Have you ever looked around your home and wondered how much all of the STUFF you surround yourself with impacts the earth? For example, think of all of the resources that were extracted from the planet to make your favorite pair of jeans. Water to grow the cotton; petroleum to spin the polyester; copper to make the rivets; steel to make the zipper, snaps, and buttons; synthetic indigo for the trademark blue color; and let's not forget about the plastic bag it comes wrapped in or the plastic hanger it's hung on!
Think about it: that's just one pair of jeans. Now look at the rest of your closet. Your bedroom. Your entire home. Have you ever wondered about the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you've contributed to the planet just by consuming products, as well as the packaging they come wrapped in?
The Product Policy Institute wrote a detailed white paper about this titled, Products, Packaging and US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, where they analyze data gathered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the impact of products and packaging in the average American home in terms of greenhouse gas emissions...
So what does this mean, in English, please?
The EPA was able to calculate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the average American household produces when it comes to the products and packaging we consume!
In this white paper, the Product Policy Institute points to a study by Weber and Matthews where they calculated the average annual US household carbon footprint by consumption category, including international emissions embodied in imported goods.
The largest emission categories?
- Food & Beverages at 15%
- Transportation at 14%
- Housing & Utilities at 28%
- Health at 10%
If you add all of that up, it comes out to 67%.
What about the remaining 33%? That all comes from the products and services that we consume as Americans! Things like clothing, footwear, furnishings, recreation, etc.
Looking at these numbers, one thing is crystal clear: products account for an uncomfortable amount of US greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, they account for more than our food, beverages, and transportation combined.
And I can hear some of you now... "But Adriana, how is that our fault? We pay for the product, not the packaging!"
Something very simple that we can all do to decrease our personal consumption emissions is to consume less products! This, in turn, will decrease our carbon footprint. A good place to start is by looking into YouTuber Shelbizleee's thoughts on eco-minimalism. You can thank me later.
Remember, though, we are not to blame for ALL of our consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions (looking at you, Big Business 👀)
Businesses can definitely do a better job at being more mindful about their packaging by using recycled materials, going zero waste, and creating take-back programs! In fact, there are some state and local governments that REQUIRE businesses take some of these measures. But more on that later!
Now that we know products and packaging account for a substantial share of greenhouse gas emissions, what can we do as conscious consumers and community members to help reduce these emissions?
Here are 7 ways to reduce your consumption based carbon emissions:
- Reduce your product consumption, first and foremost!
- Choose secondhand or pre-loved before new
- Pick items made from or packaged in recycled materials
- Support local and sustainable businesses
- Write to companies letting them know you think they could be doing more for people and planet
- Petition your local government for Extended Producer Responsibility policies
- Advocate for improved recycling practices in your town or city
And although individual action is incredibly important, we can't rely on just a few people doing all the things. Ultimately, it will be a combination of individual action AND systems change that will make the biggest impact.
So let's get out there and make some noise!