Kathryn Kellogg is the author of “101 Ways to Go Zero Waste” and creator of GoingZeroWaste.com, a website aimed at helping people live more sustainably. Here, she shares some steps people can take to reduce their carbon footprint while still living happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
Choose sustainable products
Single-use products leave an enormous carbon footprint and consume valuable resources. For example, it takes 37 gallons of water to produce just one roll of toilet paper.
Instead of using single-use paper and plastic products, opt for reusable alternatives instead. Some examples include reusable dishware instead of paper plates, rags instead of paper towels, and a bidet attachment instead of toilet paper.
Kellogg points out that beauty and cosmetic products account for a huge portion of the single-use plastics we consume — the industry created nearly 8 billion units of rigid plastic in 2019 alone.
To reduce the amount of wasted products in your makeup kit, she recommends creating capsule beauty collections that allow you to only purchase the colors and types of products you’ll actually use. She also recommends instituting the one-in, one-out rule.
“If I run out of mascara, I can go out and buy one new mascara,” Kellogg said. “What I found was that when I would go to buy a new one, I kept wanting to find two that I liked, and I would keep accumulating more and more.”
Eat a plant-forward diet
“If you want to save water, one of the best things you can do is start eating more plants,” Kellogg said.
On average, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, whereas it takes just over 200 gallons to produce a pound of soybeans. Other plant-based sources of protein like lentils, legumes, and tofu cut consumption in equal measure, which means plant-forward eating is a great way to reduce your footprint.
You can also reduce your carbon impact by eating locally sourced foods and supporting vendors that carry them.
“Landfills are designed for storage, not decomposition,” Kellogg said. “A lot of people think that if they put their food scraps in the landfill, it’ll break down, but it won’t.”
Rather, those food scraps will release methane, which stays in the air much longer and has a far greater warming effect than the average greenhouse gas. Currently, landfills account for more than 16 percent of all methane emissions in the United States.
By starting a compost pile, you’ll greatly reduce your carbon footprint and save on your garbage bill.
Reduce food waste
It’s estimated that we throw away 30-40 percent of the nation’s food supply, and an increase of just 8 percent in available food could feed every food-insecure American.
One reason for the high rate of food waste in our country is what Kellogg refers to as “beauty standards” for food — either vendors refusing to sell or shoppers refusing to buy perfectly good produce that is bruised and/or misshapen. Thoughtful consumers can combat this problem by seeking out stores that sell produce that doesn’t conform to those beauty standards.
Another major source of food waste is improper storage. To get the longest shelf life out of your produce, Kellogg recommends the following:
- Store tomatoes on the counter in the darkest corner of your kitchen.
- Put broccoli, asparagus, and carrots in a bowl or jar of water.
- Store greens in an air-tight container with a small cloth napkin to absorb moisture.
- Store berries in an air-tight container.
- Don’t wash your berries and greens until you’re ready to eat them.
Lastly, Kellogg says to double check what you already have on hand before heading to the store.
“Think about meals you can create to use up what’s currently in your fridge,” she said.
The final tip Kellogg shares is what she calls the 30-day rule:
“The next time you see something at a store that you really want, tell yourself you can get it — you just have to wait 30 days,” Kellogg said.
She says the practice of waiting to buy goods will ensure you spend your hard-earned money on things you actually want and are actually going to use. That adds value to the items you do purchase and saves you from impulse-buying things that will just go to waste.
Waiting 30 days also means you might happen across a sale or find those overalls at a second-hand store. “You’ll feel confident about bringing those overalls home because you’ve been thinking about them,” Kellogg said. “It’s something you’ve planned outfits for — you know you really want them.”