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How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint & Live a Zero-Waste Life

Even the smallest changes can have a major impact

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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Quite simply, zero-waste living is about leaving a gentler footprint on the planet. That’s it.
- Anita Vandyke, author


As the pandemic-laden dog days of summer continue to swelter on, there is one upside to the global catastrophe: a much-needed reduction in carbon emissions. In fact, an article published by CarbonBrief.com on April 19 revealed that the coronavirus crisis temporarily cut CO2 emissions in China by as high as 25%. Furthermore, in the US, a report published on May 13 by the US Energy Information Administration projected energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to fall by 11% by the close of 2020.

However, the climate change crisis requires the collective, voluntary attention of the human race – far beyond the government-mandated stay-at-home orders of late. If you are wondering how to reduce your personal carbon footprint in an effort to contribute to environmental healing, consider the tips below, provided by a pair of passionate environmentalists.

Positive Changes Amid the Pandemic

Growing up, Philippe Cousteau, Jr. was heavily influenced by the conservation and ocean exploration work of both his father (Philippe) and grandfather (Jacques). “I knew from an early age that I wanted to honor their legacies,” says the Emmy-nominated filmmaker and TV host, author, social entrepreneur, and founder of youth-driven environmental education organization, EarthEcho International. “Everything I do is focused on how to help people recognize the power they have to build a better world.”

To start, Cousteau, Jr. says the process to mitigate – and possibly, reverse climate change – begins with both the government and our personal life choices. While “sweeping legislation” is needed to transform our energy system and economy, our behavior as individual consumers is crucial – both in the ways that we vote and spend our money.

“During the recent pandemic lockdown, much attention was paid to images of wildlife in city centers and reports of plummeting pollution levels in big cities,” Cousteau, Jr. explains. “While they are only temporary, and won’t solve climate change, they are a glimpse of the kind of world we could have if we choose clean energy, regenerative food systems, and a balanced approach to nature.”

So, how do each of us, as individuals, play a role in this process? “It’s not that you can make a difference; it’s that everything you do makes a difference,” shares Cousteau, Jr. “All of your choices have consequences. I believe that is a powerful message because it means that all of us have the ability to make choices each day that are consistent with the kind of world we want.”

Educating Our Kids on Sustainability

Thanks to EarthEcho, Cousteau, Jr.’s work largely focuses on educating today’s youth about sustainability. “We’ve identified 3, basic approaches that can help engage young people to make a positive impact on the planet – and their communities.”

First, engage your kids authentically, and on their own terms. “Acknowledge that the opinions and voices of our younger citizens matter, no matter their age, and engage them in ways that meet them where they are,” he says. “Nature and technology must coexist if we are to engage young people in a relevant way.” Moreover, Cousteau, Jr. says helping kids see the power of technology as a helpful tool will allow them to develop problem-solving strategies in spectacular ways.

Next, we must help our youth understand the bigger picture. “Start with basic resources and practices that touch our lives every day,” he says. For instance, teach kids about how local bodies of water make much of our daily lives possible, from cooking food to brushing our teeth, and how reusable shopping bags can help save their favorite marine animals. “Even the smallest journey can spark exploration and discovery that’s transformative,” says Cousteau, Jr. “Simple actions and a sense of purpose can help form a young person’s view of how they can change the world for the better. When young people realize that everything they do makes a difference in the world, they can become a tremendous force for change.”

Finally, it’s our responsibility to encourage action in our children. According to Cousteau, Jr., “awareness does not lead to action; action leads to awareness.” From a small step in your household to participation in global programs, empowering kids to take part in solutions can fuel a sense of pride that can last a lifetime.

If you are interested in further educating your children on the importance of sustainability and how they can make a difference, visit EarthEcho.org, and stay tuned for the organization’s new interactive app launch, anticipated in the next few months.

From Zero to Hero

Eco-Instagrammer and author of A Zero Waste Life: In Thirty Days, Anita Vandyke is an expert in teaching consumers how to reduce their waste by 80% in just one month. Additionally, the book tells the story of this “accidental environmentalist” and how she went from maximalist to minimalist in living a zero-waste life.

“There is a stereotyped image of the quintessential environmentalist: a left-wing hippie who doesn’t wear deodorant and lives off-the-grid,” Vandyke shares. “But, I want to introduce you to a new kind of environmentalist: the everyday activist.” Moreover, Vandyke says being an everyday activist is about valuing small and consistent actions, the compound effect of which can not only reduce your waste, but also enrich your life.

To Vandyke, “zero waste” means eliminating plastic and other unnecessary packaging. “This is the ultimate goal, but there’s no need to feel daunted,” she shares. “Quite simply, zero-waste living is about leaving a gentler footprint on the planet. That’s it.”

How to Live a Zero-Waste Life

In an effort to work toward living a zero-waste life, the first step is to survey your household. For example, by swapping out many common household items, you can very easily work toward lowering your waste output.

Unsure of what to swap? Vandyke offers the following suggestions:

Compostable garbage bags: Made from cornstarch, these are readily available in supermarkets. Although these cost a bit more than plastic garbage bags, you won’t need to buy as many, once your waste is reduced.

Reusable shopping bags: It’s time to cut single-use plastic out of your life – especially plastic bags! Instead, opt for cotton or any other lightweight material that will work, over and over again.

Stainless steel or glass bottles: Work toward omitting single-use bottled and canned beverages from your food shopping list. You will reduce your waste – and your grocery bill.

Stainless steel straws: Unfortunately, plastic straws are one of the major landfill and environmental pollutants, so making this small switch can cause a major impact. Also, Vandyke suggests saying, “No straw, please” when you dine out – and make sure to do this before the drink arrives. (And, feel free to BYO – straw, that is.)

Reusable coffee cups: Instead of waiting for your barista to hand you a coffee cup, hand the barista your own. There are many options available today – just make sure you purchase something insulated, and with a good seal, so it’s spill-proof.

What About Composting?

A growing and environmentally beneficial trend, composting is a way to repurpose organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. While many US states currently offer city-run composting programs, oftentimes, residents live outside of these city limits, or in quarters that may not be ideal for the activity. “There are so many different alternatives to composting,” says Vandyke, who lives in a small apartment and has never had her own compost at home.

Instead, Vandyke freezes her food scraps and takes them down to her local community gardens weekly to be composted, and employs a small Bokashi bin, for her household of 3, to ferment non-compostable waste into “compost juice.” If you are wondering how to go about composting, download the ShareWaste app, which will reveal where your local compost is stationed.

In the end, it’s about making a difference in a way that’s suitable for your lifestyle. “Aim for effort, not perfection,” suggests Vandyke. “Making an effort to live more sustainably is enough. We are all juggling different priorities, but making small changes can make a big, cumulative difference.”


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