The Little Things: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint at Home

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions isn’t just up to individual countries implementing higher standards, it all really begins at home, with each and every one of us. Here are 10 easy things that you can do to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and take some personal responsibility for contributing to global climate change. 

1. Turn your lights off

When in a hurry it is easy to forget to flick the switch on a bedroom or bathroom light before you exit the house, but it really does make a difference. It will even help to reduce your electricity bill! 

For example, a 100-watt incandescent bulb will last approximately 750 hours (, 2018). If you were to leave one 100-watt light on for 8 hours per day just 5 days a week, you would consume 4,000 watts of energy per week and 192,000 watts per year! This translates into 192 kWh (kilowatt hour) /yr and would cost $19.20 per year at the average rate of approximately $0.10/kWh (EIA, 2018). This expense doesn’t include the cost or the number of bulbs you would replace (about 3) if you had this habit. 

According to the US Energy Information Administration (2018), an average of 1.041 lbs of Carbon Dioxide is release per kWh of usage. This totals about 200 lbs of excess CO2 released per year from ONE lightbulb.  And this does not include other byproducts such as Sulfur Dioxide or Nitrogen Oxide. 

Now imagine this multiplied by a very large population of forgetful people, and you end up with much more impressive numbers. Remembering to cut those lights off is a bigger help than originally thought. 

2. Avoid purchasing plastic

 We are surrounded by disposable products. Almost everything is packaged in a container that is ultimately designed to be recycled or tossed. With all of these containers living a measly single-use life, why not give those containers more purpose and provide them with another job? Next time try to reuse those items that you can. 

Did you know that over 60 million plastic bottles are thrown away every day in the US (CRI, 2018)? The bottled water phenomena is an unhealthy obsession, and you can help stop it by choosing to reuse perfectly good containers or refusing them all together. 

Ultimately, the ecologically friendly option is to avoid purchasing items that utilize a lot of plastic packaging, and to bring your own reusable containers to stores. This not only reduces your personal waste, but drives demand down and in turn, production.  

3. Take shorter showers

Depending on the flow rate from your current shower head, you could be using as much as 5 gallons of water per minute or as little as 1.5 gallons per minute (USGS, 2016). Assuming your shower head is somewhere in the middle and consumes 3 gallons of water per minute, your water usage would be 45 gallons for a 15 minute wash.

Multiply that by seven days and  you have sent 315 gallons of clean potable water into the sewage by the end of your week. Just by reducing your shower time by 5 minutes, you would be saving  105 gallons of water per week. 

4. Bring your own bags

Americans throw away 100,000,000,000 (yes, 100 Billion) plastic bags annually, which is roughly 300 bags per person (, 2018). Bringing your own grocery bags is a great way to reduce the number of plastic and paper bags distributed by retailers. Not only are you decreasing the number of single-use items that would go from the factory to the landfill in a very short amount of time, you also no longer have to worry about handles breaking as you walk to the car, or bottoms ripping out amid stride.

But, if you forgot your bags at home (again) don’t fret, you can reuse the new ones next time, so don’t toss them out as soon as you’re finished unloading the groceries, simply find a place to store them for another day!  

5. Eat less meat

I can’t comfortably sit here and tell anyone that they should completely remove meat from their diet, but a modest reduction in the quantity of meat consumed will help reduce your carbon footprint in a big way. 

According to the University of Michigan (2017), meats products have a larger carbon footprint per calorie than grain or vegetable products. In fact, common farm animals such as cattle, goats, and sheep produce 170 million metric tons in CO2 from methane each year. 

Eating a vegetarian meal just one day a week can reduce your footprint by the equivalent of driving about 1,160 miles. If you don’t want to sacrifice the meat all together, just by switching from beef to chicken for one year would reduce your carbon footprint by nearly 900 lbs of CO2 (University of Michigan, 2017). 

(University of Michigan, 2017)

So, even if your are not ready to take on the vegan or vegetarian diet, there is something you can do to reduce your impact. 

6. Buy only what you can consume

U.S. food waste is approximately 30-40 percent of the total food supply. That sentence alone should be enough to convince anyone that buying just enough is very important (USDA, 2018). From research conducted by the USDA (2010), they found that a 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer level corresponded to 133 billion pounds and 161 billion dollars worth of waste. All of this loss comes out to about 220 pounds of wasted food per person and $266 annually (USDA, 2018). Accordingly, the family of four just tossed out $1,064 and 880 lbs of food, willingly. 

Next time you’re filling your grocery cart full of bulk items that have a great price, remember that about a third of what you will buy will get tossed in the trash (UNRIC, 2018). This not only translates into a higher individual carbon footprint, but also costs everyone more in the long run.  

7. Plant something

Even if you don’t have the room for a full garden in the back yard, you might still be able to keep a few small plants indoors. While these plants may not have the CO2 scrubbing power of the Amazon, they still recycle and produce clean air. 

According to a study published in the Polish Journal of Environmental Studies (2017) which compared the ficus, yucca, and dieffenbachia, the amount of indoor CO2 removed is directly related to the temperature of the room. Ultimately, the research found that all three plants removed the most CO2 at 25º C (~77ºF) for a one hour duration, and the Yucca removed the most CO2, -480.74ppm (at 25ºC) and -408.08ppm (at 20ºC) from a starting level of 2,000ppm (Sevik, et al., 2017). This resulted in a reduction of ~24% of the indoor CO2. Not bad for a few small plants. 

8. Shop locally

When you shop locally there a few net positives that result. First, you reduce your impact by not creating a demand for products that must be shipped thousands of miles. Just by eating locally for one year you can reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of driving 1,000 miles (University of Michigan, 2017). 

Second, buying locally stimulates local economic growth. Small businesses employ more than 52% of the nations employees, and have added more than 5 million jobs to the economy since 2003 (Robinson, et al., 2010).  All of this local spending also means greater reinvestment into communities. About 91% of small businesses donate to local schools, non-profits, and charities, and they do so at a much higher rate than their cooperate counterparts (Robinson, et al., 2010). 

Third, many of the products that can be found at farmer’s markets or within local shops are more likely to be healthier and cleaner options. This means that your produce is likely organic, and there is no plastic bag inside of another bag, inside of a box before you can retrieve your product. 

9. Drive more conservatively

Many of us have to commute to work every day, and those miles equal a larger carbon footprint. While we don’t all have easy access to public transportation or are able to purchase a new Tesla, we can drive more conservatively. We can do this by following posted speed limits (yes they serve a purpose), using cruise control, accelerating and braking smoothly, and avoiding stop and go traffic (Unfortunately the last one is not always possible). 

Research conducted by the European Environment Agency (2018) showed that by reducing speed from 120 kmh to 110 kmh (~75 to 70 mph)  a fuel savings of 2-3% was achieved (assuming imperfect driving conditions). While this seems negligible, we must remember that when considering personal habits and their affects, we also have account for the multiplying affect brought about by everyone else’s habits.

If your commute is 40 miles everyday, five days a week and you get an average of 20 miles per gallon, then you’re burning about 10 gallons of fuel every week. That 3% savings is 3 gallons per week, and at the national average (as of 12/8/2018) of 2.41 dollars per gallon you could save $7.23 per week just by driving more conservatively. This comes out to a total savings of just under $350/year assuming you only drive that amount five days a week. As you can see, these numbers compound quickly. 

10. Educate others

Although last on the list, this is one of the most important parts of changing our disposable culture and becoming more Earth friendly. It is shown that as education increases people become aware of how their actions affect others, and become more conscience citizens of the world (, 2018). Most people simply don’t know how their personal habits impact the rest of the world. Fortunately, we live in a time where information is everywhere. Although it is up to you parse and decipher what is not true or inaccurate. 

Climate change is not an simply and American problem, or Canadian, or Asian, it is a global issue. This is an issue that produces unpredictable consequences and feedback loops that not only affect the natural world around us, but also drastically affects  our economies and ultimately will change everyone’s way of life. 

Let us recap, just by implementing these ten tips ONE person can save approximately:  

  1. ~$1,000 per year
  2. ~2,000 lbs of CO2 per year
  3. ~220 lbs of food waste per year
  4. >5,000 gallons of water per year
  5. ~300 plastic bags per year

Of course, this is a very loose approximation, and if we took the time to meticulously add all of the savings and reductions that would result from adopting these small changes, you’d probably be even more surprised by the results.