Ways to protect the environment

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Ways to protect the environment and reduce your carbon footprint.  

Wherever I looked there was focus on the environment, be it recycling, saving energy or fast food outlets banning plastic straws. Feeling out of touch, I wanted to know ways in which to protect the environment and reduce my carbon footprint.

After some research, I compiled a list of big ticket items that we as individuals could act upon to fulfil our environmental obligation: (1) Recycle, (2) Conserve Electricity, (3) Ditch single-use plastics, (4) Go paperless, (5) Use public transport, (6) Walk or cycle more, (7) Save water, (8) Sustainable eating, (9) Ditch disposable nappies, (10) Reduce general consumption, (11) Fly less frequently

1) Recycle
You can and should already be recycling your domestic waste and have a full understanding of the local council’s minimum requirement with regards to recycling i.e. making sure recycle bins are not contaminated with non-recyclable items such as plastic bags, nappies, etc.

There are many benefits of recycling to protect the environment:

– Recycling saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions because recyclable waste materials use less energy to convert them into new objects. Using less energy subsequently leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
– Recycling conserves natural resources because recyclable waste reduces demand for the natural resource, i.e. aluminium drink cans are infinitely recyclable so the need for raw aluminium is reduced
– Recycling reduces waste being sent to landfill and therefore reduces methane omissions into the atmosphere which is one of the worst greenhouse gases

2) Conserve Electricity
There are numerous ways to conserve electricity around the home. The below is a list of some of the quick wins:
– Turn off lights and electrical appliances when not in use
– Replace regular light bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs as they take significantly less energy. Lighting accounts for around 15% of your electricity bill
– Unplug any devices not in use i.e. Televisions, smartphones, etc because they still use electricity in standby
– Reduce your heating/radiator thermostats and use a timer to control heating times
– Run dishwasher/washing machine when full only
– Seal any gaps between doors/windows by using a door seal strip
– Ensure lofts are insulated properly and cavity walls are filled

3) Ditch single-use plastics
We have seen many major brands ditching single use items such as plastic straws, plastic straws or your single use carrier bags.

To put things into perspective plastic waste can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfill.

Plastic pollution is a major problem in that not all the plastic ends up in landfill and approximately 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our oceans on a daily basis. Around 1 million sea birds and 100,000 mammals and turtles die from plastic each year.

Up until 2016, the UK exported around 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year to take advantage of lower processing costs. However a number of receiving countries like China and Malaysia banned plastic waste imports due to contamination and pollution. This resulted in increased incineration of plastics within the UK and a subsequent increase in CO2 levels.

We often purchase plastic bottled water from the supermarket or local retailer to quench our thirst. Plastic water bottles require the use of oil in their manufacturing process which releases CO2 into the atmosphere.

We must reduce our carbon footprint and do our bit for the environment by utilising reusable water bottles and coffee cups, life-time carrier bags, etc. Prêt, Costa and other leading brand outlets offer appealing discounts to customers who purchase their coffee or tea in a reusable cup.

4) Go paperless
The paper industry is said to be the 5th largest energy consumer in the world which equates to 4% of the worlds energy use.

Paper production and use has a significant impact on the environment, where disposable paper is a cheap commodity resulting in high consumption and waste. Discarded paper ends up in landfill whereas pulp mills contribute to air, land and water pollution.

Here are some of the significant benefits of ‘going paperless’ to protect the environment we live in:

– Save our trees from deforestation. Trees absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere preventing climate change. Trees also produce the oxygen that we breathe
– Reducing deforestation will protect the habitat of plants, animals and many endangered species. Forests are disappearing at a rate of 18.7 million acres per year
– Reduce pollution in the air and water. Paper manufacturing emits 1.5 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere per 1 tonne of paper produced. It also contributes to water pollution through wastewater discharge
– Saves water because to produce an A4 piece of paper uses almost 10 litres of water

5) Use public transport
Try and use a public form of transport for those journeys that can be carried out without the need of a car. Maybe try car sharing to/from work instead of driving alone and in turn reduce your carbon footprint.

Taking public transport instead of using your car provides many benefits:

– Reduces air pollution and harmful greenhouse gases contributing to climate change
– Reduces traffic congestion through limiting the number of vehicles on the road. A bus full of passengers is equivalent to around 55 single car drivers
– Become fitter and healthier by having to walk from your home to the bus stop/railway station and then onto your final destination
– Save money from not having to travel alone in a car and paying for insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc. You can save up to 4 times as much
– Relaxation with regards to reading, taking a nap or enjoying the view while on public transport

6) Walk or Cycle more
Take advantage of walking or cycling to work/school if possible and help protect the environment and natural resources.

Walking or cycling reduces environmental pollution and greenhouse gases. If you cycle 20km per day it could save around the equivalent of 1500kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

There are some great personal benefits from walking or cycling:

– Added health benefits in the form of exercise
– Cleaner air and reduced noise pollution
– Savings on transport costs
– Great for exercise and mental well-being

7) Save water

If the earth is made up of around 70% water why do we need to save water?
This baffled me until I did a little further research.
– 97% of the water on earth is actually undrinkable sea water
– 3% is fresh water of which only 0.5% is drinkable
– Remaining 2.5% is inaccessible and is locked in glaciers, ice caps, beneath the earth’s surface or in the soil

It’s staggering to think that there is such a small amount of water available for the global population who need water to survive.

Water is a finite commodity and very little water enters or leaves the atmosphere. In fact it’s likely that the water in existence today is the same water that existed billions of years ago.

Below are some simple and easy methods to conserve water:

– Repair leaking pipes in your kitchen or bathroom
– Collect precious rainwater using a water butt
– Don’t let the tap run whilst brushing your teeth or having a wet shave
– Install water saving shower heads and dual flush toilets
– Have a shower instead of a bath
– Reduce the time taken to have a shower
– Run dishwasher/washing machine when full only

8) Sustainable eating
Meat production drives an increase in CO2 and greenhouse gases compared to growing vegetables, grains, etc.

More and more people are moving away from meat inclined diets and looking towards vegetarian or vegan options as alternatives. In particular, beef and lamb emit significant quantities of methane, impacting the environment.

Vegan food and drink is infact becoming the trend and is much more accessible. We are seeing increased vegan products such as the Esprala fruit drink, plus a variety of vegan only restaurants/cafes. Even restaurants which serve meat, offer a vegan option so next time you are out ask them for their vegan menu.

Let’s get with the vegan trend.

9) Ditch disposable nappies
It takes between 200 to 500 years for a single use disposable nappy to decompose. An estimated 3 billion single use nappies are disposed of in UK landfill sites every year.

We use disposable nappies because of their convenience. These nappies contain plastic and are also packaged in plastic ending up in landfill together with any faeces, etc which could hit the water system.

An alternative is cloth (Terry) nappies which are washable and reusable. It is the view that cloth nappies are an environmentally friendly option, however washing and drying cloth nappies create carbon emissions so they could be considered comparable to single use disposable nappies.

Bio-degradable nappies are another alternative allowing the convenience of standard disposable nappies but with less of an impact on the environment but they do cost more.

The same principles apply to single use sanitary towels. On average a woman would use around 11,000 sanitary towels in her lifetime and like disposable nappies, they end up in landfill.

10) Reduce general consumption
This covers food, clothing, luxury goods or even some necessities. When you buy less of something you are infact reducing emissions and your carbon footprint.

Why the need for low quality cheaper clothing bought in bulk, when you can purchase a single item of clothing of better quality which is likely to last longer. Every purchase of clothing you make will have an impact on our environment. Always be mindful.

Food is another area we should focus on by reducing consumption and overall wastage. Food waste ultimately ends up in landfill and rots, producing methane which is more potent than CO2. If we consume less food, the likelihood is we waste less food benefiting the environment.

11) Fly less frequently
The form of transportation once reserved for the wealthy is now accessible to all.

Unfortunately, frequent flying has a huge effect on the environment. A return flight from London to Sydney is equivalent to 5 tonnes of CO2, which is half of an individual’s carbon footprint per year.

Annual CO2 emissions from aviation is around 850 million tonnes. This is likely to grow substantially as airports expand allowing for increased flights and a wider selection of global destinations.

To Conclude

Protecting the environment and reducing your carbon footprint is pivotal to the survival of humans on this planet. Greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, trap heat from the earth’s surface and prevent it from escaping into space, resulting in global warming.

Every decision you make could have a direct or indirect effect on the environment. Always think about the consequences of your actions, be it something simple as brushing your teeth to something a little more involved like booking a flight.

For some people, it’s not a case of not wanting to protect the environment but a case of understanding your environmental obligation.

Let us use social media to create a buzz and make it a trend to be environmentally conscious and let us spread the word to our family members, our peers, our work colleagues and the children in our schools.

Let’s make the difference for our future.

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