How to Reduce Your Environmental Footprint

In the last few months of 2017, I was trying to find something that I needed to change in my life. It was almost 2018, after all.

"New year, new me," I thought, thinking I would pass on the clichés of going to gym and eating better. Finally I had it. I wanted to reduce my environmental impact.

Being 'green' has been part of my personal brand since Grade 5. However, at 19-years-old, I realized there was a lot more I could be doing for the planet than separating my garbage and bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store.

I found YouTuber Lavendaire’s video 10 Ways to Reduce Waste, a guide for zero-waste living for beginners. She explained the 5 R’s of waste-free living and gave some tips. She really opened my eyes to how accustomed we as consumers are to wasteful habits.

Since then, I’ve been making the active effort to reduce my personal waste and educate the people around me. With Carleton Sustainability Week and Earth Hour behind us and Earth Day coming up, what better time to learn about the ways you can contribute to a cleaner, greener planet?

Keep in mind the five Rs when reading this: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse (and Repair), Recycle, and Rot.

  1. 1. Say no to single-use plastics – carry reusable items!

    Plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils, plastic water bottles–these are all single-use plastics. You use them once, and they last forever. The easiest way to avoid these needing these convenient plastics is to carry your own.

    I usually carry my fork and straw from home when I’m going out to eat. I’ve been bringing reusable bags with me to the grocery store for years, but recently I’ve started bringing a tote out with me when I’m shopping for clothes or other personal items. A paper bag here and there isn’t the end of the world, but if they’re offering plastic bags (or coated paper bags), I don’t take it unless I need it. At the grocery store, I try to avoid produce in plastic bags and I’ve stopped using the thin, plastic produce bags all together!

    A lot of people reuse these bags to line their garbage bins, and other people think it’s “dirty” not to use plastic bags, but I wash my fruits and vegetables anyway. Besides, one or two uses isn’t good enough when the plastic bag will be stagnant in a landfill for centuries.

    If, as individuals, we can break out of the habit of taking items we don’t need, we can divert tonnes of plastic waste.

  2. 2. If you don’t need it, don’t take it!

    Following my first point, we all know convenience can be very enticing. Just remember: if you don’t need it, don’t take it.

    Free marketing “swag,” buttons, and other mass-produced marketing tokens are useful stuff you probably don’t even need. If it’s not something that you use regularly, you probably don’t need it. Politely say no. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you need to have it.

    This goes for napkins too! Take one, use it, and take another if you need it. Sure, there are hundreds of them. But to take more than you need and throwing out the rest is a huge waste.

  3. 3. Eat less meat

    I’m not telling you to go vegan or vegetarian here (unless you want to), but the meat industry has a huge environmental impact on the planet. Animal farming takes a lot of land and water, and cows specifically produce tonnes of methane (CH4), a common greenhouse gas.

    Meatless Mondays are a great way to start! It also helps to look at food differently and remember not every meal needs meat.

  4. 4. Shop sustainably and locally

    Fast fashion industries and large corporations often over-produce merchandise, underpay workers and care very little about the environment. Companies like this usually produce the lowest quality products for the cheapest they can so they can maximize their earnings. There are plenty of documentaries and stories about the “true cost” of your favourite items.

    If your budget permits, consider shopping locally. Support small, local businesses! When you choose to shop locally, you directly support the little guy–your neighbours, your community or your city.

    You won’t find the same dirt-cheap prices you see at the mall, but you’ll know your money is going directly to the people behind the product. Shopping locally also means, there weren’t planes, trucks, boats, and tonnes of carbon emitted to get the product to you.

  5. 5. Use what you have

    The final (and easiest) way to reduce your day-to-day waste is to use what you have. Finish things before you buy new ones. Wear your clothes until the end of their lifespan and repair broken objects if you can. Reuse glass pasta sauce jars for other things, like drinking glasses, grocery shopping at bulk stores or as vases for flowers.

    Be creative, and before you throw something out, think of another way you can use it or another person to use it.

Earth day is coming up, so celebrate by thinking about the ways you can reduce your footprint. With these tips, it's easier than you think.