Many Small Steps Can Leave a Big Footprint

(Photo Credit: Arnaud Mesureur)

With almost everything we do, we have an impact on the environment. And of course, so does the current global pandemic. COVID-19’s effect on the environment has been, and is, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has blessed us with recovered nature and animals in certain regions, and has lifted a big CO2 parcel off of the world’s greenhouse gas footprint because of incapacitated flight routes and fewer commuters as workplaces were shut, painting the skies blue again. On the other hand, stores not accepting reusable cups and bags anymore and the use of disposable face masks, as well as increased online shopping behaviour and ordering of take-out food, are leading to higher emissions and more waste. But one thing has been made clear during this pandemic: how little time the environment needs to recover from destructive human behavior. Should it really take a global economic shutdown to let our planet breathe again?

With this article series, we want to show how every individual can do something to live and act more sustainably and that collectively we can make a difference. Many might say, “What does it matter if I, one in a million, change my behaviour? The government and companies have a much bigger impact. They should change, not me!” This is of course partly true, but companies only produce what people are willing to buy, meaning that the more we consume, the more emissions and waste are caused by the decisions we make everyday with every dollar we spend.

Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We want to take you on a journey into the different topics of sustainability and show a practical approach to living more sustainably every day. Canadians are known for being outdoorsy, caring about the environment, and protecting local species, but no other country in the world produces more waste per capita than Canada1. Canada also ranks very high for total, as well as per capita, greenhouse gas emissions due to being a major oil-producing country2. In 2015, Canada signed the Paris Agreement, where almost 200 countries agreed on trying to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C and, if possible, to 1.5°C. In order to slow down climate change, we have to stop causing emissions. The three main human-caused greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. We will explore how our daily behavior is connected to the emissions of these gases (energy, nutrition, transportation, and waste) and how we can reduce our personal greenhouse gas footprint. (Curious about your personal footprint? Calculate it on this website and see how you are doing against average: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx)

We want to show that it is possible for a single person to have an impact, not only by changing consumption and behavior but also by being a role model that inspires family, friends, and communities to live more sustainably. There are many levers we can pull right at home by sweeping in front of our own doorstep. Did you know that by choosing propane over charcoal, you can save up to 5.4 pounds of carbon emissions over one grill season? This is equivalent to driving 22.5 kilometres with your car3. Every Canadian produces more than 2 kg of waste every day4, of which only 9% is recycled5. Around 85% of produced waste in Canada ends up in landfills, polluting water and soil and producing methane, which accounts for 20% of national methane emissions and contributes to global warming6.

Every individual can have an impact by reducing their personal waste footprint or trying a “plastic diet” for a while (almost impossible, but only almost). Every year the average Canadian eats around 58 kg of beef, which causes as many emissions as driving from Quebec City all the way down to Florida with your car7,8,9. Replacing carbon intensive ingredients (particularly animal products) with plant-based foods not only saves emissions, but also helps to avoid heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity10.

Educating ourselves and taking a closer look at how our daily behavior and consumption impact the environment enables us to take action toward a more sustainable lifestyle, which not only leads to positive change for our planet but also to a cheaper and healthier life for you and your family.

Further, we will be able to lead an informed discussion, perhaps igniting the sustainable spark in your neighbour or even the person behind you in the supermarket lane, who is jealous of your beautiful reusable personal shopping basket. Change is possible, if we stand together. Stay posted for the first article!

Sources:

1 https://247tempo.com/these-are-the-worlds-biggest-producers-of-waste/3/

2 https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3 https://www.mic.com/articles/91303/scientists-say-you-should-stop-using-your-charcoal-grill-immediately

4 https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/Environment/municipal-waste-generation.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1#:~:text=Canada%20generates%20more%20municipal%20waste,%2C%20the%20top%2Dperforming%20country.

5 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-wish-cycling-canadas-recycling-industry-in-crisis-mode/#:~:text=A%20recent%20study%20by%20Deloitte,ends%20up%20in%20Canadian%20landfills.

6 https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/managing-reducing-waste/municipal-solid/greenhouse-gases.html

7 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308521X08000590

8 https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/snpsht/2019/07-05hwdscndrnk-eng.html#:~:text=In%202017%2C%20Canada’s%20average,kilometres%20(L%2F100km).&text=In%20comparison%2C%20fuel%20consumption%20averaged,4.9%20L%2F100km%20in%20Portugal.

9 https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/oee/pdf/transportation/fuel-efficient-technologies/autosmart_factsheet_6_e.pdf

10 https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-does-plant-forward-eating-benefit-your-health

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