There’s been a slew of press on global warming, climate change, countries disappearing, etc. The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen begins next week (Dec. 7-Dec. 18) and many are hoping that governments and their delegates will cooperate and get some programs in place “to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century”, says incoming COP15 president, Connie Hedegaard. While we tend to look for governments and corporations to solve problems that often are created by how we chose to live, climate change really begins at home — at the heart of our everyday activities. Certainly, there is merit for coordinated global action to tackle the problem, but each of us in the developing world has to be part of the solution.
While many of us believe we’re living “greener” — doing our part for the environment — by using reusable bottles for water instead of bottled water, buying local produce, and using paper or canvas bags instead of plastic bags, we still have habits that are far more damaging to the environment than we realize.
NewScientist magazine lists five deadly habits, eco-crimes, that we commit everyday…possibly without fully knowing!
The coffee trade has been progressive in promoting more “sustainable” products with organic and fair trade options. “Fair trade can help to stop the exploitation of farmers, and buying organic may ensure more sustainable production techniques. But the average cup of black filter coffee is still responsible for 125 grams of CO2 emissions. Of this, two-thirds comes from production and most of the rest from brewing.” Instant coffee would reduce that to 80 grams, but if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, “six-a-day caffeine habit clocks up more than 175 kilograms of CO2 each year. That’s the equivalent of a flight across Europe – from London to Rome.”
2. Toilet Paper
Manufacturers have provided options for eco-conscious consumers with 100% recycled paper topping the list. Recycled tissues saves about 1.5-2 tonnes of CO2 emission per tonne of tissue. (1 tonne=1,000 kilograms) “Recycled toilet tissue is most widely used in Europe and Latin America, but even there it still only accounts for 1 in 5 rolls. In the US it remains very much a niche product. The average American gets through 23 toilet rolls each year, adding up to more than 7 billion rolls for the country in total. Of these, just 1 in 50 are from 100% recycled fibers. The reason toilet roll made from new wood is preferred is quite simple: its long fibers produce the softest and fluffiest paper. Every time paper is recycled, the fibers become shorter, making for an increasingly rough bathroom experience.”
3. Fast Fashion
“In 1990, global textile production stood at 40 million tonnes. By 2005 that figure had risen to around 60 million tonnes. This surge in manufacture and consumption has been helped by fast-moving fashion trends and sweatshop price tags. As a result, much of the clothing we buy ends up being discarded long before it has worn out. Currently, in the UK and US, only around a quarter of unwanted textiles are reused or recycled. Recycled textiles have many uses, from mattress fillings and upholstery to bags and shoes, but the truly green alternative is reuse. The energy required to collect, process and sell a reused item of clothing is only 2% of the energy required to manufacture a new garment. The clothing and textile sector in the UK alone is responsible for more than 3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. Switching to second-hand alternatives could yield some big energy savings and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.”
“The environmental cost of excessive consumption (fast fashion) has an even less conspicuous twin: the energy used to launder it all. We live in a “wear once and wash” culture. This habit is shockingly wasteful in terms of water, detergents and energy. A full load in a washing machine uses around 1.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity per cycle and tumble drying clocks up a further 3.5 kilowatt-hours, resulting in over 2 kilograms of CO2 emissions per wash. With four or five loads per household per week, the total annual emissions from each home can easily pass the half-tonne mark. That’s a significant proportion of the 10-tonne annual emissions of the average European. Line drying, washing at lower temperatures and ensuring full rather than partial loads will all help to reduce laundry emissions. For the largest cuts, simply washing less frequently is the way to go.”
5. Food Waste
“Of all the types of overconsumption that plague both human society and the global environment, food wastage is the most shocking. US households throw away around 30% of their food, worth $48 billion every year. Similar levels of wastage are seen in Europe. Most of this joins the layers of unwanted clothing in landfills, where it decomposes, emitting the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Potatoes top the pile, with 359,000 tonnes going uneaten each year. Bread and apples are not far behind. Meat and fish are next, accounting for over 160,000 tonnes, followed by 78,000 tonnes of cooked rice and pasta. A staggering 4.8 billion grapes go the same way, as do 480 million yogurts and 200 million rashers of bacon. The annual cost to UK consumers of all this waste is £10 billion (US$16 billion) and the cost to the environment is the equivalent of an extra 15 million tonnes of carbon emission.”
This list is far from complete, but provides an eye-opening look at the environmental consequences of some of our most basic daily habits. What other every day habits would you add to the list?
photo credit: mango, vizzzual.com and thebittenword.com