15 Easy Ways You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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Imagine a landmass the size of the entire continent of Africa burning as a massive forest fire for an entire year. Such an enormous fire would release nearly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—the same amount that human activity produces every year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2015 numbers. The scale at which we're pumping out CO2 is alarming, and it is all serving to trap heat on the planet and fuel climate change. Fortunately, there are small, easy steps everyone can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint (which you can calculate here).

1. SKIP THE BACON, EGG, AND CHEESE …

Breakfast sandwich on table.
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Your breakfast sandwich, while delicious, isn't eco-friendly. Livestock consume a lot of resources and release the greenhouse gas methane into the environment every time they fart—which means animal products come at a high environmental cost. Add the toll that transporting and packaging the ingredients takes on the environment, and the average bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich comes out to about 1441 grams CO2 equivalent (a unit that measures global warming potential). For comparison, driving a car four miles produces about 1650 grams CO2 equivalent. Maybe grab some locally-grown fruit the next time you're looking for a portable morning bite.

2. … AND THE GRASS-FED BEEF.

Cow in pasture.
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Grass-fed beef has been embraced by the organic food movement, leading some people to believe it's the better choice for the environment. But a 2017 report released by Oxford's Food Climate Research Network shows this isn't the case: Grass-fed cattle only accounts for 1 gram of protein per person, per day compared to 13 grams from all ruminants, which includes cows, sheep, and goats. Despite this, grass-fed cattle still contribute one-third of all the greenhouse gases produced by ruminants—and the carbon-absorbing pastures they graze in don't do much to offset that. That said, grain-fed, factory-farmed meat isn't much better for the environment, and it comes with a whole different set of concerns, so a better option is to cut meat from your diet where you can.

3. FLY COACH.

Plane flying above the clouds.
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Traveling somewhere by plane is the quickest way to expand your carbon footprint. Just one round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles produces about a fifth of the emissions your car creates in a year. The best option for the environment is to fly less or not at all, but this is unrealistic for some people. An alternative is to book your seats in coach. Because they're allotted less space, and therefore require less fuel, passengers flying economy are linked to three times less emissions than those flying in business class. Look at first class and the difference is even more dramatic: Those flyers account for nine times the carbon emissions of passengers in coach.

4. SHOP AT SECOND-HAND STORES.

Browsing at a thrift store.
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Next time you have a moment alone, check the tags of the clothes you have on. Unless you're a mindful shopper, your wardrobe likely crossed thousands of miles before ending up in your possession. The resources that go into making a single garment also add up: According to a report from Dame Ellen MacArthur's foundation, the fashion industry produces 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Fortunately, there's an alternative to buying clothes from major chains that doesn't involve joining a nudist colony. Next time you need to replenish your closet, head to a second-hand store. Buying gently used clothing is better for the environment, and many thrift stores donate part of the proceeds to charitable causes.

5. BIKE.

Biking next to a car on the road.
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It's easy to see how biking can reduce your carbon footprint. While the typical passenger car releases about 404 grams of CO2 per mile, a bicycle emits zero. If you live in a bikeable city or in an area with mild weather year-round, a bike is a worthwhile investment. Even if a bike can't replace your car completely, for shorter trips it's a great way to be gentle on the environment while saving gas money and getting a cardio workout at the same time.

6. TURN DOWN YOUR THERMOSTAT.

Hand turning down the thermostat.
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Heating your home in the winter is expensive, and it can also be a major contributor to your carbon footprint. Do the planet and your wallet a favor and turn down the thermostat by a degree or two when you're in the house. At night you should turn the heat down even lower, and when you're away you should turn it off altogether. Investing in a smart thermostat that senses when you're in the house and adjusts itself is another way to reduce your carbon emissions.

7. HANG YOUR CLOTHES TO DRY.

Clothes hanging up on clothesline.
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If you have the yard space for a clothesline, take advantage of it. According to The Guardian, a household that uses a dryer 200 times a year could shrink its carbon footprint by roughly half a ton of CO2 by air-drying laundry instead. Even if you don't have the option to use a clothesline year-round, avoiding the dryer for just half your loads would make a difference.

8. UNPLUG THE APPLIANCES YOU DON'T USE.

Hand unplugging plug from socket.
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Just because an appliance is turned off doesn't mean it isn't consuming energy. According to How Stuff Works, the "phantom energy" zapped up by electronics that stay plugged into an outlet around the clock can account for 10 percent of your electric bill (which, if you factor it out, would be more than a free month's worth of electricity each year). If you can't stand plugging and unplugging every gadget around your home all day, try leaving appliances you don't use on a daily basis, like toasters, desk lamps, etc., unplugged and only power them up when you need them.

9. REUSE WHERE YOU CAN.

Cloth bags filled with groceries.
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Every piece of waste you toss in the garbage adds to your carbon footprint. You may not be able to bring your trash production down to nothing, but you can reduce it by investing in non-disposable goods that can withstand a bit of wear-and-tear. Reuseable shopping bags, food storage containers, coffee cups, and straws can replace many of the items that are often thrown away every day.

10. SWITCH OUT YOUR LIGHT BULBS.

Line of light bulbs against wall.
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If you still use incandescent bulbs to light your home, it's time to make a change. Incandescents use electricity inefficiently, adding money to your electricity bill and your home cooling expenses, thanks to the excess heat they generate. Energy Star-qualified light bulbs like CFLs (compact fluorescents) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are more energy-efficient than the average light bulb and last six times as long. If every household in America swapped just one regular light bulb for one of these options, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 9 billion pounds.

11. CARPOOL.

Man and woman sitting in front seats of a car.
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For trips where biking isn't an option, see if you can find a friend. Car travel isn't great for the environment, but hitching a ride with someone going the same direction as you makes a much smaller impact than driving alone. Next time you're at work, look around the office for potential carpool buddies. And before your next night out with friends, suggest a system that doesn't involve everyone coming in a separate car.

12. WASH YOUR CLOTHES IN COLD WATER.

Adjusting settings on a washing machine.
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One way to make your electric laundry machine a little gentler on the environment is to switch on the cold water setting. That simple change can reduce your washer's carbon emissions by 75 percent and save you $60 for every 300 loads of laundry you clean. And for lightly soiled clothing, cold water sanitizes just as well as a warm wash.

13. USE CURTAINS AS TEMPERATURE CONTROL.

Woman opening curtains.
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Curtains aren't just there for privacy—throughout the year, they can help lower your energy consumption. When the sun is hitting the house, keep your windows clear in the winter to take advantage of that free heat source, and close them during peak daylight hours during the summer (especially when you aren't at home). On winter nights, conserve energy by drawing your curtains closed and blocking the heat inside from leaking out, and either open your windows at night for a fresh breeze or close your curtains to keep the air conditioning in during the warmer months. Keep up these habits year-round and you'll see the difference in your heating and cooling bills.

14. TAKE SHORTER SHOWERS.

Woman washing her hair in the shower.
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You don't need to deprive yourself of the pleasure of a hot shower to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. According to Mother Jones, we would save 20.9 billion pounds of CO2 a year if we all shaved one minute off our shower sessions. If that change sounds easy for you, try taking the five-minute shower challenge for a week or two.

15. PLANT A TREE.

Parent and child planting a tree.
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One of the easiest ways to take care of the planet is also the most fun. Set aside an afternoon to plant a tree in your backyard and the benefits will last its whole life. A young tree absorbs roughly 26 pounds of CO2 per year and a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds. After 40 years, a tree will have sequestered 1 ton of carbon that would have otherwise contributed to global warming.

A Team of Cigarette Butt-Collecting Birds Are Keeping a French Theme Park Litter-Free

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iStock

The six rooks pecking at litter within the Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses, France, aren't unwelcome pests: They're part of the staff. As AFP reports, the trained birds have been dispatched to clean up garbage and cigarettes butts from the park grounds.

Rooks are a member of the corvid family, a group of intelligent birds that also includes ravens and crows. At Puy du Fou, an educational amusement park with attractions inspired by various periods from French history, the rooks will flit around park, pick up any bits of litter that haven't been properly disposed of, and deliver them to a receptacle in exchange for a treat. At least that's how the system is set up to work: The full team of six rooks has only been on the job since August 13.

Employing birds as trash collectors may seem far-fetched, but the experiment has precedent. The Dutch startup Crowded Cities recently started training crows to gather cigarette butts using a vending machine-like device. Once the crows were taught to associate the rig with free peanuts, the machine was tweaked so that it only dispensed food when the crow nudged a cigarette butt resting on a ledge into the receptacle. The cigarette butts were eventually removed, and the birds figured out that they had to find the litter in the wild if they wanted to continue receiving their snacks.

Crowded Cities had planned to conduct more research on the method's effectiveness, as well as the potentially harmful effects of tobacco on crows, before bringing their vending machines to public spaces. Puy du Fou, meanwhile, has become one of the first—if not the first—businesses to fully implement the strategy on a major scale.

Even if it doesn't prove to be practical, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told AFP that cleaning up the park is only part of the goal. He also hopes the birds will demonstrate that "nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment."

[h/t AFP]

7 Products to Make Your Iced Coffee Obsession More Eco-Friendly

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iStock

As you may have heard, plastic straws are on their way out. There is an increasing push to phase out hard-to-recycle single-use straws in restaurant chains and even entire cities, and many people are becoming aware for the first time of just how harmful straws can be to the environment. So what’s an iced coffee aficionado to do? While there are some alternatives in the works—a new paper straw factory is opening in the UK, for one, and Starbucks is redesigning its plastic lids to include sippable lips—for now, finding alternatives to grabbing several plastic straws a day to support an addiction to cold brew, iced tea, and fountain sodas is largely up to consumers themselves.

If you’ve started feeling guilty about your two-a-day iced coffee habit or your love of an icy Coke, there are a number of options to replace all that single-use plastic you’re used to throwing away. Here are seven items that can make your cold beverage purchases a little more environmentally friendly. Let’s start with the straws themselves.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of sales. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck gift hunting!

1. COMPOSTABLE STRAWS; $11 FOR 100

A package of white compostable straws
Repurpose

Don’t want to give up the convenience of a classic plastic straw? Repurpose makes compostable straws out of plant matter that, unlike the conventional plastic options, will biodegrade. According to the company, they’ll break down after 90 days in an industrial composting facility. Amazon reviewers note that the straws look and feel almost exactly like plastic straws, so you don’t have to change your habits too much.

Find It: Amazon

2. STAINLESS STEEL STRAWS; $10 FOR 6

Two cleaning brushes, three straight stainless steel straws, and three bent straws with colored tips
Amazon

Stainless steel is durable, easy to clean, and affordable, making it the go-to option for many people looking to replace their plastic straws. However, metal straws can also feel harsh and cold. Luckily, each straw in this set has a soft silicone tip on the top for maximum mouth comfort. This pack of six comes with both straight and bent straws of different diameters, meaning they’ll work for thick smoothies as well as for coffee or soda. They’re also slightly longer than regular straws, so they’ll fit tall tumblers.

Find It: Amazon

3. GLASS STRAWS; $20 FOR 2

Two purple straws fit inside a blue carrying case.
Amazon

Glass straws are smooth to sip from, especially if you’re a person who doesn’t love the metallic taste of stainless steel straws. While they look delicate, they’re sturdier than you think, and can survive banging around in your bag all day or getting thrown in the sink. (They’re made from the same type of shatterproof glass as old-school Pyrex dishware.) While these colorful straws aren’t the cheapest glass versions available on the web, they come with a crucial component that not all manufacturers offer—a carrying case to keep your straws clean and safe throughout the day.

Find It: Amazon

4. STRAW CARRYING CASE; $14

A teal straw bag with illustrations of French bulldogs and catcuses
Shaunacy Ferro, Mental Floss

Not all reusable straws come with a case, but having one will improve the likelihood that you'll commit to ditching plastic straws. Instead of planning every coffee, soda, or smoothie you’ll buy, it's easiest to always have one of your reusable straws waiting in your bag. These colorful pouches from Hawaii-based Etsy seller Bernadette Rapozo come in a variety of patterns and feature a waterproof lining so that you don’t have to worry about throwing your still-slightly-wet straw in it after you finish your drink.

Find It: Etsy

5. HYDRO FLASK 22-OUNCE TUMBLER AND STRAW LID; $43 FOR BOTH

A black tumblr and a lid with a straw in it
Hydro Flask

If you’ve already committed to trying to reduce your straw usage, you may also find yourself feeling guilty about using plastic cups. This well-insulated stainless steel cup from Hydro Flask promises to fit in most cupholders and has a non-slip powder finish on the exterior for easy gripping, two design factors that led to it being named The Wirecutter’s favorite tumbler. The double-wall structure is made to keep your drink cold for a full 24 hours.

Hydro Flask recently debuted a splash-proof straw lid, sold separately, that makes the tumbler feel more like a traditional disposable plastic cup. The tumblers come in various sizes, including 10-ounce versions designed for wine and liquor—or, alternately, juice and small amounts of coffee—and 22-ounce and 32-ounce versions for larger drinks. For coffee, we prefer the 22-ounce version, because very few people can handle 32 ounces of highly caffeinated cold brew.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

6. TERVIS INSULATED 16-OUNCE TUMBLER AND LID; $16 FOR BOTH

A clear plastic tumbler and black lid that reads 'Tervis'
Tervis, Amazon

Tervis makes simple, affordable plastic tumblers that come in a wide variety of designs and colors. (You may recognize them from college bookstores, since they’re available with a number of university’s emblems on them.) They’re especially handy if you’re looking to pair them with your own straw, since the large, puncture-style hole can fit almost any size straw.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

7. SIMPLE MODERN 16-OUNCE TUMBLER WITH LID; $16

A dark gray tumbler with a black straw
Simple Modern

If you want something similar in design to a single-use plastic cafe cup but are looking for something more durable than most reusable plastic tumblers, Simple Modern’s 16-ounce stainless steel travel tumblers might be the right fit. While more affordable than Hydro Flask’s version, these tumblers also feature stainless steel insulated walls designed to keep your drink icy for hours. Each one also comes with two lids: a straw lid for cold drinks and a sippable lid for hot beverages.

Find It: Amazon

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