Wonder just how much impact you have on the environment? What is a “carbon footprint?” How big of a difference can you, your family or your business really have? Most have heard the term “carbon footprint,” the buzz around greenhouse gases and how we affect climate change. Many of us, however, are unsure what all this means. Explanations of these hot topics -- as well as how they affect us and how we affect them -- are provided.
Your Carbon Footprint
The term "carbon footprint" is used to describe the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, household, building, organization or company. It is usually measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalents.
A person's carbon footprint would include all the GHG emissions associated with his or her activities, not just those of carbon dioxide.
Some GHGs such as carbon dioxide occur naturally and are emitted to the atmosphere through natural processes and human activities. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted in a number of ways. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 1700’s, human activities, such as the burning of oil, coal and gas as well as deforestation, have increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
If humans continue to emit GHGs at or above the current pace, we will probably see an average global temperature increase of 3 to 7°F by 2100, and greater warming after that. Whether directly or indirectly, people are emitting GHGs constantly. From driving to using electricity, we are continuously contributing to the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
Climate change refers to any distinct change in measures of climate lasting for a long period of time. This means major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Beginning late in the 18th century, human activities associated with the Industrial Revolution have changed the composition of the atmosphere and therefore very likely are influencing the Earth's climate. This is done in the process of burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, building developments in cities and suburbs, etc.
Measure Your Impact
Most people don’t realize that solid waste reduction and recycling helps address global climate change. How? The manufacture, distribution and use of products – as well as management of the resulting waste – all result in greenhouse gas emissions. Waste prevention and recycling reduce greenhouse gases associated with these activities by reducing methane emissions, saving energy and increasing forest carbon sequestration.
Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 trees, 2 barrels of oil - enough to run the average car for 1,260 miles, 4,100 kilowatts of energy - enough power for the average home for 6 months, 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space, and 60 pounds of air pollution. (Trash to Cash)
For questions on what, where or when you can recycle in your community, go to “Recycling Where You Live.”
When your local recycling program does NOT accept a recyclable product, try alternatives. A mail-back program offers collection and recycling of products by sending them via mail. Since some programs have fees or special packaging requirements and instructions, it is best to call or visit their Web site before sending in products. Earth911.com offers a list of mail-in recycling programs, with some many going toward charity.
- EPA’s “Calculate Your Impact” for kids includes ways to reduce your impact.
- EPA's Recycling For Kids has games, interactive puzzles, stories and more.
- Recycle Conversionator is a fun and interactive tool where you grab a can, newspaper, plastic bottle or glass jar and place it in the “conversionator.” You will see the process of recycling, what that material can become when recycled and facts on how recycling helps reduce our environmental impact.
- Disney’s Environmentality Challenge provides a large variety of tools, resources and web links for everything from recycling and resource conservation to air quality and safety tips.
- Nick Jr.'s Creative Recycling Page provides fun crafts for kids.
- BBC's EcoBeebies offers songs, activities and a sticker chart to reward achievements such as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. This promotes children doing small things that make a big impact in keeping Earth "clean and green."
- PBS's Zoom: You Can Help Save the Environment allows children to have the opportunity to share their environmental success stories and read those of others.
This Web page was last updated on September 25, 2009.