We’ve all left lights on when we’ve gone out, and we have all showered longer than we needed too. God forbid, we may have even taken a bath while at university. Will it really make a difference if we put the correct plastic in the recycling, or keep our heating off for a bit longer this winter? It’s easy to look at the difference to the environment that you can make by making a few changes.
Amazingly, a study has shown that the average person in the UK uses approximately 3400 litres a day. Water suppliers quote that the average use is around 140 litres and this is true: we use 14 litres in daily cooking and drinking, 48 litres for showers and baths and the rest is made up of washing machines and other appliances. However, the areas that we think we can make a difference actually account for a very small proportion of the total water usage. The major problem is the hidden water cost. Water is required to grow the products we eat and use, and it is easy to forget this. A slice of bread requires 45 litres, a pot of coffee 840 litres and a hamburger 2800 litres. The global water requirement is over 4 trillion litres per year and because of this the world is running out of water. This is of particular importance to the UK because 40% of our food is imported. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, so what can we do to reduce this? It is important to conserve water around the house by showering instead of bathing, and not running taps when we brush our teeth. However we can also conserve water by reducing our consumption of products that require enormous amounts of water to produce, such as meat.
Eating less meat is good for the environment in other ways as well. Production of one burger patty is the equivalent to driving a car for 20 miles and may have required 55 square feet of rainforest to be cleared for cattle.
We can further reduce our environmental impact by watching our food waste. 40% of food is thrown away every year and globally this is the equivalent to feeding 1 billion extra people. To reduce food waste we can plan better, donate to food kitchens, eat leftovers, or create a compost pile, which is a great way of avoiding food going to landfill.
“The major problem is the hidden water cost... A slice of bread requires 45 litres, a pot of coffee 840 litres and a hamburger 2800 litres”
Landfill sites are extremely damaging to the environment and they are filling quickly. We can reduce our contribution to landfill through recycling. If 7000 workers in an office recycled their paper waste alone, it would be the equivalent to taking 400 cars off the roads. Multiply that by the working population of the UK, and a big difference can be made. However recycling must not stop there. Buying second hand products will reduce UK greenhouse gas by 4 million tonnes per year.
The difference we can make is not just environmental. There is a monetary incentive as well. Boiling more water than we need in a kettle costs £68 million/year and each degree Celsius difference on a thermostat saves around 10% of total energy used. By changing light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs (which have improved and no longer take an hour to turn on!) and turning appliances and lights off we can save around £90 per year.
One person may not feel as though they are making a difference by being environmentally conscientious. However, with the concentrated efforts of a population we can improve our impact on the environment quite dramatically.