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My low-carbon life: in conversation with Erin Rhoads, AKA The Rogue Ginger

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My low-carbon life: in conversation with Erin Rhoads, AKA The Rogue Ginger
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This article originally appeared in March 2021 on The Guardian Labs

How to go waste-free, reduce your carbon footprint and vote with your wallet and other everyday ways to make a difference. Because even small actions can have an impact for the better.

For years I avoided being environmentally friendly, believing my everyday actions could never make a difference, when really I didn’t know where to start. That was until I did a month-long challenge in 2013 to give up single-use plastic. The habit changes I made that July carried on, and soon I was reducing my waste and carbon footprint in all areas of my life.

Making changes to reduce our carbon footprint can seem overwhelming, but everyday actions are important because they can influence others in our communities to make changes too.

Things that were once markers of a “greenie” lifestyle are now becoming mainstream, as more people want to tread lightly on the planet. It’s now common to say no thank you to single-use plastic, and embrace greener choices such as composting, rethinking our electricity providers, choosing secondhand and repairing.

Everyday actions like these add up, and not only reduce our carbon footprints but lay the foundations for a low-carbon footprint to become the new normal.

This is what a low-carbon lifestyle looks like for me in the day to day.

Energy and the home

When my husband and I realised that small actions and voting with our wallets could make a big difference for the environment, we started applying this to different areas of our lives

We switched to Powershop because of its support for a renewable energy future and carbon offsetting programs. But just because we were getting our energy from a greener energy retailer , that didn’t stop us also making changes in our home to reduce our energy footprint. We have made it a habit to turn off power points when they’re not in use, turn off lights in rooms we aren’t in, and keep doors closed. And we added thicker curtains and pelmets to our windows, reducing our need for heating or cooling.

Driving less and walking more

We made a goal to use our car less, instead making use of the buses, trains and trams in Melbourne. We’ll walk or ride to school with our son, go to the shops by bus or tram, and take a train for longer trips across the city.

There are instances when we need to drive or choose an item with a higher carbon footprint. To keep this in check we participate in the growing movement of owning your carbon offset #ownyourcarbonoffset, started by April of @zerowastedork, by volunteering to restore habitats in your local area. You can also buy carbon offsets, and get someone else to do the work, through the likes of Greenfleet. We like to balance the two.

photo of Erin choosing to walk to reduce her carbon footprint

Wasting less food, saying no to packaging, and growing what we can

Project Drawdown says reducing food waste is one the most important steps the world can take to tackle climate change, and it’s something we can all do easily at home.

One of the first decisions I made to reduce waste was to buy our food without packaging. Now my family visits bulk-food stores, delis, bakeries, and food markets regularly, taking our own packaging, such as cloth bags, glass jars and bottles, and plastic containers, rather than buy food individually packaged in dictated serving sizes.

We have a thriving vegie patch in our backyard. At the beginning we started growing food you’d normally find covered in plastic, such as lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, and herbs. Not only will growing your own food reduce plastic but also reduce food miles. Rather than buying fertilisers, we make our own compost.

Choosing in-season, locally grown food, and preparing more plant-based meals, also contributes to less waste.

To help keep us on track with reducing food waste, we write meal plans that prioritise food we have in our fridge and pantry. We write shopping lists and stick to them, eat leftovers, and share excess with our community, using the Facebook group Free Food Pantry and the free sharing app Olio.

Borrowing, sharing and buying secondhand

The production and manufacture of the stuff we buy is the largest part of a waste footprint. This is usually referred to as upstream waste. For every bag of household waste we throw out, about another 70 bags of waste were created upstream during extraction and production processes.

Choosing to borrow, share and buy secondhand reduces upstream and downstream waste, as there’s no need for mining, production, the shipping of a new item, or the recycling or disposing of packaging.

If we need a new gadget for the kitchen or garden we opt to borrow, share, or buy secondhand as much as we can. There’s a growing movement of “libraries of things” and sharing opportunities. Family and friends are other options for secondhand items, as are online marketplaces such as Charity Bay.

We also focus on repairing items rather than replacing them. I can’t repair everything myself so I’ll happily support local tailors or meet up with a local repair cafe in my area.

Because even small actions can have an impact

Everything has a carbon footprint. Going waste-free has reduced our carbon footprint, not eliminated it completely. But small is better than big and starting somewhere is better than not starting at all.

Because even small actions, when multiplied, can have an impact for the better.

This article originally appeared on Guardian Labs

Erin Rhoads, The Rogue Ginger, is author of zero waste books: Waste Not: Make a Big Difference by Throwing Away Less (2018) and Waste Not Everyday (2019). She was a consultant on ABC’s War on Waste, and co-founded Zero Waste Victoria, Plastic Bag Free Victoria, and the Zero Waste Festival. Follow Erin @therogueginger


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