What is a carbon footprint? Here's how to improve yours

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A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the consumption of fossil fuels by an individual or group. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases, and other naturally produced gases. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these gases retain heat in the atmosphere and contribute to altering the earth's climate and weather patterns. The altering of these patterns has been blamed for threatening many spectacular natural wonders and may also lead to volatile weather.

The average American has a total carbon footprint of 50,000 pounds a year. This includes emissions from your home, car, air travel, food and many other things you may use. But there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint without giving up these things.

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Recycle

Attempt to recycle as much as possible. Newspapers, cardboard, cans and bottles are just a few of the many recyclable products. This keeps items out of incinerators and landfills, where they would end up producing greenhouse gas emissions. The decomposition of waste in landfills produces methane gas, which traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Make sure to also buy products that are recyclable. Here are some items you didn't even know you could recycle.

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Compost

Another alternative to throwing things in the trash is to compost. It reduces and prevents the release of methane into the atmosphere. When you compost, you create a mixture of decayed and decaying matter, which can be used to fertilize the soil. Making your own compost may even improve your garden.

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Hang-dry clothes

Did you know that your dryer emits thousands of pounds of carbon a year? You could eliminate that carbon altogether by not using your dryer at all. Instead, just air-dry your clothes. Air-drying clothes can decrease a household's carbon footprint by 2,400 pounds a year. It might take longer for your clothes to dry, but you're helping the environment.

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Wash clothes in cold water

Heating the hot water in your washing machine accounts for 90% of the energy that is used to wash your clothes. By washing clothes in cold water, a household can eliminate about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

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Don't waste food

When food is wasted, so too is all of the energy and water it took to grow, transport and package it. Like many other things, wasted food ends up going to the landfill and it produces methane gas. According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the U.S. alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars. So don't make more food than you're going to eat, or if you have leftovers, be inventive with how you use them.

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Eat less meat

You might not want to stop eating meat altogether, but lessening the amount of meat you eat can improve your carbon footprint. Meat products have larger carbon footprints than grain or vegetable products because of the production process. Looking for a place to start eating less meat? Here are some of the most vegan-friendly restaurants in every state.

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Consider a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet is a diet consisting mostly or entirely of foods derived from plants, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, and with few or no animal products. According to a study, a vegan diet is a huge personal step to reducing environmental pollution. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that not eating meat and dairy products can reduce a person's carbon footprint by up to 73%. If you're thinking about changing your diet, here are what some of those trendy diets mean.

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Use reusable bags

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly. Even though these bags can be recycled, in most cases, they are thrown away and taken to landfills. 

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Plant trees/plants

Planting shrubs and trees around your home is an easy way to absorb carbon dioxide and improve air and soil quality. Plants essentially stop carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from going into the atmosphere. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best plants for rookie gardeners.

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Declutter your home

Living with less can reduce your carbon footprint more than you might think. When a home is filled with clutter, it becomes less energy-efficient. When items are all over your home, they block vents, windows and doors and lead to higher energy consumption. Fossil fuels are used to create electricity that powers machines, which are used to create the numerous items we use in our daily lives, as well as the items we don't use - those that only amount to clutter. While decluttering, make sure to remember to clean some things you never thought you should clean.

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Drive less

A typical car will emit about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year. By walking, taking public transportation or riding a bike every once in a while, you are chipping away at the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted. If you're in the market for a new bicycle, here are some of the top bike brands.

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Fly less

Flights produce carbon dioxide from burning fuel. Worldwide, flights produced 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019 and the global aviation industry produces around 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. Although cars also produce carbon dioxide, a plane produces far more, so try taking a drive to some of these roadside attractions instead of flying.

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Conserve water

A lot of energy goes into the circulation and pumping of water. Reducing the amount of water you use lessens the need to pump it and thus lowers carbon emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases. The key is to use water efficiently, not cut it out, because it's still important for your health and there are plenty of signs you might need more of it.

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Use solar panels

The sun isn't only good for picturesque sunrises. Generating electricity through solar power instead of fossil fuels can reduce greenhouse gases. Solar energy creates renewable power from the sun.

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Turn lights off

When you leave a room or your house, don't forget to turn the lights off. Lighting alone creates 17% of carbon emissions. Every 1 kilowatt of electricity generates 830 grams of carbon equivalents. Turning your lights off is also one of the many ways you can save money. 

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