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Looking to be more sustainable? Here’s our top 10 tips to reduce your carbon emissions

The average person in the UK contributes 5.15 tonnes of carbon emissions each year – double the global average

Reducing our carbon emissions is one of the key components of net zero strategies across the world in order to slow down the effects of climate change. 

In order to limit global warming to 1.5C by 2050, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says a “rapid and deep” reduction in “all sectors” of the global economy is required.

Recommendations from the IPCC and, indeed, reports from both the UK’s Environment Audit Committee (EAC) and former energy minister and Tory MP Chris Skidmore, include “substantial” reductions in fossil fuels, improving energy efficiency, and increased investment in renewable energy sources.

Currently, everyone in the UK contributes an average of around 5.15 tonnes of carbon emissions each per year. Not only is this double the global average, it is the equivalent of driving nearly 12,000 miles in an average-size petrol car. 

While reducing one’s own personal carbon footprint isn’t going to single-handedly solve the climate crisis, it doesn’t mean giving up and continuing to emit further emissions when certain lifestyle changes can reduce that impact significantly.

Personal actions can also help combat feelings of eco-anxiety as small things can lead to bigger change. Here’s how to reduce your carbon footprint on a day-to-day basis.

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Fly less

Obviously, flying less is a major step to reducing your carbon footprint – especially if you’re a frequent flyer or travel quite a long way each time.

A long-haul return flight between London and New York will emit 1.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving 3,800 miles. 

Driving to your destination, if possible, would emit less carbon dioxide than flying but taking a train would be the most effective way of curbing carbon emissions. 

You can compare different modes of transport between your starting point and destination using EcoPassenger, which will show you how many emissions you can save by flying instead. 

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Drive less

Driving has a significant impact on your carbon footprint. To go without a car for one year could reduce your emissions by 2.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide – 41 per cent more than a return flight from London to New York.

Taking public transport, walking, or cycling, are good alternatives to driving, especially for short distances and trips to the shop. But, in rural areas and deprived communities underserved by public transport options, a car might be the only option to get around.

If you live in a city like London, there are many other ways of getting around that don’t involve a car. 

If you have to use a car, spreading the carbon burden by sharing journeys with other people is a good way of keeping your footprint down, or if you can afford to, consider switching to an electric car. Even though electric cars are powered by electricity from fossil fuels, its overall carbon emissions are lower.

Buy less and buy local

Overconsumption is a massive issue in today’s world, contributing to waste and an increased carbon footprint due to shipping and transporting cheap goods across the world.

Fast fashion in particular, with dresses costing 30p from Pretty Little Thing, is very harmful to the planet. The fast fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of global emissions.

As such, one of the best ways of reducing waste and lowering your carbon footprint is to buy less and extend the life of the items you already have – climate action organisation Wrap says that extending the life of your clothes with nine months of active use would reduce your carbon footprint by 20 to 30 per cent.

If you do have to buy something new, one way of reducing your carbon footprint is to ensure you are buying from sustainable and ethical sources, and from local shops rather than giant conglomerates sending your items by plane or boat from hundreds of miles away.

Reuse and recycle

To stop buying things at all is not always possible or likely. So, when we do buy things, it’s worth thinking about their life cycles and how they can be reused in the future.

Buying reusable items rather than single-use ones is a good start, as well as considering whether the things you buy are made out of recyclable materials so that they can be recycled in the future when they do have to be thrown away.

Stop buying plastic

Another way of reducing your carbon footprint and waste is to stop buying plastic or items wrapped in plastic.

According to the Centre for International Environmental Law, the creation of plastic could result in 1.34 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

Many supermarkets now offer loose items instead, and refill shops are popping up across the country where you can bring containers to buy milk, cereal, and pasta.

Try to choose your items carefully by looking for products that are not covered in plastic and you can significantly reduce your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste.

plastic bottles waste contributing to carbon emissions
Pile of plastic bottles. Plastic waste is one of the most significant problems globally. (Image: Nick Fewings/Unsplash)

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Stop wasting food

An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of food every year is wasted in the UK, and food waste is a major global problem. Around 8 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste.

Therefore, thinking more carefully about your consumption of food and how much you’re wasting on a daily basis is a great way of reducing your emissions. Though not all emissions can be blamed on individual households, this is a small step towards fixing the issue.

Checking your fridge and cupboards carefully, planning out your meals, measuring your portions, and eating leftovers more regularly are great steps to reduce food waste.

Start composting

Composting is also part-and-parcel of reducing food waste and your carbon footprint. One study estimates the greenhouse gas emissions released from food dumped into a landfill is seven times as much as the emissions from composting the same food.

Composting leftover food into a well-maintained bin that lets in oxygen will reduce the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. 

pile of trash in germany contributing to waste and carbon emissions
Pile of trash in Germany. We waste an extensive amount of wood and plastic in the UK. (Image: Jasmin Sessler/Unsplash)

Go plant-based or vegan

Becoming plant-based or vegan will have a massive impact on your carbon footprint and the climate as meat and dairy products are responsible for 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to research from 2018.

Researchers from the University of Oxford previously found following a plant-based diet can lead to a carbon footprint reduction of over 70 per cent, while researchers at Loma Linda University in California said that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint overall.

This doesn’t mean you have to cut out cheese or bacon completely, but there are a number of products out there for vegan and plant-based diets, and reducing your consumption of meat and dairy products could be extremely beneficial.

Make your home more energy-efficient

In the UK, over one-fifth of our carbon emissions come from heating and lighting our homes, and using appliances. 

Unfortunately, many of the homes in the UK are not as energy-efficient as they should be, meaning our carbon footprints are higher than they could be – not to mention our bills.

Therefore, reducing carbon emissions and energy usage at home is important to consider. 

To do this, using heating controls to make sure you’re not using more than you need, upgrading your heating system to a heat pump if possible, insulating your home, and draught-proofing your windows and floorboards are good steps.

You can also look at replacing the bulbs in your house with lower-energy LED lights, as well as buying energy-efficiency appliances when your vacuum or toaster finally throws in the towel.

Switch to renewable energy

Some electricity and gas providers have the option to switch, at least partly, to renewable energy sources.

Of course, this can be a postcode lottery depending on what providers you have in your area as well as whether it is an affordable option.

If renewable energy is currently not available, you can advocate for it with your MP or your power company.

Additionally, you could generate your own energy with solar panels on the roof for more long-term reductions and energy security.

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