Five easy ways to lower your household carbon emissions


While the world wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another important global issue that’s not going away: climate change.

It’s a daunting problem and requires global solutions and actions.

But just as we’ve seen with flattening the COVID-19 curve, if enough people make a change it starts to add up to something significant.

So we’ve created the ABC Science Carbon Counter to show the savings in CO2 emissions that can come from individuals making simple changes, and the cumulative impact if all Australian households did the same.

There are some easy wins here and some might surprise you — here are the top five.

Shower less

OK, we are NOT saying you should shower less often! But a few tweaks to your showering habits are a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The biggest savings for the least effort comes from cutting your shower time if you have long showers, say, for thinking, relaxing or waking up.

Cutting your daily shower from eight minutes to four minutes saves up to 350 kilograms of CO2 a year.

If we all did this, we could cut Australia’s emissions from household energy use by 8 per cent.

Another easy win, if you haven’t done it already, is to install a water-saving shower head.

These reduce the amount of water hitting you each minute in your shower — by around 40 per cent on average — so they save water and therefore the energy required to heat it.

Tweak your electricity use

Buying energy-saving appliances and changing to LED lighting are important steps towards reducing your household emissions. But there are also a couple of simple things you can do with your existing appliances.

No-one wants to be too hot or cold at home, but would you notice if the temperature setting on your air conditioner was changed by just one degree?

Probably not, but that one-degree difference cuts your air conditioner’s energy use by about 10 per cent. So dial it up a degree in summer, down a degree in winter.

Based on the figures for an average air conditioner in Australia — being used for six hours a day for 180 days a year — you could save over 200kg of CO2 a year. And if all households in Australia made the same change it would be equivalent to a 5 per cent reduction in household electricity emissions.

Another easy win around the house is turning off a second fridge, as they’re often older models that aren’t as energy efficient as today’s fridges.

A typical 15-year-old fridge releases about 400kg of CO2 per year — and that’s what you could save if you got rid of it, or switched if off when not in use.

Of course, if you’re keen to do something bigger, installing solar panels will mean that a sizeable proportion of your energy is generated from the Sun. Plus you could also be feeding renewable energy into the grid for others to use.

Give kangaroo a try

Beef and lamb are the greenhouse gas heavy-hitters in many people’s diets, because of the methane that cattle and sheep produce.

We’re often told to eat less red meat as a way of reducing our footprint (and for health reasons as well).

Swapping from beef or lamb to another source of protein such as chicken, pork, duck, fish or eggs will reduce your food footprint.

If you like your meat but want to reduce your emissions try kangaroo. Despite being a red meat, it has just one fifth of the emissions of beef and a quarter of that from lamb.

This is because the kangaroo’s stomach produces very little methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2) in comparison to cattle and sheep.

Swapping to lentils or plant-based meat alternatives will reduce it even more.

Don’t waste food

Australians throw out about 118kg of food at home each year, on average.

When it breaks down in landfill, that food waste creates about 250kg of greenhouse gas.

So making the effort to ensure that nothing goes to waste is an easy way to reap greenhouse gas savings.

And this is especially important if you live in a smaller town, where none of that greenhouse gas is captured. (In places with more than around 50,000 people, about half of the greenhouse gas is captured at the tip).

Anything you can do to put less food in the bin will cut your emissions, and there are plenty of options to get more organised and efficient.

These include: planning meals; checking the pantry before shopping; making a shopping list; and using the freezer to manage leftovers or other ingredients before they go off.

The overall goal is not to waste food. But if you do, then composting food waste is a great idea as it only results in 2 to 4 per cent of the emissions it would create in landfill.

Drive less and fly less

Driving and flying are significant sources of carbon emissions.

But even just walking to the local shops instead of hopping in the car can make a difference.

If all car owners in Australia walked five times a week instead of driving one kilometre to the local shops we’d save over 2 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

And this year because of COVID-19 many of us have been doing a lot less driving!

If you’ve been working from home instead of driving to work then your savings could be even more significant.

Say your commute used to be 10km one way, five days a week. If you’re working from home, you’re now saving 1344kg of CO2 per year.

If every car owner in Australia made a similar change we’d reduce our emissions from transport by 44 per cent. (Not everyone can work from home but this gives an idea of the impact we can have if we work collectively.)

And as for flying — this year has taken our travel plans and dumped them on their head. While it’s no compensation for cancelled travel plans, you can see how much CO2 you’ve saved by NOT flying this year by using the ABC Science Carbon Counter.

While you’re there, find how much you could save with some other simple changes like showering less, composting more and tweaking that air conditioner setting., 12 August 2020
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