Our planet’s problems might sometimes seem overwhelming, but if we each make slight changes to the way we live we can really make a difference. Being aware that everything we do affects the environment is the first step toward a more sustainable lifestyle.
The following actions are things we can do at home to reduce our carbon footprint and make better use of the earth’s resources. And the great news is that most of them will also save you money.
Most of the electricity we use in our homes is generated by burning fossil fuels. That releases CO2, which is a major cause of climate change. The same happens with gas and other fuels that some of us burn at home. Each of us has a carbon footprint, which is the amount of CO2 released by our activities.
There are many ways in which we can cut down on the energy (electricity, gas and other fuels) that we use. Energy costs money, so everything we do to be more energy efficient is good for us as well as the environment.
A good way to start improving things is by insulating your home efficiently, so less heat is wasted and less energy is needed. Next look at the efficiency of your heating system. Heating of homes accounts for around 15% of the UK’s total CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.
Look for local and national government-funded schemes offering insulation at low or zero cost.
Have your walls treated with cavity or solid wall insulation. An estimated 35% of heat loss is through walls.
Lay loft insulation and consider spray foam roof lining. Around 25% of heat loss goes through your roof.
Fit carpets, curtains and double glazing to insulate floors, doors and windows, which account for a staggering 40% of heat loss.
Consider underfloor heating to reduce heat loss via floors.
Fit a modern, efficient boiler tank insulation jacket if your old one is outdated.
Install a more efficient and environmentally friendly heating system, such as a ground source or air source heat pump.
Set your thermostat to a sensible room temperature. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that turning your heating down by just one degree can save around £60 per year.
Use your central heating system timer to ensure you only heat the house when necessary. Fitting a smart thermostat will also help.
Switch off radiators in rooms that are not used regularly and keep internal doors shut to retain heat.
Make sure your radiators are not blocked by curtains or furniture.
Bleed your radiators regularly to keep them working efficiently.
Try to batch-cook or bake several things at the same time.
Freeze any excess cooked food. Reheating it later in a microwave uses less energy than cooking the same meal from scratch every time.
Try not to keep opening the oven as you cook, as this lowers the temperature and you will waste energy heating it back up.
Use the right size of hob ring for your pan. Ensure your pan fully covers the ring and makes the most of the heat it provides. Heating a large pan on a small ring takes much longer than necessary and wastes energy.
Use glass or ceramic dishes in the oven wherever possible, as they retain heat better than metal ones.
Buy a fan-assisted or convection oven. This circulates heat, so the temperature doesn’t have to be as high.
Don’t overfill your kettle. It’s more energy efficient to boil only what you need each time. A kettle with a cup indicator is useful for this. ECO kettles used in this way can consume 20% less energy than a conventional electric kettle.
Refrigeration and freezing
Defrost frozen food in the fridge overnight or while you’re at work. Defrosting food in advance typically halves the cooking time and means you don’t need to use the energy of a microwave’s defrost function.
Defrost your fridge and freezer regularly. The more ice builds up, the harder they have to work and the more energy they use.
Don’t keep your fridge setting colder than it needs to be.
Pull your fridge away from the wall, three or four times a year, and clean the coils. An accumulation of dust and grime means the fridge motor has to work harder.
Dishwashing and laundry
Run your dishwasher with full loads to make the most of the energy (and water and detergent) it uses.
Clean your dishwasher’s filter regularly.
Set your washing machine to ‘half load’, if available, when washing small amounts of clothes.
Set your washing machine to a lower temperature or even a cold cycle whenever possible. Many detergents wash effectively in these cycles. Unless your clothes are particularly greasy, it should work just as well as a hot wash.
Clean your washing machine filters and the lint screen in your tumble dryer after each load. Check the vent hose regularly and remove any fluff or obstructions.
Dry your washing outdoors whenever possible, rather than using a tumble dryer.
Further energy-saving actions
Ask your electricity supplier for a smart meter, so you can find out what electrical items are consuming most energy and focus on using them less.
Save on water heating by taking showers rather than baths and try to take a bit less time in the shower. Fitting a more water-efficient shower head gives the same washing effect with less hot water.
Switch to energy-efficient LED light bulbs and turn lights off when you are not using rooms. Outdoors, use halogen light bulbs which consume around 25% less electricity than incandescent bulbs without losing any brightness.
Turn appliances off, rather than leaving them on standby. The standby mode still uses energy. Consider buying a standby saver, which lets you switch everything off standby in one go.
Don’t leave wall chargers switched on, whether for mobile phones, e-readers, laptops, tablets or digital cameras. They use power even when the device isn’t charging.
Consider swapping your PC for a laptop or tablet. According to iSwitch, the average desktop uses 3.6 times more energy than a laptop and 8 times more than a tablet.
Switch to a green energy supplier. Some of them obtain 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.
Consider installing solar panels and other renewable energy equipment.
Water scarcity is a huge problem worldwide. Even in our relatively wet climate, summer water supply shortages are becoming more common.
Take showers rather than baths. The average shower lasts 8 minutes and uses around 60 litres of water. A medium-sized bath uses 150 litres.
Fit a more water-efficient shower head.
Put a water displacement device in your toilet cistern. It can save up to a couple of litres per flush.
Upgrade to a dual-flush toilet, which saves around 12,500 litres per person per year.
Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth or shaving.
Load your washing machine and dishwasher fully before each wash or use the half-load setting, if available.
Catch water from your roof in a water butt and use it for watering your plants.
Don’t put any rubbish in your toilet (including wet wipes) and don’t pour liquid containing oil or fat into your sinks or drains. These things make it more difficult for water companies to treat sewage and maintain clean water supplies.
The earth’s natural resources are running out, while carelessly discarded waste is turning our planet into a dustbin. Every time something goes to waste, a new one has to be made to replace it. Manufacturing it uses up energy and releases CO2. Food waste alone accounts for around 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
The answer is to reduce the amount we use of everything; reuse things wherever possible; and recycle anything we can no longer use.
Plan ahead and buy only what you need.
Use your freezer. Frozen food can be just as nutritious as fresh food and it stays edible for much longer. Cooking and freezing food before it goes bad is a great way to avoid having to throw it away.
Be creative with leftovers. Websites like BigOven, Supercook and MyFridgeFood have recipes based on ingredients already in your kitchen. Apps like Epicurious and Allrecipes also help you to make the most of them.
Use fruit and vegetables that are beyond ripe to make sweet smoothies, bread, jams, sauces or soup stocks.
Put waste food in your local council’s refuse and recycling collection, if it provides special containers for that purpose.
Create a compost bin in your garden for uncooked fruit and vegetable waste.
Buy a food waste digester, which safely breaks down even meat and other cooked items into nutrients and returns them to the soil.
Recycling and reuse
Donate items like used books and second-hand clothes to local charities.
Check with your local council to see what materials are recycled locally, as this can vary. Recycle glass, tins, tin foil, plastic containers, paper and cardboard at the very least.
Take large items and anything the weekly collection doesn’t cover to your local household waste and recycling centre. An amazing variety of materials can be recycled there.
Think about how your household can use fewer single-use plastic items. Alternatives include paper straws, compostable sponges, shampoo bars and even traditional glass bottle milk delivery.
Switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products with refillable or biodegradable containers.
Encourage further recycling by buying recycled products. For instance, many beautiful household items and even clothes use reclaimed plastic in their manufacture. Recycled ocean waste, in particular, is finding its way into everything from dog collars and running shoes to cosmetics. Here are just a few examples:
- 4ocean Reusable Water Bottles
- Method Biodegradable Hand Soap
- Bureo Sunglasses and Skateboards
- Captain Blankenship Cosmetic Range
- Marine Debris Bakelite Project
Want to do more?
If you would like to know more about how you can help to protect our planet, Google searches hold the key to a world of information and advice on green living.
Search ‘carbon footprint calculator’ to find out how much your own home and the ways you travel are contributing to CO2 emissions. Then reduce your impact.
Search ‘government home energy grants’ to see what help is currently available.
Search ‘environmental groups’ (and include the name of your county or area) and join one. Working together, we can achieve much bigger changes. Organisations like your local Wildlife Trust or Friends of the Earth group take action locally and are part of a highly effective national campaigning movement. You can support them by being a member and, if you have the time, by actively helping as a volunteer.
Contact: Mark Nicholson Copywriting