to make up for it. Indeed, corporations have the largest impact on the environment, and governments have the most power to change legislation so that it protects the environment. However, we as individuals should not simply stand around either. Collectively, individuals also have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The average American has a carbon footprint of roughly 19 metric tons. Multiply that to the more than 300 million, and you’ll see that individuals’ impact is not so minuscule. Here are 10 small changes any individual can do to help save the environment.
The production of paper contributes to deforestation, endangering natural habitats, uses a lot of water (10 liters per A4 sheet). Paper waste makes up for a big percentage of waste in landfills. When allowed to rot, it emits greenhouse gas, while when burned or composted, it emits carbon dioxide. Therefore, reducing paper usage and paper waste is just as logical and urgent as reducing plastic.
What you can do: minimize usage of paper as much as possible. Refuse paper bags, reuse or recycle paper, print on paper only when absolutely necessary, and the easiest of all: unsubscribe to junk mail. Going paperless is so easy nowadays because most anything is digital.
The easiest way to maximize energy efficiency is to unplug your appliances and gadgets at night and when you leave the house. Appliances like TVs still consume electricity when left plugged, and all that goes to waste.
Recycle old electronics
Gadgets nowadays also come and go as fast as fast fashion. More often than not, people don’t see old gadgets and electronics as trash. More importantly, not many people know what to do with them. At a time when products are consumed at lightning speed, we as individuals need to be more conscious of what we consume and where our waste goes. We won’t force you to not upgrade your phone or laptop, but when you do upgrade, we suggest bringing old gadgets to special centers buy and recycle old electronics. However, if you can avoid buying the next latest iPhone, we won’t stop you. Similarly, if old gadgets still work, you can look for places with buyback programs or find someone who needs the gadget and give it to them.
Bring your own shopping bag
Containers and packaging made up 29% of solid waste in the US in 2015. There’s a lot of waste from packaging because these are mostly single-use products. We throw them away within the same year, if not the same day, we get them. What you can do: bring your own reusable bag whenever you shop and refuse additional packaging or plastic. You can take an extra step and bring a bag with you every day for any unplanned purchases.
Start composting your food waste
When food waste goes into landfills, it doesn’t get enough air. As the waste breaks down, it creates methane which is bad for the atmosphere. When food waste is composted, it decomposes without producing as much methane. If you have a garden or potted plants in your home, food compost would be great fertilizers. However, if you don’t have plants you can opt to give them away to your neighbors or to your community garden.
Transportation of products is another significant contributor to carbon emissions. Buying locally produced food greatly diminishes carbon emissions. Aside from that, food from the farmer’s market is fresh, cheap, and requires less packaging. Really, shopping locally produced products is an all-in-one package when it comes to being more eco-friendly. Another bonus is you get to support the local economy.
Avoid fast fashion
Fast fashion companies have been the subject of debate for their questionable practices. These include major effects on the environment. Textile dyeing is a major contributor to water pollution globally. Hazardous chemicals released into bodies of water make the water dangerous for neighboring communities and animals. Furthermore, polyester, the most popular fabric used by fast fashion brands, shed microfibers that eventually get eaten by fish and other marine animals. There are a number of substitutes to fast fashion. Second-hand shops offer great clothing options at a cheap price. Alternatively, you can shop from eco-friendly clothing brands that are equally fashionable.
Cooking your own meals not only saves money, but also waste and carbon emissions. Take-out and delivery comes with various packaging that goes straight to the trash bin after dinner. You also don’t add to carbon emissions by not having your food be delivered. Cooking at home complements shopping at the farmers' market for a healthy, eco-friendly meal.
Skip the car
This has been said a million times, but it is worth repeating. Not taking the car comes with a lot of advantages, namely skipping traffic. You can take public transportation or use a ride-sharing app or carpool with your friends or colleagues. And of course, nothing beats riding a bike or walking around. All these options are considerably cheaper than driving and healthier, too.
Offset your carbon footprint
If you are the type of person who has to travel a lot for a living, whether by car or by plane, consider offsetting your carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is basically taking responsibility for your carbon footprint. This involves donating an amount of money that matches your carbon footprint. This will be used to finance studies and/or efforts to further reduce our impact on the environment.
Various organizations offer carbon offsetting. Likewise, airline companies have also started to offer options for their clients to pay for their trips’ carbon footprint. With these developments, caring for the environment is so much more convenient.