22 ways to reduce your ecological footprint
By Morgan Hannah, Life & Style Editor
Here’s the thing, I’m not going to spend my time trying to educate and project my views and opinions regarding environmental awareness to an audience that is likely not even going to recycle this paper (sure would be nice to be wrong on this one, guys).
There are already countless articles out there either assuring people that we’re all fine despite our current lifestyles, communities, and the effects they have on the planet, or scaring people by stating that we’re all doomed and the world will end, so why bother trying. We don’t need another voice reiterating what has already been said many, many times.
I’m going to assume that Other Press readers are smart and already know that because of current human lifestyles across the globe, our planet is heating up fast, our Great Barrier Reef is already around 50 percent wiped out, forest fires and droughts are more frequent, and our ice sheets are melting at an alarming. I’m going to assume that readers are already aware of the thousands of plant and animal species threatened with extinction thanks to human causes—including the giraffe, my personal favourite!—and the estimated 14 billion pounds of trash floating around in our oceans. I’m going to assume readers are aware of the fact that, according to the Global Footprint Network, we’d need almost five Earths’ worth of resources and land to sustain the average Canadian’s lifestyle if everyone lived unchecked and unchanged. I may even go so far as to assume that readers are already educated on evidence that we have approximately 12 years to reduce our global carbon footprint before catastrophic warming far beyond what we’ve experienced thus far hits.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m going to assume that you already care and are looking for ways—specific, affordable, and easy ways—to do your part to help out. But first, in case anyone needs a reminder, an ecological footprint is a measurement of the human demand on nature, the quantity of natural resources required to support our economy and consumption patterns. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other compounds emitted from the consumption of fossil fuels by a community or individual; currently, the carbon footprint accounts for 60 percent of the global ecological footprint.
Without further delay, let’s dive into 22 ways to reduce your ecological footprint:
1. Say no to bottled water
Living in British Columbia, choosing bottled water over tap water is really a matter of preference or convenience, not a matter of health. According to the CBC, bottled water comes from various sources such as springs, manmade wells, and municipal water supplies. What’s that? Bottled water can often be tap water? Guess that $2.50 bottle of water is not much different from the free stuff that comes out of your kitchen. Instead, consider refilling a reusable stainless-steel water bottle.
2. Bring reusable bags when shopping
For buying anything, including groceries, bring reusable bags with you—canvas, cotton, hemp, whatever they’re made of, make sure they’ll last. Some countries have implemented single-use plastic bag bans, but for those stragglers that have yet to jump onto the environmental bandwagon, remember this: If you don’t buy ’em, they’ll stop making ’em.
3. Lower the thermostat and air conditioner
Thermostats and air conditioning units both use non-renewable energy to adjust the temperature of your home. To combat this, you can lower your thermostat by just two degrees in the winter and raise it back up in the summer. This can cause a significant decrease in energy use and lower your power bill while fighting global warming. Win-win.
4. Ditch paper towels and use hemp instead
It takes 17 trees and more than 20,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of paper towel. According to the site Hemp Basics, one acre of hemp will produce as much fibre as two to three acres of cotton or two to four acres of trees. Hemp paper products are renewable, biodegradable, and inexpensive due to using fewer materials, energy, and chemicals in production.
5. Eat less meat
Your diet can change the world. Raising livestock, unfortunately, contributes to global warming, deforestation, widespread pollution, and water scarcity. Vegan or plant-based diets, however, use fewer resources and help the body reduce inflammation. If you’re not a fan of having no meat at all, try two weeks on, two weeks off.
6. Recycle responsibly
Wash and dry bottles and cans, flatten cardboard, and reduce plastic and Styrofoam waste. Keep everything separate and recycle conscientiously. For every piece of paper recycled, that’s one less tree cut down.
Composting returns valuable nutrients to the soil, helping maintain its quality and fertility, which in turn will help improve plant growth and yield better crops. All you need is a bucket or a paper bag to collect food scraps and organic waste, then when it gets full, empty the bucket or bag into your curbside green bin.
8. Drive less
According to Sciencing magazine, car pollution contributes to one-fifth of total US global warming pollution. By riding bikes, walking, taking public transit, and carpooling, we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted.
9. Reduce water usage
Taking shorter, cooler showers is better for the skin and better for curbing water usage. Additionally, watering lawns at night is a great way to save water as it ensures that the soil absorbs the water rather than it evaporating in the sun. Lastly, remember to turn the tap off while brushing your teeth.
10. Solid toiletries
Give naked shampoo and conditioner a try. These concentrated pucks of shampoo and conditioner can outlast two to three bottles of the liquid stuff—one bar will last up to 80 washes! Solid conditioner bars also double as shaving cream. My personal favourites are Godiva shampoo bar and Big conditioner bar from LUSH Cosmetics; they’re packed full of essential oils and fresh ingredients for super soft hair without the chemicals and plastic bottles.
11. Plant trees
Join a tree planting community or plant trees in your yard. A single tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
Bamboo for a house plant is a great idea since it is a low-maintenance plant that grows quickly and sucks up four times as much carbon dioxide as a regular plant. Betcha didn’t see that one coming.
13. Switch to LEDs
Switching to LEDs can reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly and each bulb lasts for around 10 years. According to a report by HIS Markit, in 2017 using LEDs instead of incandescent or fluorescent bulbs cut down on global CO2 emissions by 570 million tons. Consider also purchasing a dimmer switch to control the amount of light and energy at any given time.
14. Bring your own takeout containers
When eating out, bring your own takeout containers for leftovers. Consider using reusable utensils and straws rather than single-use plastic ones as well.
15. Shop at farmers markets
Shopping locally at farmers markets is a great way to support your community and find more economical alternatives to the produce in chain grocery stores. Such alternatives include glass-bottled milk, paper-bagged bread, and organic veggies and fruits in reusable containers. Also, by shopping locally, you’re supporting the sale of produce that has had less travel time to get to you, which in turn lowers the carbon footprint of your fruits and veggies.
16. Multitask in the shower
A personal favourite of mine! Try doing the laundry while having your shower, which will save time and water. Additionally, if you’re using organic shampoos and soaps, consider collecting bath and shower water to water the lawn.
17. Say no to frozen foods
Packaging for frozen foods is all plastic. Remember what I said earlier? If you stop buying ’em, they’ll stop making ’em. Plus, frozen dinners are not good for you. C’mon, you can do better!
18. Don’t bag your produce in plastic
You gotta wash it at home before you eat it anyway, so what’s a little dirt and cooties gonna do?
19. Use natural products whenever possible
Rather than your usual face wash with those plastic little exfoliating beads that don’t biodegrade, try honey. Honey is an excellent face wash alternative as it is all-natural and antibacterial, and safer for the environment, your wallet, and your skin.
20. Bring a bag when hiking or at the beach
Using a white or clear biodegradable garbage bag, collect trash and scraps you find on your next hike or trip to the beach. You’re going anyways, so you might as well do something nice for the Earth while you’re at it.
21. Reuse existing plastic containers to store produce
This will help food to last longer and repurposes something that would’ve just been tossed into a landfill.
22. Buy used clothing
Thrift shopping isn’t just good for your bank account—it’s great for the world! Fast fashion is terrible for the environment and tends to exploit underpaid workers in other countries. People often donate perfectly good clothing just because they don’t fit or aren’t in style anymore, so you can build amazing, high-quality outfits for a very low cost.
Now you know what you can do to reduce your ecological footprint, why should you care? Why not? Like being good to a friend, being good to the environment is also good for one’s self too, and it really isn’t hard—it’s simply a matter of not relying on convenience but rather putting in that extra effort. The Earth belongs to all of us, and we all need it and its natural resources like clean water and fresh air to live. We are connected to nature and to the world. Our highest responsibility must be to take care of the systems that take care of us.
Each time you remember to bring reusable shopping bags with you to the grocery store, or when you water the lawn at night to ensure that the water soaks into the soil rather than instantly evaporating, or when you take a biodegradable garbage bag with you on your next hike and clean up the area, or even when you make a commitment to swap some of your everyday household products at the end of their life cycles for those made from more renewable and organic materials, you’re doing your part to make a difference. If everyone encourages and holds their neighbours, friends, and family accountable for maintaining this new lifestyle, we can work together as communities to encourage the rest of the world to follow.
Next thing you know, we might just save our planet.