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How to Cut Your Carbon Footprint

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Shrink carbon down to size.

By Nicholas Barancyk

America knows how to manufacture. From satellites to soap bars, Crest toothpaste and Jeep Wranglers, there’s a huge tradition of industry written on the pages of American history. It’s one of the top producers of the world’s food supply, yet it also leads the world on less auspicious fronts.

After recycling, the average American creates 2.9 pounds of garbage daily, making the country one of the world leaders in trash production. Additionally, America garners only 30 percent of the energy it creates, and 1 trillion gallons of water circle the drain unused every year.

Many of these issues can be mitigated by increased efficiencies of appliances and supply chains, but the buck really stops at the consumer. Ordered from simple to involved, we’ve put together a list of tricks to help you reduce your carbon footprint.


According to a 2014 report, 40 states are expecting water shortages within the next few years. With a handful of simple tweaks, you can help extend that time frame so all can access water far into the future.

  • Fix leaky faucets. A single faucet leaking five drips per minute loses as much as 173 gallons of water annually. And if a home has one leaky fixture, it’s likely to have more. Control your water use by replacing faulty gaskets and properly sealing your home’s pipes.
  • Install water-efficient fixtures. WaterSense utilities use as much as 20 percent less water than traditional fixtures. Replacing your home’s toilet with a more water-efficient one can save as much as 13,000 gallons a year, and the Environmental Protection Agency claims a bathroom remodeled with water-efficient appliances can pay for itself in as little as one year.
  • Start rain farming. Supplement your water source by harvesting the weather with a rain barrel. A typical 1,800-square-foot home in Austin can haul in as much as 38,000 gallons of water per year. But rain barrels don’t have to be a giant eyesore. There are many options on the market, from colorful ceramics to rustic wine barrels. You can even create one using a food-grade storage container.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the American food supply is wasted, making it the single largest component added to municipal landfills. All that unused food releases harmful amounts of methane into the atmosphere, increasing pollution. Through proper planning, you can help shrink landfills.

  • Meal-prep. By creating a weekly meal plan and purchasing only the ingredients needed for those meals at the market, you reduce the chances of buying food you may not eat. By designing a meal plan that builds off itself, like incorporating leftovers, you also reduce your time in the kitchen and save money.
  • Donate unused food. Tier two on the EPA’s hierarchy of waste reduction is the donation of unused groceries to food banks. If you’re headed out on vacation or just know that can of green beans will go unused, donate it instead to a family in need.
  • Plant a garden. The USDA estimates most food waste occurs in transit from farm to refrigerator. This food loss manifests in the form of bruised fruits or produce with too many blemishes to appeal to the American consumer. By having your own indoor or outdoor garden, you cut out that bumpy truck ride while having access to the freshest produce.

On average, an American individual’s energy usage is equivalent to burning more than 40 pounds of coal a day. Fortunately, coal constitutes only 14 percent of the United States’ energy profile. However, nonrenewable fossil fuels make up 80 percent of our energy sources. With the proper devices, you can make sure your electricity is used responsibly.

  • Invest in a new thermostat. The United States Department of Energy says you can lower your energy usage by as much as 10 percent when you install a programmable thermostat. This way, your system isn’t needlessly heating or cooling when nobody’s home.
  • Replace your water heater. After heating and cooling, your home’s hot-water heater is the second biggest chunk on an American energy bill. Tankless water heaters are 24 to 34 percent more efficient than conventional water heaters, and though they come at a higher initial price, they last longer and save about $100 on average every year.
  • Install a renewable energy source. Solar panels and domestic wind turbines are cheaper now than ever before. Fully powering an American home requires about 28 to 35 solar panels, though that number varies with each individual’s energy usage and increased efficiencies in sunny areas like Austin.




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