We are all aware by now that humankind is putting a huge strain on planet Earth. As we continue to live our lives and pursue opportunities that make us happy, we could be inadvertently harming our environment at the same time.
On a positive note, during the Covid-19 pandemic, emissions decreased significantly. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK household emissions dropped by approximately 10% in 2020.
While we stayed at home to protect our friends, family and neighbours, we also unknowingly reduced our carbon footprint by living simpler lives.
If you would like to continue playing your part in protecting the planet after positively contributing during the pandemic, you may already be maintaining environmentally friendly habits in your household.
However, you might be increasing your carbon footprint unknowingly.
Read on to find out three shocking ways you could be harming the planet, and some simple solutions for reducing their effects.
1. Returning unwanted goods in exchange for a refund
We have all done this – in fact, many of us return items on a regular basis.
Since the birth of the online shopping era, returning unwanted items has become a common practice for most people. Research published by CNBC claims that items bought online are three times more likely to be returned than those bought in a store.
Perhaps you are not sure which size of clothing to order, so you order two sizes, and simply return the item that does not fit? Maybe you are unhappy with how a product looks once it is in your hands, so you opt to send it back. No big deal, right?
Unfortunately, your returns are highly likely to go straight to landfill. BBC Earth reports that each year, 2 billion kilos of waste are generated by returns alone.
The reason for this is simple yet sad: for the companies providing the products, it is usually cheaper to throw away brand-new items than to return them to a warehouse, repackage them and sell them on.
As an alternative to returning items you do not want, you could sell them second-hand, donate them to charity or give them to friends.
Be selective about what you order online in the first place and you could find you are returning fewer items and reducing your carbon footprint in the process.
2. Eating organic meat
Typically, consumers see the word “organic” and assume a product is good, or at least better, for the environment.
Indeed, you may already know that eating mass-produced animal products can have a detrimental effect on the planet. Since the release of now-famous documentaries such as Netflix’s Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy films, alongside widely-published environmental research, it has become common knowledge that factory-farmed meats and overfishing are bad for the planet.
However, what you may not know is that despite its seemingly benevolent label, organic meat has just as heavy a price when it comes to the environment.
Research published by the Guardian has found that, surprisingly, organic meat production has an equally damaging impact on the planet as that of non-organic meat.
The same research found that if a “meat tax” were introduced in order to neutralise its cost to our planet, conventional meat would need to become approximately 40% more expensive. On balance, organic meat prices would need to rise by 25%, because its original price is typically more expensive already.
So, unfortunately, by shopping for organic meat as a planet-friendly alternative to mass-farmed products, you may not be reducing your carbon footprint as much as you had hoped.
Luckily, there is a simple and effective solution: lower your meat consumption altogether, and your carbon footprint is likely to follow suit.
3. Wearing “coral reef unfriendly” sunscreen
When you book a summer holiday, it is likely you pack the same key essentials every time: swimsuits, sunglasses, hats and sunscreen.
When it comes to the type of sunscreen you buy, you may already have a preference. Perhaps you pick the most cost-effective brands, or choose your sunscreen based on the level of SPF it provides?
However, when you set off on your holidays this summer, it may be worth adding another criterion to your list: is my sunscreen coral reef friendly?
Indeed, research has found that many sunscreens contain chemicals that can damage our oceans’ precious coral reefs. Chemicals such as parabens and microplastics (found in sunscreens containing “exfoliating beads” or similar substances) can irreparably harm marine life.
Fortunately, according to Save the Reef, there are plenty of sunscreen brands that are both highly effective in protecting your skin, while also causing no harm to coral reefs. Sunscreens with active UV-protective ingredients such as titanium and zinc, for example, are often considered “coral reef friendly”.
When you are packing for your beach holidays this year, make sure to research the brand of sunscreen you buy. A little thought and research will help to lower your effects on the surrounding wildlife when you take to the waves for a refreshing dip in the ocean.
By making these small lifestyle changes to protect the world around you, you could reduce your negative impact on the environment, helping to preserve the natural world while you enjoy all life has to offer.