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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Greener living: a quick guide to what you can do

Tackling climate change will be one of the most important things this generation does, and everyone needs to get involved. Every day, more and more people are taking actions to help reduce carbon emissions and tackle other environmental problems. Here are some ideas about how you can help.

Where to start?

Throughout the Directgov environment and greener living section you will find practical ideas to help you make everything a bit greener, from your home to the contents of your shopping basket. But if you’re short on time, here are some ideas to choose from to get you started.

1. Save energy and water at home

Four in ten people in the UK say they want to do more to help the environment

Burning fossil fuels to heat our homes or produce electricity releases carbon emissions, which cause climate change. The energy you use at home is likely to be your biggest contribution to climate change. 80 per cent of it goes on heating and hot water, so this is a good place to look for savings.

Turn down your thermostat
Turning your thermostat down by one degree could reduce carbon emissions and cut your fuel bills by up to 10 per cent.

Look for the labels
When buying products that use energy – anything from light bulbs to fridge-freezers – help tackle climate change by looking for the Energy Saving Recommended label or European energy label rating of A or higher. The European energy label also tells you how much water appliances use, so you can choose a more efficient model.

Improve your insulation
More than half the heat lost in your home escapes through the walls and roof. Installing loft and cavity wall insulation could reduce your bills by up to £180 a year, as well as reducing your carbon footprint. Even if you already have loft insulation, did you know that the recommended depth is 270mm?

Install water efficient products
Low flush volume toilets, water efficient showerheads and aerating heads on washbasin taps help to reduce your water use significantly. Also, fixing dripping taps and fitting a ‘hippo’ in toilet cisterns are cheap ways of saving water. You can also collect rainwater in water butts and use it for watering your garden instead of a hose.

2. Getting around

A fuel efficient new car could save you the equivalent of three months’ worth of fuel in a year

Personal travel accounts for around a quarter of all the damage individuals do to the environment, including climate change effects.

Choose an efficient car
Individual car travel is responsible for the majority of climate change impacts from travel. If you’re buying a new car, look for the fuel efficiency label to choose a more efficient model. This will cut your carbon emissions and save you money on fuel and Vehicle Tax.

Try to reduce your car use
Reduce the number of short trips you make in the car. Walking, cycling, or taking the bus or train will help reduce local air pollution and the climate change effects of getting around.

Tackling the environmental impact of flying
Consider the need for a flight and the alternatives to taking a plane. If you do fly, you can offset your CO2. You could consider options for reducing your travel, for example taking fewer, longer breaks if possible instead of several short ones. Maybe you can find what you want closer to home, by taking a holiday in the UK or travelling to nearby countries by rail or sea.

3. Eating and drinking

Producing, transporting and consuming food can account for up to a third of our contribution to climate change. Some foods have a much bigger impact on the environment than others.

Look for the labels
Look for the labels to help you choose food that has been produced with the aim of reducing the negative impact on wildlife and the environment.

The average UK household spends £424 a year on food that goes in the bin

Buy fresh and in season
Buying food and drink when locally in season, and unprocessed or lightly processed food, is likely to mean that less energy has been used in its production. Providing it has been produced and stored under similar conditions, choosing food that has travelled a shorter distance will help to reduce congestion and transport emissions that contribute to climate change.

Reduce your food waste
The average UK household spends £424 a year on food that goes in the bin - if this ends up in landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas judged to be more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in causing climate change. Throwing less food away produces less methane and reduces other harmful environmental impacts from producing, packaging and transporting food. 

4. Recycling and cutting waste

Reducing, reusing and recycling waste saves on the raw materials and energy which are needed to make new paper, metal, glass and other items. Saving energy helps tackle climate change.

Re-use and repair
Avoiding waste in the first place, by re-using and repairing items, is the most efficient way to reduce waste. For example, buy items that can be re-used rather than disposables, and pass things on when you’ve finished with them.

Recycle more
Nearly two thirds of all household rubbish can be recycled. Most councils run doorstep recycling collections for paper, glass and plastics, often more. But local civic amenity sites often accept many other things – from wood and shoes, to textiles and TVs.

Get composting
Composting food waste reduces climate change effects. Many local councils offer subsidised compost bins or home collection for kitchen and garden waste.

5. Greener shopping

Look for appliances with the Energy Saving Recommended logo - they're cheaper to run

There are now lots of choices you can make when shopping that help take care of the environment.

Take a bag
Hang on to your shopping bags and take some with you when you next go to the supermarket.

Look for the labels
Use labels to choose products that have a lower impact on the environment - for example, energy efficient appliances and cars, and sustainable fish. Using labels to buy sustainable wood and peat free compost will protect important natural habitats that help balance climate change effects.

Buy recycled
Look out for recycled products. Recycled paper, kitchen rolls and toilet tissue are among the products now widely available.

Additional links

Calculate your carbon footprint!

Try the ACT ON CO2 calculator and find out how you can help tackle climate change

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