A week or so ago, someone mentioned our recycling laws were changing, and not for the better. Since then, many people have expressed outrage that we can no longer recycle commonly used items like plastic clamshells from salads, or pieces of paper smaller than an index card. While there is still significant confusion over exactly why these practices are changing, I am more interested in the underlying fear that without this ability to recycle these products, we feel we are losing our ability to help the planet and reduce our contribution to climate change.
“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” is a valid motto of many people in the area, and for good reason, as the population grows and humans consume more and more. It is valiant to try to do one’s part. But is recycling the be all end all? Is it the best way to “do one’s part”?
The following methods to reduce individual carbon footprint may raise more than a few eyebrows, but here we go:
1. Stop having kids, or consider having fewer This isn’t to blame all those who have had kids or want them. Procreating and the desire to do so is very real. However, according to a new study called “The Climate Mitigation Gap” that reviewed 39 peer-reviewed studies, it is the one thing you could do that would make the biggest difference, especially in first world countries like the U.S. where each individual contributes more carbon to the atmosphere than people living in third world countries.
2. Sell the car and reduce air travel Want an excuse to not have to visit the in-laws? Just tell them that you are watching your carbon footprint and got rid of the car. That probably won’t work because they will visit you instead, but you never know until you try.
3. Eat what the cows eat, but not the cows
From the amount of corn, water, and resources used to fatten livestock to the energy involved in processing the meat and getting it to stores near you, the calories required are significantly more than produce and grains. On average, beef requires twenty-five times more energy to produce than corn. So just eat corn all day if you are really dedicated, or buy local produce and grow your own while reducing meat consumption for the biggest impact.
4. Buy fewer things, especially cheap ones It’s hard to stop consuming, and it’s especially hard to say no to those cute little dollar store or Target goodies that only cost the change in your wallet, but if everyone did, imagine the resources that wouldn’t go to waste after one use? Imagine how much recycling wouldn’t need to happen if unnecessary plastics/glass weren’t bought in the first place.
According to the study mentioned above, recycling as much as possible may save up to 200 kg of carbon over a lifetime, while having one fewer child would result in saving the environment from 58.6 metric tons. It would take one person 293 lifetimes of recycling to amount to having one fewer child.
I guess the takeaway is that while recycling matters, so does birth control.