Does solving the climate crisis require swift and serious systemic action if we have any hope of keeping the planet liveable?
Or is it an all-hands-on-deck challenge we can each take on with individual everyday actions?
Trick question: It’s both.
Every one of us has a carbon footprint, and the lifestyle changes we individually make to reduce it do add up—especially when multiplied by all the other people deciding to do the same. Lessening your impact starts at home and boils down to three simple guidelines: waste less energy, use less water and buy less stuff.
One place you can make effective changes is the bathroom—and we don’t (just) mean cozying up in the bathtub with a good book on climate change. Read on for a dozen ways to reduce your household carbon footprint—some of them so easy you can start today—and why these actionable steps matter.
Flushing the toilet accounts for nearly 30 percent of an average Amercian home's indoor water consumption.
1. Upgrade your antiquated toilet—it’s the single most impactful change you can make in your bathroom for a more energy-efficient house. That’s because flushing accounts for nearly 30 percent of an average American home’s indoor water consumption, making it the biggest water hog.
And all the steps needed to supply us with that water, including treating and transporting it, eat up electricity, so using this natural resource has a significant carbon footprint.
If your toilet is older than Justin Bieber (low-flush standards set by the Energy Policy Act took effect in 1994), it’s likely using 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush (GPF).
Today, you can cut that down to 1.28 GPF with an efficient WaterSense-certified toilet. Not sure when yours was made? Peek in your tank for the manufacturing date; you may spot the GPF there, too.
2. Switch to more sustainable toilet paper. Our penchant for plush three-ply directly contributes to clearcutting of the Canadian boreal forest, the most carbon-dense, intact forest we have on Earth.
Needless to say, we want to keep that around to sequester emissions. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates 1 million acres are logged every year, partly to meet U.S. demand for toilet paper.
One eco-friendly alternative is paper products made from recycled fibres or sustainable tree-free alternatives (like bamboo). ; another useful tip is to simply reduce the amount of TP you use. Better yet, install a bidet.
According to the EPA, an average household’s leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of wasted water annually
3. Fix drippy plumbing. According to the EPA, an average household’s leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of wasted water annually.
Picture about 143 full bathtubs’ worth, going right down the drain. A dripping tap is pretty easy to spot. But to uncover stealth leaks originating elsewhere, look at your water meter. If the reading changes during a window of time you’re not using any water, that’s a telltale sign.
4. Don’t run the tap when brushing your teeth or shaving. Yes, you may have heard this, oh, once or twice before. If you still think it’s no big deal for a few minutes here and there, remember that a few times a day, every day, adds up—to an estimated 5,700 gallons per person per year.
5. Swap baths for showers (the shorter, the better). This is, of course, one of the simplest ways to save water. Bonus points if you’ve installed a WaterSense-approved low-flow shower head, and choose a brisk temperature. Treating and transporting water is carbon-intensive, of course, but so is heating that water for home use.
6. Consider installing a greywater recycling system. One of the newer ways to conserve water, this diverts what you’ve used for one thing—say, showering—and repurposes it for something else, like garden care. (Outdoor watering makes up more than 30 percent of total household water use, on average—or up to double that if you live somewhere especially arid.)
The Hydroloop, for example, is a new, first-of-its-kind system so innovative, it won multiple awards at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020, including Best of the Best, Best Start-Up and Best Sustainable Product.
7. Trade sanitary pads and tampons for eco-friendly period products. It’s estimated that each person who menstruates will use 5,000 to 15,000 pads and tampons over a lifetime, but you can easily switch to alternatives that won’t pile up in landfills.
8. Edit your grooming routine to the essentials. Each product that’s manufactured comes with its own carbon footprint, covering everything from the natural resources required to the packaging to the transportation needed to deliver it to the store, or your door.
Plus, makeup, skincare and haircare have a shelf life (check the fine print for an expiration date)—another reason to buy only what you need, and can use immediately.
9. Avoid plastic in the ingredients, too. You may know microbeads—once widely sold in exfoliating cleansers, face/body scrubs and even toothpastes—were phased out in the U.S. with the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. But did you know glitter is just as bad and still on store shelves?
The microplastic making your cosmetics sparkly sneaks through water filtration systems and ultimately ends up in oceans, harming marine life that mistakes the bits for food.
10. Minimize throwaway packaging. Buying bottles of body wash and the like? Look at the label and you’ll see that water is the number one ingredient, and you can get that from your tap. Opting for waterless versions—bar soaps, solid shampoos and conditioners—not only minimizes plastic waste, but also the weight of the products, which shrinks their transportation footprint.
11. Recycle whenever possible. For plastic packaging that’s absolutely unavoidable, check whether you can toss it in your household recycling. (It’s important to avoid “wishcycling,” or optimistically including items that may not be recyclable, as that can contaminate a whole batch of items, causing everything to get trashed.)
If the item isn’t accepted in your local system, check TerraCycle, which specializes in processing hard-to-recycle materials. Items from certain beauty/grooming brands can be recycled this way for free.
12. Try refillables. Google can point you to your nearest zero-waste shops, which are basically bulk stores stocking everything from personal hygiene essentials to green cleaning products. You can often bring in a clean mason jar or similar container, refill with whatever you need, use—and repeat. There’s also Loop, a TerraCycle company that’s bringing back the milkman-delivery model for bathroom staples from familiar brands, like Pantene shampoo.
The difference: the products arrive in sustainable packaging, designed to be refilled over and over again.
Inspired to do more once you’ve checked these changes off your list? We’re full of ideas—click here for 26 ways to live a more sustainable life.
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