Climate change: What can I do? 13 everyday habits to get into

Looking for more ways you, a non-billionaire, can help the climate?

Yes, there is only so much we can do on an individual level while, according to a 2020 report by Oxfam, the richest 1% in the world are responsible for more than twice the amount of carbon emissions as the poorest half of the whole population.

However, with the recent UN IPCC report finding that the earth will likely warm by 1.5C a decade earlier than previously expected, and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres describing the situation as a ‘code red for humanity’, doing nothing doesn’t feel like an option.

As everyday people, non-billionaires – who can’t pour virtually endless funds into this cause – and non-policy makers – who can’t enact change at a legislative level – there are still plenty of things we can do to help the climate.

Buy fewer new things

These days, it’s common knowledge that fast fashion isn’t great for the environment, but it can be hard for many households to shop sustainably when the alternative is so affordable.

If you are able, even cutting down on the amount of clothing you buy from fast fashion stores and buying longlasting staple pieces will have a beneficial impact.

Emma Kisby, the UK CEO of CoGo, an app designed to measure people’s personal carbon footprints, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The fashion industry accounts for around 10% of human greenhouse gas emissions; this represents a sizable opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint.

‘Buying or renting second-hand clothing extends the lives of millions of products that would otherwise have gone into the landfill. You can cut your fashion footprint by 75% for every pound spent; it saves you money and earns you money from reselling.

‘The same applies to repairing your clothing; extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months can reduce carbon, waste, and water footprints for each item by around 20 – 30% each.’

‘The same logic applies to second-hand furniture, too,’ she adds, ‘which is becoming increasingly popular.’

When shopping second-hand, charity shops are a first-rate alternative to more costly vintage shops if you’re looking for something more affordable.

On the other side of that coin, you should try to limit the number of things you throw away – charity shops are pretty much always happy to get more donations, so give them your hand-me-downs instead.

If you’ve got bigger appliances that you want to donate or buy second-hand, D&G partnered with charity The Reuse Network to make a tool to help you find the nearest places you can go to do either.

Work from home

Again, not everyone is able to do their job from home, but if more people who are able embrace flexi-working, they could be doing the environment and your bank account a big favour.

Emma tells us that, before the pandemic, workers in the UK spent an average of over 251 hours travelling to and from work each year. All told, that would cost an average of £37,399 over a person’s working life.

She adds: ‘Working from home one day per week has a potential saving of 20% when compared to if you were to drive to work usually.

‘If 4million people in the UK worked from home twice per week, this would save over 3million tonnes of carbon per year.’

If you’re not able to work from home, using public transport and/or carpooling wherever possible will help mitigate the impact of your commute.

Offset your carbon emissions

While not everyone will be able to spare the time and money to find and pay for the right carbon offsetting to suit their lifestyle, those who can should check it out.

The basic premise involves funding environmental ‘carbon capture’ organisations to the point that you enable their actions to negate your negative impact on the climate.

‘Carbon capture happens through various means, such as nature-based and technological innovations that help capture and store carbon,’ explains Elina Kajosaari, CEO of non-profit Compensate, which specialises in carbon offsetting.

She adds: ‘Carbon capture is an important aspect of the response to climate change. Our everyday lives still cause unavoidable emissions. By offsetting, consumers can contribute to taking responsibility for those emissions that cannot be completely avoided yet, helping reach the common goal of net-zero.

‘We all have incredible power to change the world by making conscious choices.’

So how much should offsetting cost? Elina said: ‘To offset a meal including meat would cost around £0.15, or a cotton T-shirt around £0.40, with high-quality carbon offsets.

‘A transatlantic flight would pay around £45 on top of the ticket. Any contribution to carbon capture can be meaningful when done with high-quality offsetting that offers true impact.’

Bulb has a handy carbon calculator that can help you gauge your impact on the environment and give your a guide price for how much you should spend to offset it.

Unplug your devices

It might seem like a tiny thing, but leaving your electronics plugged in still uses energy, and if you’re not using a green energy supplier, this will still have an impact on carbon emissions.

‘Unplugging your devices really does make a difference’, says Erin.

‘Electronic items draw electricity from the socket, even when they’re turned off or on standby. And, until 100% of the UK’s electricity comes from renewable sources, this increases carbon emissions.’

Have shorter showers and less full baths

Yes, the celebs have been at it again with the bathing daily vs not bathing discourse, but they aren’t totally off-base when you think about the impact long showers and deeps baths have on the climate.

While we’re not asking you to skip showering altogether, if you can get clean in a shorter amount of time your carbon footprint will shrink accordingly.

Erin Bullions, sustainability expert at Bulb, points out that shaving just one minute off of your usual shower time can save a family of four up to £60 off their yearly energy bill.

Emma says: ‘It seems simple, but baths and showers use the highest amount of water in the home, about 34%, and reducing your shower time from 10 minutes to five minutes will reduce its carbon footprint by 50%.

‘Breaking this down to the amount of CO2e, a five-minute shower heated by an efficient gas boiler is equivalent to 92g, a 10-minute shower is 275g, and a bath is 500g. I set a timer to let me know when it’s almost time to get out or play a song that is around five minutes long. 

‘If you prefer a bath, just by running your bath an inch shorter than usual, you can save an average of five litres of water.’

Limit your food waste

Not only does limiting food waste help reduce the greenhouse gasses that are released as the food decays, but it can also help reduce the amount of land and resources it takes to make, deliver and package the food we eat.

Emma says: ‘With food, each UK household, on average, throws away 6.6 tonnes of edible food in a year.

‘The problem is that food decomposes poorly in landfills due to a lack of oxygen and then releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

To limit your food waste, Pas Loucaides, managing director of food waste fighting app Too Good To Go, recommends: ‘Plan your food shop each week to avoid buying more than you need.

‘Store your food properly and use airtight containers to avoid food going off early.

‘Make the most out of every ingredient, like roasting your broccoli stalks along with the florets or keeping the potato peel on when making homemade chips.

‘Save and repurpose your leftovers to make new dishes instead of throwing them away.

‘Trust your senses with food that is past its “Best Before” dates to check if it’s still good to eat – “Best Before” is only an indication of quality, not safety.’

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Get composting

Limiting your food waste as much as possible is important, but, if you have a garden or allotment, composting is a great way to mitigate the impact of whatever food waste you find is unavoidable.

‘By composting,’ Emme explains, ‘you can help reduce this food waste, and it’s also food for your garden that helps improve the soil, locks in moisture, and nourishes your plants. 

‘If everybody did this, we could prevent over one-third of the UK’s methane emissions from food waste in landfills.’

Air-dry your clothes

It can be so tempting to throw your wet clothes into the dryer when you’re pushed for time or just want your sheets and towels to be all fluffy, but letting your clothes air-dry is far better for the environment.

Erin says: ‘By opting to air-dry your clothes you could reduce your home’s carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year.’

Rewild your garden

Having perfectly trimmed grass or paved-over gardens might look nice, but it’s not great for biodiversity.

Sian Moxon, senior lecturer and sustainability coordinator at London Metropolitan University, says: ‘A whole street of gardens adds up to quite a lot of potential green space. These areas could be a huge benefit to wildlife, and they can also form a wildlife corridor linking to larger green spaces in the neighbourhoods, like allotments, cemeteries, parks, and school playing fields. 

‘They have huge potential to act as wildlife habitats, but we’re actually making them less hospitable as residents pave over their front gardens for parking spaces, lay artificial back lawns to sanitise things for their children, and remove trees.’

Even if you don’t want to give your garden over to nature completely, there are things you can do to attract birds and hedgehogs to your garden.

Switch to a renewable energy supplier

It might be a bit of a faff at the time, but switching to a renewable energy supplier, such as Bulb, Ecotricity or Octopus, for example, means your home will use 100% energy and you’ll never have to think about it again.

Erin says that, by doing so, your carbon footprint could shrink by as much as 3.2 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Oliver Bolton, CEO of Earthly, points out that swapping also sends a message to your current supplier, saying: ‘By demanding energy from renewable resources you can show energy companies that you care about where your electricity comes from.

‘Every time you turn on your lights, you will be supporting a more sustainable future.’

Go vegan – even if it’s just one day a week

If you aren’t ready or able to commit to a fully vegan diet, there are an increasing amount of vegan foods out there to choose from that make eating a plant-based diet at least once a week a lot easier.

She adds: ‘Farming animals for meat and dairy is associated with deforestation, erosion, water pollution, and climate change.

‘Food production and consumption represent around 20% of our emissions in the UK, with roughly 50% of animal feed and deforestation associated with imported food.

‘Changing to a vegan diet cuts your food-related carbon emissions by 70%. If every family in the UK removed meat from just one meal a week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 16 million cars off the road.’

Prof Judy Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation points out that, while we don’t need to cut out all animal products to have a beneficial impact, it’s still important for our health to watch how much red and processed meat we eat.

She tells us: ‘On average we’re within the limit recommended for health but about a third of people are eating more.’

Emma recommends starting with one or two plant-based days a week and seeing where you can go from there. ‘You don’t have to be perfect,’ she says, ‘it’s about making a start.’

Opt for reusable period products

It’s common knowledge that swerving all single-use products is better for the environment overall, but a special mention should be made of period products owing to the fact that around half the population will need to use them once a month for a significant chunk of their lives.

If you can afford it, instead of filling landfills with your tampons and pads, period pants and menstrual cups are a more environmentally friendly alternative.

Unlike single-use menstrual products, the fact that they need replacing in a matter of years rather than hours means your carbon footprint is much lower and, over time, you’ll be spending way less money overall.

For example, Ruby Raut, Co-Founder and CEO of WUKA, tells us the period pants her company makes (with sustainably sourced materials and ethical fabrics) last at least two years, which means every pair keeps 200 single-use products from going to a landfill.

Thus, all told, each pair of WUKA pants has a 90% smaller carbon footprint than their disposable counterparts.

She adds: ‘One person would only require 120 pairs of pants over a lifetime, in comparison to 8640 single-use plastic tampons and applicators.’

Make your voice heard

Making changes to your every day habits can help, but not everything that needs to be done to combat climate change is within our control as individuals.

Sasha Stashwick, senior advocate at NRDC and campaigner with Cut Carbon Not Forests, tells us that, while ‘every action matters’, ‘most of the decisions fuelling climate change are those of Governments and require policy change.’

You don’t need extra money in your account or a load of spare time to sign a petition or email your MP to let them know where you think their climate priorities should be.

Sasha adds: ‘Small personal steps are important, but Governmental action is needed and needed fast.’

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