Top 10 Ways to Slim Personal Consumption

When all of our personal consumption is added up, that segment may well be the largest single part of our personal carbon footprint. [In A Personal Carbon Reduction Plan, I tried to help individuals segment to ease the path to reducing personal carbon footprint.]. While there are many other components of personal consumption, especially our dietary choices, this focus are all areas where individuals can take action.

The old adage “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is still potent, and in that order. Our society has become so obsessed with creeping consumerism that it often obscures the cost to our planet. Reducing consumption is often about:

  • prioritizing needs over wants
  • buying durable items that can be repaired
  • eschewing as much as possible the fast fashion trend
  • moving toward lower carbon food consumption, including more vegetarian or plant-based choices and finding more sustainable food sources.

It is important to remember that excess packaging, which almost always involves huge amounts of single use plastics, 

1. Bottled Water

A 21st Century paradox, is that people feel compelled to choose bottled water when ordinary tap water is almost always safer and healthier. Bottled water often has additives like fluoride and sodium. Even worse, a litre of bottled water contains over 10 particles of microplastic on average.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), the plastic used in drinks bottles makes up over 10% of all plastic production and represents a huge consumption of fossil fuels. And, we are unsustainably extracting water from finite aquifers setting the stage for future water shortages. If that weren’t bad enough, we are causing this plastic waste to pollute the farthest reaches of earth and the deepest oceans.

So, skip the purchase of that wasteful water, and drink from the tap whether at home or dining out. Nothing could be simpler. To do otherwise is an assault on the earth we call home.

2. Disposable Shopping Bags

In the US, consumers use 100 billion single use plastic bags, that require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture, each and every year. A mere 14 bags consume the same oil required to drive one mile. Couple that with the toxic chemicals in the bags, and that they take 1000 years to break down, make them a wasteful indulgence we must curtail.

Although paper bags might seem the right alternative, they take 4 times as much energy per bag to produce.

Thus, the answer is reusable bags or ‘green bins’ for shopping. I’ve been using such reusable bags, since I bought my first cotton bag from Greenpeace in San Francisco in the 1980s.

3. Disposable Coffee Cups

Consider the 50 billion single use coffee cups thrown away in the US alone, and the 5 billion in Canada. Often described as a mountain of waste, that perhaps understates the scale.

What is more, almost all cannot be recycled, involve single use plastics (both the lid and embedded in the cup) and hence use loads of fossil fuels as part of our carbon footprint.

The solution is simple. No one is asking consumers to Reduce, or drink less coffee! However, the Reuse options are simple:

  • savour your coffee in the cafe with their re-usable mug,
  • bring your own portable, re-usable (often thermos) coffee or tea mug for take-away, or
  • consider making your own coffee at home [See Coffee Pods]

4. Disposable Coffee Pods

‘K-cups’ are expensive and bad for the Earth and your health. How did such expensive items become so popular?  We are all susceptible to clever marketing, coupled with perceived convenience.

Earlier, I suggested one remedy to all those Disposable Take Out Coffee Cups was to make coffee at home. K-cups have made home coffee production wasteful as well.

There are many alternatives, from the timeless way people have been making coffee for decades without all the excess packaging, to biodegradable pods. A little research will find a way to lower this part of your personal footprint.

5. Overpackaged Take Out Food

Big Bang Theory made take out food cool for the Millennials. Personally, the lifestyle has always seemed unduly wasteful, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerating this takeout and delivery trend. In terms of personal carbon footprint, take out meals consume 4.5 times the carbon of the alternatives.

This footprint comes from the extra transportation and the fossil fuel carbon embedded in all that excess packaging, primarily plastic.

Take time to consider the alternatives:

  • plan more meals at home, which also if prepared from quality ingredients, are almost certainly overall healthier,
  • slow down and dine inside or on the patio of your favourite restaurant, or
  • Consider re-use through circular economy companies. I am a particular fan of A Friendlier Company, that serves a growing service area including Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Fergus-Elora and London.

6. Drinking Straws

Plastic drinking straws are particularly problematic. Beyond being wasteful, and non-recyclable, and their use of fossil fuels in manufacture, these straws easily make their way to oceans, and are particularly harmful to wildlife.

You can obviously carry re-usable straws, often metal, for take out and also encourage any food establishments still using plastic to consider alternatives including wood, paper and even pasta.

7. Bar Soap

We can reduce our footprint from personal hygiene products. Liquid soap doesn’t last as long as good old fashioned bar soap, and involves lots of plastic made from fossil fuels for the container.

Bar soap comes in many forms, but generally has natural ingredients and is equally or more effective without the plastic waste. An added bonus: you can support smaller local businesses as you try out the many choices.

8. Bar Shampoo

Hair care products are over-packaged in lots of fossil fuel based single use plastic. We are ‘conditioned’ to believe that shampoo and conditioner comes as a liquid in a plastic bottle. Because the original shampoos were, in fact, bars, we are simply returning to a more sustainable model, coupled with well formulated products that are even better for your hair than the liquid kind.

Do your own research. Above is just one Canadian-made line of zero packaging products from a BC based startup. There are many more options. Give them a try and find the perfect choice for you.

9. Dishwasher Pods

Like the dreaded coffee pods, plastic pods for your dishwasher are an environmentally bad choice. Beyond the plastic packaging, they contain all sorts of chemicals that damage the marine environment and more

What to do? The old fashioned powdered dishwasher detergent has a way lower footprint. And, if you are diligent, ‘tablets’ are an even better choice with lower weight and the convenience of pods, but at a somewhat higher price.

10. Diapers

There is much debate about the over 50 billion diapers disposed each year in the US. The environmental footprint may include toxic chemicals, use of fossil fuel-based plastics, but perhaps the biggest is that disposing of diapers in landfills itself contributes significantly to our overall Greenhouse Gas emissions, from the methane produced.

Evaluate the pros and cons of alternatives, from reusable cloth diapers to biodegradable diapers. Do your research and find the lowest environmental footprint that will work for you.

This top 10 list, contains a fulsome menu of ways to start lowering your personal footprint by reducing packaging, particularly fossil fuel intense single use plastic.

You can start by selecting just one from the above list, or go all in. The most important thing is that there is no better time to start reducing your carbon impact than today.