Your ecological footprint is the result of many individual choices. There are numerous ways you can reduce your footprint, improve your quality of life, and influence policy making.
One of the first steps to reduce your ecological footprint is to understand the environmental impact of your daily habits and the products you consume on a daily basis. Analysing your trash may help you to realize the type of waste you are producing and to understand what you can change.
Nowadays, the classical ideas of “reduce, reuse and recycle” is not enough in order to be environmentally responsible. It is becoming more and more important to challenge the way in which we consume and the way how things are done. There is an increasing need for people to become conscious consumers and to be more connected with the products we buy, in terms of how they have been produced and what consequences might come from the production process. In this countdown, you can find three ideas to start with. These small actions can have a real impact on the environment by simply adapting some of your habits.
3. Reduce (or eliminate) animal product consumption
There are a few different reasons to reduce animal product consumption. The most popular ones are animal protection, environmental reasons and health reasons. From an environmental impact perspective, we may think in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and land consumption.
The international animal agriculture industry generates roughly 18% of the world´s greenhouse-gas emissions, even more than transportation (approximately 14%). By becoming a vegan or a vegetarian, you can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 1.5 tons’ carbon dioxide per year – t’s worth noting that this is more eco-saving that switching to a hybrid car or using public transport! The livestock industry is not only responsible for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but also for methane (approximately 570 million m3 per day) and nitrous oxide (responsible for 65% of the global emissions). Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 and nitrous oxide has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2 and stays in the atmosphere for approximately 150 years.
Animal agriculture is not only responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions, but also for water consumption. One of the biggest problems we are facing as a species is related to water scarcity. Animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 30% of water consumption in the world. This industry is also responsible for 45% of land occupation and it is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. By giving up or reducing animal product consumption, we could make a positive change, 3 times a day, 365 days a year.
2. Avoid fast fashion
The fashion industry also makes a huge impact on climate change and may be a crucial point to address in order to reduce your environmental footprint.
Fast fashion generates almost disposable items producing tons of waste each second. The average American generates approximately 37 kilograms of textile waste per year. Retailers are making clothes faster than ever to keep up with seasonal trends. Trendy, low-quality and low prize clothes wear out, and go out of style much faster than second-hand stores can keep up with, thus ending up in landfills.
The contribution of the fashion industry to climate change is not only based on the trash we are producing but also on the materials used to make the clothing items. Cotton is one of the most representative fibres and approximately 90% of the cotton is genetically modified, by using vast amounts of chemicals and water in its production. Leather production is another example of a textile linked to a variety of environmental and human health hazards. The leather tanning process is one of the most toxic in all the fashion supply chain. Workers are exposed to harmful chemicals and there’s a high frequency of natural water sources in surrounding areas being polluted by the waste generated, which leads to an increase in diseases for local communities.
The fashion industry has a key role to play in sustainable revolution, by reducing the amount of water, land and energy used to grow, produce and transport fibres used in the manufacture of clothes but also by being more fair and transparent with their consumers and workers. In a capitalist world, the fashion industry would become more responsible throughout the entire supply chain if consumers demand transparency and an active commitment to environmental protection. In this context, the easiest thing we can all do is to slow down, buy less, and buy better.
1. Reduce packaging and single use items
There are products directly designed as single use items, for instance, all the disposable packaging and plastics used to wrap the products or used as decorative elements; but also some products themselves, like plastic bags, water bottles, straws… that are conceived just for a couple of uses.
Bringing your own shopping bag, water bottle and food container when you go out is the simplest way to reduce your environmental footprint. Buying products that use less packaging or buying on bulk is also a good way to reduce your amount of trash – and it is normally cheaper than any other way of buying. All you have to do is plan in advance. If every package could be reduced by 5% it would prevent over 600.000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Let’s focus on plastic bags alone for a moment: Every year more than 500 billion plastic bags are distributed, and less than 3% of those bags are recycled. That is simply due to the fact that sometimes it is more expensive to recycle than to produce a new one, and others because they are made with non-recyclable materials. Plastic bags are typically made of polyethylene and can take up to 1.000 years to biodegrade in landfills. Reducing your contribution to plastic bag pollution is as easy as using a cloth bag – and it makes a huge difference.
Plastic literally surrounds us wherever we are, which in a modern throwaway society means a large amount of the plastic we buy is not kept for very long. It is this single-use plastic made to consume once and easily thrown away that is putting huge amounts of pressure on landfill across the world. It has been suggested that plastic constitutes approximately 90 % of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. Trying to find alternatives to disposables is also a good way to reduce your environmental footprint and you will prevent your trash from staying longer in the planet than you.
As a consumer, you have the opportunity to make your own choices and contribute to a bigger movement. Buying is as important as voting. So remember to vote wisely, and in an everyday basis.