Facts and Myths: The Carbon Footprint of Consumption
As consumers, we hear so much about the environmental impacts of different products and our lifestyles that it is easy to confuse the facts from the myths. At TerraPass we believe that human prosperity does not need to come at the expense of the Earth’s well-being. Today is World Environment Day and they believe it the biggest day for positive environmental action! This year’s theme is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.” That translates to by living sustainability we can do more and better with less.
So, how do we make those sustainable choices and integrate them into our everyday lifestyle? Knowledge is the key to making positive change for our planet.
Check how much you know: can you tell if each statement below is true or false?
1. Biodegradable plastic is ok to use and better for the environment than conventional plastic.
This is a myth. Contrary to common belief, biodegradable plastic is actually worse for the environment as it decomposes, because it releases methane which is more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. While biodegradable plastic can be composted in special facilities who capture gas, the composting companies usually send all plastic it to the landfill because they can’t differentiate biodegradable plastic from traditional.
2. We consume our Earth’s natural resources at a faster pace than our planet can replenish them.
This is a fact. We are using our resources faster than they can be replenished – this is similar to spending more money than you earn and going into debt. It is estimated that approximately every eight months, we demand more renewable resources than our planet can provide in a year and we emit more CO2 than nature can remove. Our demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.5 Earths and we are on track to require the resources of two planets well before mid-century.
3. People can continue living their current lifestyle without emitting any CO2e at all.
This is a myth. Whether directly or indirectly, everything we use has a carbon footprint. Modern world essentials that we use daily, like cooking or home heating, produce CO2e emissions and contribute to your overall carbon footprint. It is impossible to reduce the carbon emissions to zero, no matter how hard we try. However there is a way to balance your emissions by purchasing carbon offsets. This is a practical and affordable way to do something about those remaining emissions and support the renewable energy projects that help our planet. Find out your carbon footprint today.
4. The average American has a smaller carbon footprint that the average European.
Although Americans strive to live sustainably, the US carbon footprint is still far ahead with 16.5 tons per person, per year. That is more than the EU’s per capita footprint of 6.8 tons per year. The per capita average for the world as a whole is even lower at 5 tons of CO2e per year. How does your carbon footprint compare?
5. Airplane transport industry as a whole produces the most total CO2e emissions out of all transportation industries.
Surprisingly, this is a myth. Thanks to the relatively small size of the aviation industry, it claims only 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources as compared to 74% of road transport. Despite that, don’t be fooled into thinking we don’t have to consider the impact air travel has on climate change. In fact it has a greater climate impact per passenger mile than driving. That is why it is so important to fly responsibly and offset the carbon footprint of your travel. In fact, the aviation industry is becoming more and more responsible: many private aviation companies are already offsetting their emissions with TerraPass.
6. Electric cars are much better then fuel-powered ones because they have a smaller carbon footprint.
This is a common misconception. The carbon footprint of your electric car depends on the power source you use. If your electricity comes from a coal-fired plant, then charging your electric car from the grid is no better than powering your car with gasoline. In the USA, on average, the combination of electricity sources makes the electric car about as efficient as a hybrid. That is one of the reasons why it is crucial to develop clean and renewable power sources. Find out how you can contribute to renewable energy development with Renewable Energy Credits from TerraPass.
Food and Water
7. Bottled water is better to consume than tap water.
This is a myth – tap water is very safe to drink. The EPA regulates drinking water in the tap and FDA regulates bottled water. The standards are very similar and the FDA practice is often to adopt the EPA regulations. Bottled water, depending upon the brand, may actually be less clean and safe than tap water. An estimated 25% of bottled water comes from the municipal water supply – sometimes it is further treated, sometimes it isn’t. In addition, when plastic bottles are reused, as they commonly are, they leach chemicals.
As for the carbon footprint of plastic water bottles, it is common knowledge that plastic has a large carbon footprint when produced and forever remains in the landfill when thrown away. The best way to avoid buying bottled water is to carry your own bottle and fill it up anywhere for free. Check out more tips on how to reduce CO2 emissions on our Facebook and Twitter.
8. Most treated water in the USA is used for drinking and cooking.
Less than 1% of the water treated by public water systems is used for drinking and cooking. For the most part, we use treated water to flush toilets, water lawns, and wash dishes, clothes, and cars. In fact, 50-70 percent of home water is used for watering plants. Nearly 14% of water a homeowner pays for leaks down the drain and is never even used.
It takes energy to bring clean water to the tap and most energy produces carbon emissions. Keep following TerraPass and we will tell you about BEF Water Restoration Certificates.
9. Organic food is not always sustainable.
This is true. While organic and sustainable products often sound synonymous, in fact, this is not always the case. Sustainable practices take into account the economic, social and ecological factors to ensure that we have and will continue to have the resources to protect human health and our environment.
Organic products consider mainly the aspect of human health, as they must be free of artificial food additives and are often processed with fewer artificial methods. However, organic food production is not concerned with whether or not their methods harm the environment or society as a whole. For example, organic farming uses compost which generates a significant amount of greenhouse gases and can create groundwater pollution .
10. On average, 0.5 lbs. of beef creates more carbon dioxide than driving for 5 miles.
This is true. On average, the emission created from providing a half a pound of beef steaks has the same harmful effects as driving 9.81 miles (7.40 pounds of C02 equivalent).
11. Home electricity use from the grid is the largest source of CO2 for an average American.
12. Solar power is expensive and unreliable.
This is a myth. The reality is that the cost of solar panels has dropped 80 % since 2008. In fact, most homeowners choosing solar are middle-income families who are looking for ways to help keep household costs down. Most panels can be used for more than 20 years and installers usually offer 25 year warrantees. In fact, many of the first solar systems installed in the 1970s are still producing power today.
Take the first step.
Start small. Be conscious of the impact your actions have on the environment and figure out what you can do to lessen the blow. Calculate, conserve, and offset.
For businesses, our Corporate Sustainability Plans can help you with your emission reduction goals.