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10 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The average American’s carbon footprint is 18.3 tons, but must be reduced to 1.87 tons by 2050 to limit global warming to 2°C. Lowering your carbon footprint is an important step in the fight against climate change, so we’ve compiled 10 of the best and easiest ways to do your part. 

Cardboard sign reads "The Climate is Changing, Why Aren't We?"

  1. Reduce your food waste

Given that food waste would be the third largest producer of CO2 if food waste were considered a country, minimizing food waste is one of the most impactful climate actions  

  • Do you often go to the grocery without taking inventory of what you already have? Do you overestimate the food you will eat in between grocery trips? Try evaluating how you shop and planning meals. 
  • Check out ways to store your fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh longer. 
  1. Eat more plants and less animal products

Did you know that meat and dairy account for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and use half of the world’s habitable land? In fact, if the meat and dairy industry was replaced with a plant-based alternative it would essentially negate emissions for 30 to 50 years. Experiment with regular meatless meals consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. If you do eat meat, consider swapping carbon-intensive beef with less intensive pork or poultry. 

An empty plastic bottle sits on the sand at a beach.

  1. Ban single-use plastics

Only 9% of plastic is recycled, while the rest overcrowds landfills harming the environment at an immense scale.  Minimize your plastic consumption by: 

  • Use reusable cutlery, reusable water bottles, reusable coffee cups, reusable straws, you get the idea. 
  • Support companies that use recyclable packaging, and carbon-neutral shipping. 
  • For an extended list of environmental alternatives, see our 10 Swaps for Plastic Free July. 
  1. Be mindful (and mend-ful) of your clothes 

The average consumer purchases and discards garments at a faster rate than ever before. With the rise of fast fashion, the clothing industry creates tons of carbon emissions and waste, . To avoid excess, check out our 10 tips for sustainable fashion for detailed suggestions on how to decrease your carbon footprint. 

Man rides a bike through a city.

  1. Consider your mode of transportation.

If you can, go car-free. Living without a car saves an average of 2.04 tons of carbon from your individual footprint. Walking, biking, or taking public transportation will considerably decrease your impact. If you do have a car, you can decrease your impact by:  

  • Keeping your car properly maintained and your tires properly inflated is more fuel efficient. 
  • Speaking of efficiency, refrain from aggressive braking and acceleration, turn on cruise control on long trips, and combine car-centered errands to reduce your fuel emissions. 
  • Carpool whenever possible to reduce individual emissions. 
  1. Watch out for your digital carbon footprint

Sure you’ve heard of a carbon footprint, but what about your digital carobn footprint? Our online lives seem immaterial, but  the internet emits 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. To lessen your digital impact:  

  • Forget upgrades, use and repair your digital gadgets for as long as possible. 
  • When you do need new equipment, recycle your old items and buy refurbished technology. 
  • Unplug devices when they’re not in use or when they’re fully charged. 
  • Regularly delete spam or old emails and messages. 
  • Use eco-conscious search engines like Ecosia.org or Lilo.org which turn searches into planted trees and support environmentally friendly projects. 

Cardboard sits in three large recycling bins.

  1. If you don’t already, recycle – and recycle correctly

Every recycling provider has its own protocols and capabilities, so check your local municipal waste website or recycling guide to learn what can and can’t be recycled. However, here are some general guidelines: 

  • Thoroughly wash out jars and containers before recycling. For example, grease on cardboard makes it non-recyclable (so no pizza boxes in the recycling bin!)  
  • Avoid ecycling something without knowing if it’s recyclable or not. 
  • Don’t bag your recyclables unless you live somewhere where it’s required. Often bagged recyclables are redirected to landfills. 
  1. Enhance the efficiency of your items

U.S. households account for approximately 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, there are many actions you can take to help lower your footprint: 

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED lighting – not only is it far better for the planet, but it is more cost-effective over time. And of course, turn your lights off when you’re not using them! 
  • Invest in a smart thermostat and employ smart thermostat techniques like lowering your thermostat in the winter and raising it in the summer. Even better, limit air conditioning and heating if you can. 
  • Replace old appliances with more energy-efficient, electric options that come with the Energy Star symbol. Installing more efficient heating and cooling systems along with a more ecological refrigerator and water heater can lower your household’s energy consumption by 8.5%. 

Coins sit in a glass jar.

  1. Enhance the efficiency of your services

You’ve probably heard that you vote with your dollar, but what about your dollar when you’re not using it? Check your bank’s sustainability practices and switch to a green bank that doesn’t fund the fossil fuel industry. If you invest or have a retirement fund, check if your investments are supporting oil and gas companies. Finally, change your energy provider to get your electricity from clean energy. 

  1. Talk to family and friends about sustainable behavior changes

In his book Don't Even Think About It, environmental advocate George Marshall argues that many people tend to overlook climate change to avoid costs and act in their self-interest. However, this can be reversed if a social norm is established that creates a system of accountability. Therefore, communicating with your community about climate change is key to expanding sustainability practices.