You probably know of the “three Rs”: Reduce, reuse and recycle. But how often do you practice them? We talked with Allegra Wiesler, sustainability advisor for OhioHealth, to learn about simple ways to be more sustainable and reduce your carbon footprint.
What is a carbon footprint?
Waste is a natural part of life. We all have a carbon footprint, which is defined as “the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused directly or indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product.” Greenhouse gasses trap heat in our atmosphere and can impact the environment in different ways, such as air quality or climate change. A carbon footprint can vary in size, from one person to an entire company. Certain choices, actions and lifestyles carry more or fewer emissions.
Your individual carbon footprint is only one small piece of the intricate puzzle, but it’s also the part you can fully control. If you’re looking for simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint without breaking the bank or sacrificing your health, we’ve got you covered.
Greenhouse Gas Sources
To make more sustainable choices, it helps to know the main sources of greenhouses gases. For each, Wiesler talks about ways to apply the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle.
Wiesler says that one of OhioHealth’s top sustainability priorities is diverting waste from landfills. According to the FDA, food makes up 22% of our landfills— more than any other single material. “Food emits a lot of greenhouse gases, one being methane,” she explains. “Methane is one of the more potent gases.” So, what can you do to minimize food waste?
- Excess groceries. Plan out which foods you or your family will want to eat for the week, and only buy as much as you need. Pay attention to which foods you tend to finish, and which tend to end up in the trash (Sorry, fresh produce).
- Ingredients for multiple different recipes. For example: picked out a few too many peaches at your farmer’s market? Try a few of these peach recipes before they go bad.
- Leftovers. Freeze soon-to-expire fruit for smoothies, or entire meals for future use. Try these 10 recipes that freeze well. Your future self will thank you for the meal!
- Food scraps by composting at home. “You can do it in your backyard, or even have a third-party service, like The Compost Exchange, pick up your food scraps if it’s offered in your community,” Wiesler says. For more information on the benefits of composting and OhioHealth’s sustainability initiative, watch this video.
To learn more about food waste initiatives in central Ohio, visit SaveMoreThanFood.Org
Wiesler says that transportation is another one of the largest industries for greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what she recommends for reducing emissions from travel:
- Time in the car. If possible, think of alternatives. “Think about how you commute to work,” says Wiesler. “Can you bike to work? Can you walk, carpool, or take public transportation? It’s also better for your health, in the long run.”
- Online orders. We know, this is a tough one. Although it’s not always an option, Wiesler recommends shopping local when you can. She explains that “One option is to shop local, diverse businesses – not only are you supporting your community, but the environmental impact is lower than having something shipped from far away.”
Most typical household appliances also emit some greenhouse gases. That doesn’t mean you should get rid of your washer and dryer – here are some tips for reducing energy output where possible:
- Unnecessary energy use. Columbia Gas offers comprehensive energy audits, which can help you understand and identify energy-saving opportunities in your home. The audits are performed by a trained energy auditor and can help you save money, use less energy and reduce your carbon footprint. Triple win!
- Water temperature, where possible. Reduce the temperature and length of time of running water to reduce its energy output – you can do this for laundry or brushing your teeth, for example.
- Containers and dishes. Instead of using single-use plastic and paper, use washable dinnerware. For leftovers, use resealable containers or jars. Some foods, such as certain deli meats, come in a container that you can wash and save for future use.
- Bags. “When we say use a reusable bag, people tend to think only about the grocery store,” says Wiesler. “But you can use them anywhere. If you’re going shopping, take a cute bag with you!”
- Water bottles. Single-use plastic water bottles may be convenient, but the plastic adds up quickly. Find a reusable bottle in your favorite color – you can even add stickers to make it your own.
- Clothes. Have an old shirt that doesn’t fit quite right anymore? Try upcycling your clothes into something new! Here are 37 no-sew DIY ideas from Cute DIY Projects.
- Air! Plants absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) to produce oxygen. This means better air quality! Studies have also shown that house plants can help improve your mental and physical health. Plus, they’re a beautiful addition to any home – inside or outside.
- Clothes. Thrift stores are a wonderful place to recycle clothes. Bring your own donations, or shop around for some new pieces.
There you have it! We hope these ideas sparked some inspiration for you. And remember, you don’t need to live 100% sustainably before you can call yourself an environmentalist – every step takes us closer to a more sustainable world. Wiesler said it best: “I think the most important takeaway from the sustainability movement is this: we don’t need 1 million people to practice environmentalism perfectly. We need 100 million people to practice it imperfectly. Every effort adds up.”