As the climate crisis becomes more severe every day and the global commitment to changes is hanging in the balance, there are things that we can do that will have an impact on climate change one small step at a time. During this holiday season, be mindful of your consumerism. Take the journey to zero waste by choosing to be conscious consumers in every aspect of your daily lives as well as goods and gifts purchased.
Climate Change and the Consequences
Depending on where you live, you are experiencing climate change in a different way. You may not be aware of how your environment is changing or you may be remarkably aware of how your environment is changing based on weather patterns that have impacted your life. One of the most obvious consequences of our planet warming and changing is extreme weather including stronger hurricanes and tornados, heavier flooding, more wildfires, and widespread drought.
This year in China, ferocious floods forced more than 1m to relocate; fires ravaged Greece all summer, blotting out the sun; heatwaves killed almost 700 people in Canada and 600 in America. Meanwhile, Russia reported the largest fires in its history, while Texas grappled with unprecedented snow. Record-shattering high temperatures have been recorded everywhere, from Spain to Siberia. — Economist Magazine
The consequences are visible and not to be ignored any longer. To better understand the severity, costs and lives lost, see this analysis from the Center for Climate and Emergency Solutions. And although the statistics are staggering, it is not too late to address the situation which is exactly what the world leaders are currently discussing. However, as we head into the holiday season, there are things that we can do as consumers as well. Start with mindful spending at home and in stores while making changes one step at a time.
Reducing your Carbon Footprint Through Zero Waste
Carbon footprint is defined as the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by individuals, organizations, events, or products. The gas most commonly emitted by humans include methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases. These gasses trap heat in the atmosphere which is causing the planet to warm.
The majority of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing, and food. Making an impact on your personal carbon footprint will require reducing the amount of energy you use in your home, and when you travel as well as choices on how you spend and what you eat. To put it simply, to make the biggest impact, reduce waste to zero wherever and whenever possible. To measure your current carbon footprint follow this exercise.
What is Zero Waste?
The term Zero Waste has evolved over the years, but a recent definition has been updated and adopted by the Zero Waste International alliance. The statement of meaning is this:
Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health. —ZWIA
It’s a challenging prospect but can have a tremendous impact on climate change even as consumers. Small changes and considerations will make all the difference starting with travel and including how we heat our houses, what we eat and how we shop. Let’s start the journey to zero waste by breaking it down.
How to Make Changes in Your TRAVEL
The obvious zero-waste answer for transportation is to ride a bike or take mass transit. However, if that is not practical for your everyday especially during the holiday season when we are traveling more often for shopping or celebration. If you have to drive, be conscious of how much you drive and the following NY Times tips for when you drive.
• Go easy on the gas and brakes — driving efficiently can help to reduce emissions. Drive “like you have an egg under your foot,” recommends Brian West, an expert in fuel and engine research from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which researches energy use and solutions in the United States.
• Regularly service your car to keep it more efficient.
• Check your tires. Keeping tires pumped correctly can reduce emissions. “Low tire pressure will hurt your fuel economy,” Mr. West said.
• Air conditioning and intensive city driving can make emissions creep up. Cut down on these as often as possible.
• Use cruise control on long drives — in most cases, this can help to save gas.
• Don’t weigh your car down with extra things that you don’t need on your trip.
• Carpool — this way, you’re splitting emissions between the number of people in the car.
You can also reduce your carbon footprint by choosing mass transit in your area and by taking fewer long flights. If you fly for business and can’t avoid the trips, there are options to offset your carbon footprint by donating money to sustainable projects. Some airlines will offer this option but if they don’t, you can use a service provided by these organizations: Atmosfair or Terrapass.
How to Make Changes in Your HOME
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American’s energy use looks like this:
• 25 % energy use is heat rooms
• 13 % energy used to heat water
• 11 % energy used to cool rooms
• The remainder is used on appliances
While some changes might require new appliances or features to your home, even small changes that don’t require investment can make a difference.
Top 10 Actions at home that Impact Climate Change
1. Turn down the heat. Use a programmable or smart thermostat. Keep blinds closed to help keep temperature stable inside.
2. Turn down your water heater — 120 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient.
3. Turn off lights and appliances when you’re not using them. Turn off appliances at the power outlet to reduce even more energy. Putting them to sleep is second best.
4. Stream movies through your smart TV, not your game console. Smart TVs and their plugins use just a few watts to stream movies, Mr. Horowitz said, but if you use your game console, energy use is about 10 times higher, because they aren’t optimized to play films.
5. Buy a laptop, not a desktop computer. Laptops take less energy to charge and run.
6. Replace lights. LED lights use up to 85 percent less energy, last up to 25 times longer, and are cheaper to run than incandescent lights. About two billion sockets in the United States still have an energy-wasting bulb in them, said Mr. Horowitz. “This is a massive opportunity that we could change almost overnight,” he said.
7. Don’t set your fridge and freezer temperatures lower than necessary. The United States Department of Energy recommends around 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the fresh food compartment and 0 degrees for freezers. (And unplug that old fridge in the garage when you don’t need it to chill anything.)
8. Replace old fridges. They are “energy hogs” according to Mr. Horowitz, and can cost you up to $100 extra per year to run. “If it’s 15 to 20 years old,” he said, “it’s a no-brainer to recycle it.”
9. Seal your home well and insulate. Trouble spots can include the attic, windows, and doors, where heat and cool can escape.
10. Plant shrubs and trees around your home. This is an easy, and pretty, insulation fix, especially for older homes.
How to Make Changes in Your DIET
Most of the impact on the carbon footprint comes from production. It is common knowledge that livestock production and processing are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses and it is not just the methane released from the animals. The amount of land, feed, and water are considerable as well. Eliminating red meat from your diet will make a difference. According to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, a plant-based diet can reduce your carbon emission to a ½ pound per serving vs. 6 pounds per serving of beef. Conscious decisions on the path to zero waste include the following:
• Eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans, less carbon-intensive crops.
• Do not replace meat with dairy which can be as carbon-intensive as beef.
• Deep net industrial fishing can emit as much as beef and can harm marine species.
• Waste Less by planning, freezing, organizing, and avoiding bulk.
• Eat Local by considering where food is coming from and what it takes to get there.
Eating only locally grown food for one year would save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, but eating just one vegetarian meal a week for a year saves 160 miles more than that, — Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
When it comes to making changes, we are surrounded by choices. As we have shown, your choices as consumers are not limited to retail shopping. However, at this time of year, retail shopping is magnified. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Shop Local Saturday, we can make choices that will make a difference in our efforts to combat climate change and on our journey to zero waste living.
How to Make Changes in Your SHOPPING
The conversation around conscious consumerism is more understood in our retail purchasing choices. Production of electronics, household goods, and clothing contribute to the carbon footprint in complex and overwhelming ways. Let’s take a look at how and what we buy and why our choices matter.
USA Made vs. Overseas Manufacturing
We are currently more than familiar than usual with how the supply chain is impacting our daily lives based solely on the inconvenience of not having the products as quickly as we are used to. Everything from toys to tools, furniture to automotive parts is being delayed because of shortages caused by the pandemic. The situation has given us pause and forces us to consider what we buy and where it comes from. It has also highlighted how important manufacturing in our own country has become.
The energy used to produce products overseas is only part of the problem. It is the travel in getting them to the US that makes the biggest impact on carbon emissions. If we choose products manufactured in the US, we can make an impact on climate change in multiple ways. We can reduce the carbon emission from travel and if we choose responsible, sustainable companies that have committed to reducing their emissions in manufacturing, distribution, and sales channels.
Handcrafted vs. Manufactured
A 20 to 24 piece set of handcrafted silverware costs approximately $426, whereas a factory-made set costs only $20. Similarly, handmade plates can run $40 per plate, or $3.50 when purchased at a mass-marketed store. At that price, you can afford to break a few without the worry of breaking the bank for a replacement. — Manufacturing.net
This statement made by Manufacturing.net is exactly what is wrong with consumerism today. Many are more interested in the buy and replace approach and not at all interested in the consequences of how that mindset is impacting climate change. Luckily, we are seeing a shift. Very much like the impact that overseas manufacturing has on emissions, so too does large-scale manufacturing in the states. If your efforts are zero waste, buying from smaller companies that rely on handcrafted products, could make all the difference. The energy that it takes to produce the products will be reduced and if they are local, the transportation will be reduced as well.
Support Local Business
Buying local is one of the smartest changes you can make for reducing carbon emissions and reducing your carbon footprint but other advantages should not be overlooked. Here are just a few:
1. Close enough to walk which means zero waste in travel
2. You will be helping to create jobs in your local community
3. You will be keeping your money local which supports the local economy
4. You create more choice and more competition
5. It’s personal and builds stronger connections in the community
6. You are encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation
7. It helps build an identity for the local vendor and to the local city or state
So, as you are preparing for all things holiday this season including cooking the feast, lighting the house, and buying the gifts, be mindful by making smart and discerning choices. If you are a conscious consumer, you will make a positive impact on climate change. If we all take it one small step at a time, we can make a major difference toward a shift in the climate crisis.