Here at Zero Impact Adventures we understand that a healthy and sustainable diet will look different in different parts of the world, dependent on what food is available and culturally relevant. We also respect that people’s diets are heavily influenced by local cultures and individual choice so we would never be prescriptive in recommending what people eat. Instead, we’ve outlined 5 tips to help you make more sustainable choices:
We are all guilty of wasting food when it goes out of date or have simply cooked too much, but a shocking fact is that as much as 50% of all food produced in the world ends up as waste every year, thats’ almost 2 billion tonnes of food which never makes it to a human stomach.
It can be extremely hard to become entirely vegetarian after a lifetime of regularly eating meat. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to go ‘all in’, then start with skipping all meat out of your diet once a week, then introduce additional days once this becomes a habit. Tell your friends and family about why you’re trying to cut out meat and see if they want to join you on the journey.
Research clearly has shown that electric cars are better for the environment. They emit less greenhouse gases and air pollutants over their life than a petrol or diesel car. This is even after the production of the vehicle and the generation of the electricity required to fuel them is considered.
Since interest in electric cars is growing all the time, there are many questions about how green and clean they really are. From manufacturing concerns to the way in which electricity is generated, we look at some of the facts surrounding electric cars and their environmental impact.
It costs around £2.30 to charge 100 miles, compared to £11 for a traditional petrol car.1 Charging your EV at home is the most cost efficient way to charge and is simple and convenient if you have access to off-street parking
Before buying an EV be sure to thoroughly research your manufacturer. Many car makers are striving for carbon neutral manufacturing aiming to reduce CO2 emissions in the car production. Others are investing in carbon offset programmes to support this. If your carbon footprint is the driving factor, then both need to be considered.
One of the major benefits of electric cars is the contribution that they can make towards improving air quality in towns and cities.
With no tailpipe, pure electric cars produce no CO2 emissions when driving. This reduces air pollution considerably. Put simply, electric cars give us cleaner streets making our towns and cities a better place to be for pedestrians and cyclists.
Over a year, an electric car on the roads can save approximately 1000kg of CO2 when compared to a an everage petrol car.2 That’s the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona.
According to the Mayor of London, road transport accounts for around half of the capital's air pollution. It’s no wonder that the UK government and local councils want to accelerate the number of electric cars on the roads. The UK government has set a target that the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040.
Electric cars can also help with noise pollution, especially in cities where speeds are generally low. As the cars are far quieter than conventional vehicles, driving electric creates a more peaceful environment for us all.
But electric cars, although more efficient and devoid of any tailpipe emissions, do still produce Greenhouse Gases (GHG’s), (both in their production and charging).
The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology have made a great tool which helps compare the overall environmental impact of electric cars vs internal combustion engine cars.
Using the tool you can input the details of two cars and it will compare the total amount of emissions produced. The second graph also displays how many km you would need to drive for an EV to be beneficial.
If you charge your eV entirely from renewable sources (see our renewable electricity supplier section!) you can also click ‘advanced parameters’ at the top of the page and reduce the ‘carbon content of electricity mix to a lower figure (or even 0).
Firstly, producing an electric vehicle contributes, on average, twice as much to global warming potential and uses double the amount of energy than producing a combustion engine car. This is mainly because of its battery. Battery production uses a lot of energy, from the extraction of raw materials to the electricity consumed in manufacture. The bigger the electric car and its range, the more battery cells are needed to power it, and consequently the more carbon produced.
Secondly, once in use, an electric vehicle is only as green as the electricity that feeds its battery. A coal-powered battery is dirtier than a solar-powered battery.
Thirdly, while an electric vehicle has a higher carbon footprint at the beginning of its lifecycle, it is typically cleaner once in use. Over time, it can catch up on the combustion engine car. The point at which an electric vehicle’s lifetime emissions break even with a combustion engine car also depends on the car’s mileage. (See the tool above)
An electric vehicle’s higher emissions during the manufacturing stage are typically paid off after 2 years compared to driving an average conventional vehicle, a time frame that drops to about one and a half years if the car is charged using renewable energy.
Ultimately, unlocking the green potential of electric cars requires more than just increasing production. The system in which they operate must be sustainable too, and for this we need greater governmental action. However in the meantime, if you have an EV or are considering switching to one in the future, have a look at changing your home energy supplier to one which uses 100% renewable energy, such as Bulb. By switching to a supplier such as Bulb to charge your car you will completely eliminate the 'Fuel cycle' contribution in the graph below, and have the equivalent emissions as a citizen of Norway (98% of their electricity comes from hydroelectric).
In Germany – where about 40% of the energy mix is produced by coal and 30% by renewables – a mid-sized electric car must be driven for 125,000 km, on average, to break even with a diesel car, and 60,000 km compared to a petrol car. In Germany it takes nine years for an electric car to be greener than a diesel car, assuming an annual average mileage of 13,500km, and most consumers will have bought a new car in that time.3
Unlocking the green potential of electric cars requires more than just increasing production. The system in which they operate must be sustainable too.
In the UK we have the benefit of renewable energy suppliers to rival the big six, and we would strongly advocate switching to a more sustainable supplier, particularly if you have an eV.
As mentioned above, the negative environmental effects of batteries are reduced as the battery lifetime extends. Electric batteries from vehicles can also be repurposed and re-used in a different industry, thereby doubling the battery lifecycle to about 20 years.
When the capacity of electric car batteries drops below 70-80% after about 10-15 years of use, they are no longer strong enough to power the car. But they retain enough capacity for stationary storage in various contexts: in households, to balance power plants, or to electrify off-grid communities in rural areas. 4
However, re-purposing batteries is costly. This is due to limited information and data-sharing about the residual value of battery capacity, a lack of standards, and regulatory uncertainty about liability once the battery changes owners and applications. Overcoming these barriers requires cross-industry, public-private initiatives.
An estimated 11 million tons of spent lithium-ion batteries will flood our markets by 2025, without systems in place to handle them.
This matters if we are to address climate change. We must use existing battery resources as best as possible, to avoid pollution from toxic waste and secure a strong supply of raw materials at low environmental cost.
To recycle a battery, it currently costs €1 per kg. But the value of raw material reclaimed is only a third of that. Recycling lithium costs five times as much as extracting virgin material. Hence, only 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled in Europe.
However, recycling could become more worthwhile as costs go up. The price of cobalt has been going up and down over the past 5 years, and it’s forecast that another surge is on the horizon. This is increasingly worrying when you realise that 64% of all cobalt mined comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (breakdown here). Demand for lithium is expected to quadruple by 2025, to 780,000 tons. China is emerging as the leader of the field with regards to battery recycling, with a great article explaining the steps they’re taking here.
Overall, the recycling prospect is promising. But it is currently obstructed by several barriers, including the limited scale of batteries available for recycling; lack of battery standards to simplify recycling; an insufficient policy and incentive scheme to promote battery collection; and limited clarity about liability.
For more information on how batteries actually work there is a great animated guide on the science of batteries which can be found over at www.SaveOnEnergy.com along with lots of great tips on how to reduce your home energy usage in their Learning Centre.
You still get on the plane, it still flies and there are still CO2 emissions, but somewhere else in the world an action is taken to offset them.
Therein lies one of the problems with carbon offsetting – on its own, it won’t do much to reduce the volume of emissions being generated. Yes, it may help with a project which absorbs carbon in the future, or help someone else reduce their footprint. But the best it can hope for is to prevent an overall increase.
It’s an approach that some say might even cause people to disassociate themselves from the issue and deflect attention from the immediate dangers posed by climate change.
The most effective way to reduce your CO2 emissions is to reduce your fossil fuel consumption. This could mean having a teleconference instead of travelling for a meeting. If you do travel, you can reduce your footprint by taking holidays closer to home, flying nonstop when possible, taking a bus or train instead of a short-haul flight, booking a flight on a more fuel-efficient aircraft, flying economy instead of business class.
The key problem is that flying promises us speed, flexibility, freedom. A global and cool lifestyle with all the positive associations. To try and change this opinion and reverse the marketing messages pushed by the juggernaut of the industry seems futile for any one individual. It is essential that we join groups and networks which communicate the message that green aviation is an illusion and that any form of flying fast-tracks the climate crisis.
The goal must be that flying comes to be perceived as ‘uncool’; that more use is made of online conferencing; that slower modes of transport such as rail and sea become more commonplace again. The very precondition for increased alternatives needs to be put in place, and we should grasp any opportunities to praise substitute options. Aviation needs to decarbonise or slow its growth or both.
More and more people are becoming aware of their energy usage in their lives. With one of the biggest ways we can reduce our personal contribution by changing our energy supplier to a renewable provider.
Many people find the idea of switching energy providers to be quite daunting, often due to negative experiences with their current provider. But when you switch, the entire process is handled by the new supplier so there’s no need for you to spend hours on hold with a company that may have treated you poorly.
We want to work through some of the misconceptions and explain a bit about clean energy tariffs and how easy it is to switch to a renewable supplier.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”
We have already discussed the impact of aviation on the climate, and most people are now aware that taking a flight is not particlarly eco-friendly.
However we just wanted to compare some of other modes of transport and how they rank.
It is always a bit difficult to compare emissions per kilometer per transport option, because of course there are a lot of varying factors, like the ‘average number of passengers on a train’ – or the weight and aerodynamics of a specific airplane model.
In all calculations, air travel is always (by far) the most carbon-intensive means of transportation per kilometre (of course multiplied by the usually much larger distance) – and trains are always the least polluting option, still better than carpooling in a small, modern, energy-efficient car.
On a measure of CO2 emitted each kilometer traveled by a passenger, air travel ranks top at 285 grams per passenger kilometer. Road transportation follows at 158 and rail travel at 14 grams per passenger kilometer, according to figures published by the European Environment Agency.
Transport is responsible for nearly 30% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, of which 72% comes from road transportation.
Significantly reducing CO2 emissions from transport will not be easy, as the rate of emission reductions has slowed. Other sectors have cut emissions since 1990, but as more people become more mobile, CO2 emissions from transport are increasing.
To curb the trend, the EU is introducing new CO2 emission targets, which aim to cut harmful emissions from new cars and vans.
But despite this, cars are still major polluters
CO2 emissions from passenger transport vary significantly depending on the transport mode. Passenger cars are a major polluter, accounting for 60.7% of total CO2 emissions from road transport in Europe.
However, modern cars could be among the cleanest modes of transport if shared, rather being driven alone.
With an average of 1.7 people per car in Europe, other modes of transport, such as buses, are almost always a cleaner alternative.
The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, just after the oil industry. And the environmental damage is increasing as the industry grows.
However, there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The first step lies in building awareness and willingness to change.
We see brightly lit displays and mannequins showing off brand new clothing. We are constantly fed images of new fashion trends on social media, every day consuming the words of celebs and influencers telling us what we should be wearing. We are overtaken by “shopper’s buzz” when we swipe our credit cards and walk out of stores with what we are convinced is the latest trending, must-have outfit…only to rinse and repeat the next day.
But what we don’t see is the tremendous impact fast fashion has on our environment. Gigantic heaps of discarded clothing towering in landfills. Millions of tons of CO2 polluting our atmosphere and raising global temperatures. Millions of tons of microplastics and fibers contaminating oceans and poisoning the food chain, including humans ourselves. Millions of people, mostly young girls and women–even children–working in horrible conditions for unlivable wages and facing all kinds of abuses. Our consumer tendencies and appetite for fast fashion support a horrible industry: one we do not hear about often enough.
In most of the countries in which garments are produced, untreated toxic wastewaters from textiles factories are dumped directly into the rivers.
Wastewater contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, among others. These are extremely harmful for the aquatic life and the health of the millions people living by those rivers banks. The contamination also reaches the sea and eventually spreads around the globe.
Another major source of water contamination is the use of fertilizers for cotton production, which heavily pollutes runoff waters and evaporation waters.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Choose clothes made in countries with stricter environmental regulations for factories (EU, Canada, US…).
The fashion industry is a major water consumer.
Huge quantity of fresh water are used for the dyeing and finishing process for all of our clothes. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water per ton of dyed fabric.
Also, cotton needs A LOT of water to grow (and heat), but is usually cultivated in warm and dry areas. Up to 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce just 1kg of cotton. This generates tremendous pressure on this precious resource, already scarce, and has dramatic ecological consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea, where cotton production has entirely drained the water (see pictures above).
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Choose fibres with low water consumption such as linen, recycled fibres, etc
Every time we wash a synthetic garment (polyester,nylon, etc), about 1,900 individual microfibres are released into the water, making their way into our oceans. Scientists have discovered that small aquatic organisms ingest those microfibres. These are then eaten by small fish which are later eaten by bigger fish, introducing plastic in our food chain.
Many of our clothes contain plastics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. In fact most new fabrics are made of plastic – up to 64% of them.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Clothing has clearly become disposable. As a result, we generate more and more textile waste. A family in the western world throws away an average of 30 kg of clothing each year. Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated.
Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Chemicals are one of the main components in our clothes.
They are used during fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments.
The heavy use of chemicals in cotton farming is causing diseases and premature death among cotton farmers, along with massive freshwater and ocean water pollution and soil degradation.
Some of these substances are also harmful to the consumer (see section about toxicity).
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
The clothing industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.
The global fashion industry is generating a lot of greenhouse gases due to the energy used during its production, manufacturing, and transportation of the millions garments purchased each year.
Synthetic fibres (polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc.), used in the majority of our clothes, are made from fossil fuel, making production much more energy-intensive than with natural fibers.
Most of our clothes are produced in China, Bangladesh, or India, countries primarily powered by coal. This is the dirtiest type of energy in terms of carbon emissions.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?