The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a dire warning about the state of pollution, global warming and its effects on the planet. They have given humanity just 12 years to make a real effort in reducing carbon emissions and becoming more environmentally-friendly. Any later, and Earth could undergo irreversible changes that would be catastrophic.
There are numerous changes that ordinary people can make to their daily lives to minimise their impact on the environment. It’s up to every person to make the necessary changes, so here are a few tips to help you make a start.
Here are 10 ways to reduce your carbon footprint and waste output.
1. Recycle more
Make a pledge to recycle your waste and take advantage of your local recycling facilities. If your municipality does not offer collection of recycling, find out where the nearest facility or drop-off point is. Make an effort to separate your plastic, paper, metal and glass waste in your home. Find ways to reuse or upcycle waste items that cannot be recycled. Also, ask yourself whether you really need to buy these non-recyclable products again in the future.
2. Cut out plastic
The UN estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Our consumption of plastic products and plastic packaging is unsustainable. Choose to use paper shopping bags, metal straws and plastic alternatives where possible. Shop at plastic-free stores and make a concerted effort to reduce your reliance on plastic. Take part in local beach and park clean-ups. Pick up any litter you see in your daily life, especially the small waste items.
3. Minimise food waste
There are a number of ways to reduce food waste. Food waste that gets put in a bin often ends up in a landfill and then decomposes, producing large volumes of methane in the process. Methane is a greenhouse gas. Place organic food scraps in a compost bucket and use it to feed your garden. Try to finish your meals at restaurants and takeaways. Store food correctly by placing it in a cool, dry cupboard or in the fridge. Buy only what you need; doing a weekly meal prep will help you shop for only the food you need.
4. Save water
Many South Africans are aware of the scarcity of water - residents in every province have battled with water shortages at some stage in recent years. Saving water is critical for South Africans, not only when there is a drought but every single day. Only flush the toilet when necessary. Reduce your shower time to two minutes. Install water-saving taps in the kitchen and bathroom. Collect water from your shower or bath and reuse it to flush your toilets and wash your car.
5. Use eco-friendly products
Start using eco-friendly cleaning products such as shampoos, detergents and dishwashing liquids. Opt for low-phosphate products as these are better for water systems, rivers and the ocean. Phosphates stimulate the growth of algae and reduce oxygen levels in the water, which is harmful to fish and other water-based organisms. Many local brands and supermarkets have started to introduce eco-friendly cleaning products to the market, so they are quite easy to find in South Africa.
6. Fertilise your garden
Take care of your garden, especially during the winter. Use organic waste and vegetable offcuts from your kitchen to start a compost. Use this compost to feed your plants. Compost is an amazing natural fertiliser for plants, lawns and trees. Alternatively, you can use conventional fertilisers to keep your soil full of nutrients. Look after your garden as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the effects of global warming.
7. Grow vegetables and herbs
Building on from the previous point, start to plant more in your garden. Do some research on local plant species and hardy flora that do not require too much water. These are the best options when planting seeds. Start a vegetable garden and plant your own tomatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce and beans. Grow your own herbs too. These steps will save you money in the long run as you won’t have to go to the shops as often to buy vegetables and herbs.
8. Reduce electricity usage
Make an effort to minimise your electricity usage. Switch off lights when not in that room. Turn off the television when you’re not watching and unplug your cellphone charger when not in use. Turn load shedding into an advantage by using it as an opportunity for a romantic candle-lit dinner. Buy a gas heater rather than an oil heater or an electric bar heater. Avoid boiling a full kettle if you’re only having one cup of tea or coffee - instead, fill the kettle with just the right amount of water as needed.
9. Buy local
“By burning heavy fuel oil, just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world's cars put together.” The Economist This is a scary stat and one that should have us all buying locally made products and produce whenever possible.
Shop at the closest store to your house, or at a convenient supermarket on the way home. Visit your local markets on the weekend and support your local grocers and farmers. The quality of the produce at these markets is top-notch. Buy in bulk so that you don’t need to shop as often, but only buy what you will consume (see point 3). Buying at local markets is also a great way to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.
10. Use public transport and carpool
Most major cities in offer some form of public transport system. In South Africa Gauteng has the Gautrain and its buses and Cape Town has Metrorail and MyCiTi buses. Try to make use of these public transport systems as much as possible. This will reduce the number of vehicles on the road, easing traffic congestion and reducing carbon emissions. If you really don’t want to use public transport, try carpooling with friends and colleagues instead.
These 10 changes are relatively simple to make and will reduce your carbon footprint and waste output. Play your part in minimising your impact on the environment as soon as you can.
12 years is such a short amount of time to reverse the effects of global warming so every citizen needs to make a change.