The recent fire in the Amazon rainforest is very concerning. Our planet is in danger and our resources are decreasing. If you want to help save the environment, here are some things you could do.
1. Use reusable bags
The problem: Plastic bags (typically found in grocery stores) are made from polyethylene which is derived from natural gas that has been extracted along with petroleum (oil). Essentially, fossil fuels are used to create plastic bags.
The effect: Studies show that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year. The average person takes home 1,500 plastic bags a year, and only 15 bags are recycled. Most of these bags often end up in landfills. These take over 500 years to decompose and will continue to pollute the environment. Plastic bags can also end up in the ocean, which can suffocate animals who mistake them for food. At least 267 different species have been affected by pollution and 100,000 marine animals are killed annually.
The solution: Reusable bags reduce pollution and are multi-purpose. They can be used to transport food, clothes, books, etc. IF you must use a plastic bag, reuse it a few times before you throw it away.
2. Print as little as necessary
The problem: paper is made from wood, wood comes from trees. Cutting down trees leads to deforestation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and use it to create oxygen.
The effect: 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut down per year. Fewer trees = less oxygen. It also leads to animals losing their home and less fruits production. 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from clearing the world’s forests.
The solution: use less paper. Print on both sides of the page, write on discard paper rather than using a new sheet. Use electronic versions of books, magazines, newspapers, etc. If possible, take notes on a laptop. Less demand=less supply. If you use less paper, less paper would be produced and more trees could be saved.
3. Use reusable beverage containers
The problem: Individually-packaged drinks contain a lot of plastic.
The effect: In 2018, there was 533,333 tonnes of packaging waste. Over half of that packaging is made from plastic. That is crazy!
The solution: Buy a reusable water bottle. Buy your desired beverage in bulk and refill your bottle. This helps you cut costs as things are typically cheaper in bulk. Some campuses have water fountains, refill your bottle rather than buy a new bottle of water. You help save the environment and you save money. That’s a win-win situation.
4. Save water and electricity
The problem: Electricity is produced using fossil fuels. Fossil fuels emit harmful gases that contribute to global warming.
The effect: In 2013, humans produced and consumed 5.67 × 10^20 joules of energy, equivalent to about 18.0 terawatt-hour (TWh). One TWh is equivalent to 5 billion barrels of oil per year or 1 billion tons of coal per year, it also used to be the globe’s entire energy consumption in 1890. I’m literally losing my mind.
The solution: Turn off lights, the TV, and other appliances when you are not using them. Turn on your air conditioning only when you’re using it. Turn off the faucet as you are brushing your teeth. Don’t turn your shower on until you’re ready to get in. Limit your water usage as you wash dishes. These basic tips will limit your Carbon footprint and reduce your electricity bill.
5. Avoid driving - carpool where possible
The problem: Automotive production leaves a giant footprint because materials like steel, rubber, glass, plastics, paints, and many more must be created before a new ride is ready to roll. Car disposal is also problematic but three-quarters of the materials used in a car can be recycled. Fuel is made from petroleum. Extracting petroleum and shipping fuels requires A LOT of energy and leaves significant environmental damage.
The effect: vehicles emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which causes worldwide temperatures to rise. Car pollution can cause acid rain, oil and fuel spills can contaminate rivers and exposes humans to radiation from the sun. Air pollution kills 7 million people worldwide every year.
The solution: Take public transportation, walk or ride a bike to reach your destination. If you must use a car, carpool with friends/colleagues in order to reduce the amount of air pollution, fuel consumption and money spent.
6. Reduce food waste
The problem: Worldwide, 1.3 billion tonnes ($990 billion worth) of food is wasted every year. The global food waste is more than enough to feed 1 billion starving people. The wasted food is incinerated in landfills and releases a harmful gas called methane.
The effect: Food waste is a major waste of resources such as: water, land, energy, labour and capital. It also produces unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming.
The solution: Make a shopping list and only buy a quantity of food you can consume. If you have excess food, refrigerate, freeze or give it away. If you are in a restaurant, ask for take-away and eat it later in the week.
7. Plan your Trips
The problem: Taking your car for separate trips to the mall, grocery store, laundry, etc. is a waste of time, energy and fuel consumption.
The effect: Increased air pollution and carbon footprint.
The solution: Plan your schedule in such a way that you can get all your errands done in one trip. By carpooling just twice a week, 1,600 pounds of greenhouse can be kept from the air each year. If 100 people carpooled every day for a year, 1,320 pounds of carbon monoxide and 2,376,000 pounds of carbon dioxide could be removed from the air. That’s incredible!
8. Use less food packaging
The problem: Companies that manufacture food products often use a lot of packaging. Sometimes the packaging is non-recyclable.
The solution: Shop for products with minimal packaging or recyclable packaging. Buy loose fruits and veggies (instead of fruits wrapped in plastic). You could also reuse empty jam jars (to store spices) or fast food containers (to store fresh food).
9. Choose reusable menstrual hygiene products like menstrual cups, period underwear and reusable sanitary napkins.
The problem: Most disposable tampons and pads contain non-biodegradable synthetic materials, petrochemical additives, nonorganic cotton, rayon, wood pulp, or a combination of these materials. These materials can cause reproductive problems and cancer.
The effect: The average woman uses 11,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime. Worldwide, over 100 billion menstrual hygiene products are disposed of annually. Because these products are non-reusable, they are often dumped in landfills. It will take at least 500-800 years for each pad and tampon to decompose. When burnt, these products release toxic fumes, including carbon dioxide.
The solution: Consider using the menstrual cup. It is made from medical-grade silicone. They are inserted into the vagina, where they collect blood during menstruation. Experts claim it’s more convenient and comfortable than tampons and can be worn for 12 hours. A typical menstrual cup can be used for up to 10 years. Other reusable options include period underwear, which is like normal underwear but can absorb flow without leaking if used correctly. Reusable pads made of sustainable materials are also an option.
10. Reduce tissue paper when you use the bathroom
The problem: Tissue paper is made from pulp. Pulp is made of chopped woods, and the woods are cut from living trees.
The effect: A study done in Hong Kong (2014) found that 668 tons of tissue paper was used daily. That means 11,300 trees and 13 million gallons of water is required to produce soft paper. THAT’S JUST ONE PART OF THE WORLD!!
The solution: wash yourself instead of wiping after you do the ‘thing’ in the toilet.
Research shows that washing yourself is cleaner than using toilet paper, it is also eco-friendlier and better in preventing clogged toilets. You can actually save more water than using toilet paper.
Instead of using tissue paper, use washcloths for cleaning. Washcloths can be reused, compared to single-use tissue. To replace facial tissue, you could use a handkerchief.