4 helpful tips for reducing your carbon footprint in 2021

Another new year brings with it a sense of a fresh start on the horizon, the feeling of turning the page to another chapter in our lives wondering what the next twelve months will bring. Every year, our hopes and aspirations for the new year are jotted down in our shiny new planners (and at times forgotten about after a week), but one of the most important resolutions you can make in 2021 is the act of becoming more climate conscious. 

The last few years have seen a huge surge in global climate activism, with social media sites helping to disseminate crucial information about the climate crisis at breakneck speed. At an individual and governmental level, it is clear there is still a lot of work to do. To ease you into it, here are 4 tips for reducing your carbon footprint in 2021.

Cut down on your meat consumption

Recently, one of the growing points of conversation with regards to climate change is the production and overconsumption of meat and the significant impact this has on the environment. The livestock industry is often one that is forgotten about when addressing climate change, however it is one of the most detrimental industries affecting our planet today. This is owing to several factors, with one of the most notable being the emissions of harmful greenhouse gases such as methane.

Livestock production is the largest global source of methane, which is particularly harmful due to the rate at which it traps heat – in the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The emission of greenhouse gases such as methane or nitrous oxide from the livestock sector are estimated to account for 14.5 percent of the global total – that’s even more than the global emissions from ships, trucks, planes and cars combined.

The livestock sector affects the environment through other harmful factors such as excessive water use and deforestation. At present, the meat production industry is undeniably having a devastatingly (and possibly irreversible) impact on global temperatures. The decision to cut out meat and dairy from your diet could have hugely beneficial impacts environmentally – switching to a vegan diet has been regarded by researchers as the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce an individual’s environmental impacts and cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent

Cutting meat and dairy out of your diet won’t happen overnight, so why not start with small changes like eating plant-based meals one or two days a week, or switching to oat milk instead of dairy for your morning coffee? Initiatives like the Meatless Mondays campaign could be a great way to kickstart your attempt to cut back on meat. The campaign claims that their message of skipping meat once a week, beginning on a Monday, can lead people to eat more vegetables and plant-based meals throughout the rest of the week – and report that skipping just one serving of beef every Monday for a year saves the equivalent emissions to driving 560 kilometres in a car.

With vegetarian and vegan diets becoming more and more popular in Ireland, there are now an abundance of meat and dairy substitutes to implement into your weekly shop – who knows, you might even like them better than your usual meat or dairy option! Saving the planet and finding a new favourite food – it’s a win-win, right?  Check out more on the benefits of eating less meat here: 

Try to be a more conscious consumer

The urge to indulge in an online shopping spree (or five) has never been more tempting than this year, with many of us housebound and free to roam the internet for hours on end. But the usual sites a lot of us are now familiar with, such as Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing or SHEIN, are a huge part of the problem known as fast fashion – essentially, the mass production of cheap clothing to keep up with the latest catwalk trends. But is keeping the latest fashion trends accessible and affordable really worth it if it means being the second most polluting industry in the world?

As well as being the second most polluting industry, the fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water worldwide. To produce just one pair of jeans, about 10,000 litres of water is needed – enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years. With 5 trillion litres of water used each year for fabric dyeing alone (enough to fill 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools), it’s clear that a detrimental amount of water is being wasted, as many of these garments produced will end up unsold, either heading for the incinerator or sent to landfill – in Ireland alone, a whopping 225,000 tonnes of clothing is sent to landfill every year.

Waste is a huge issue within the fashion industry, with new trends becoming old news in a matter of weeks. In the age of Instagram influencers and massive YouTube clothing hauls, for some of us it has become normalised to buy multiple items of clothing a week (which, deep down, we know we don’t really need). 

To combat this, clothes swap events are easily found through sites like Swapsies or even through Facebook groups in your local area, and are great ways to clear your wardrobe of any old clothes as well as sprucing it up with some new pieces – and with no added environmental cost! Until these events are back up and running however, there are alternatives like secondhand shopping app Depop or ASOS Marketplace, where you can swap and buy second hand pieces. 

Another stepping stone to being a more conscious consumer is to research the brands you choose to buy from. With the help of apps such as Good On You, a sustainable fashion app which helps you figure out just how ethical the brands you’re buying from are, you can shop more comfortably and ethically. Good On You rates fashion companies on the basis of factors such as labour conditions or environmental impact and even offers discount codes on their more highly rated clothing sites – a great incentive for you to shop with more ethical brands.

The three R’s – done right

Reduce, reuse, recycle; a jingle we’ve all heard a million times before. But are you adopting the steps into your daily routine and the decisions you make, and in the correct order? The three R’s are intended to be used in a kind of hierarchy of waste management – the reduction of consumption is seen to be the most efficient step, to cut down on waste, and in turn the reusing of items which are necessary is encouraged. Implementing the use of reusable coffee cups or bottles, grocery bags or buying secondhand clothes all fall under this category.

Recycling, although not without its flaws, is a welcome third option if the first two options are unavailable, but in Ireland it seems that a lot of us aren’t actually recycling correctly. It takes just one item to ruin a bag of recycling and contamination in recycling bins – such as through items that aren’t rinsed out and dried – can be as high as 36% each year

If we used our recycling bins correctly, we could reduce our general waste output by one third and double the amount of food and garden waste sent for composting. Repak’s website offers in-depth tips and explanations on recyclable and non-recyclable items, so next time you go to dispose of your recycling bin, take a closer look to see if you’re complying with standard recycling guidelines.

Put pressure on your government

As much as the onus has been placed on individuals to single handedly combat climate change, the missing piece to the climate crisis shaped puzzle is our government, who have a moral responsibility to enact legislation to make a change. The Irish government’s latest action regarding climate change was the publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 in October of this year. While this Bill has been deemed an improvement on the 2015 Climate Law, there have been many critiques of the lack of accountability throughout, the vague language it uses, as well as claims of inadequacy for certain aims set out such as that for carbon neutrality by 2050.

With the climate crisis an ever-increasing global issue, it is the responsibility of each nation’s government to introduce adequate legislation to combat increasing global emissions and ensure a ‘just transition’ for workers affected by changing climate laws. Being an informed citizen is a vital part of becoming more climate conscious – it’s important to familiarise yourself with your local TDs and their core party values. 

In a 2020 Eurobarometer special report, 77% of Irish citizens said they believe the government is not doing enough to protect the environment. There is no time like the present to get more involved – if you feel the government hasn’t been doing enough, let your voice be heard – email your TDs and keep up to date with issues both nationally and locally.

reducing carbon footprint

Climate change coalition group Stop Climate Chaos are just one group to follow in order to stay up to date and informed on local climate issues, and through their website and social media are currently calling on Irish citizens to take action and email local TDs to close the loopholes in the Climate Bill. Citizen engagement is essential to ensure the climate debate moves along as fast as possible. Stay aware of the issues that matter and keep fighting for change – remember, change cannot happen if we are ill-informed on the issues that matter.

Rachel McLoughlin
Rachel McLoughlin

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