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What is a carbon footprint and what can we do to reduce it?

Reducing our climate footprints is one way we can help save the planet

You might have heard that it is a good idea to reduce your Carbon Footprint. But what is a Carbon Footprint?

A Carbon Footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by something. Greenhouse gasses are what is making our planet warmer and causing climate change. Your carbon footprint is a number which shows the amount of carbon dioxide your greenhouse gas emissions equal. 

Places, companies, and events can have carbon footprints too. So the school can have a carbon footprint made up from how much electricity it uses, the school dinners we eat and the items we use like paper and pens. 

Anything that creates greenhouse gases can be included in your total carbon footprint. For example a pen that was created in a factory that burns fossil fuels has a carbon footprint even if we can’t see the fossil fuels that were used when we look at a pen. It’s the same with food – a ham sandwich might not seem like it would have a carbon footprint but even things like transporting the ham from the farm to the shop will use fossil fuels. 

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Do you think tackling climate change and reducing Carbon Footprints should be the responsibility of individual people, companies, governments or all of those answers?  

Here are some examples of the Carbon Footprint of different things:

1 Kilogram of vegetables : 2.0kg of CO2

25 mile car journey: 10.9kg of CO2

1 Kilogram of Cheese: 13.5kg of CO2

1 Kilogram of Beef: 27kg of CO2

1 Kilogram of Cotton (clothes): 46.0kg of CO2

1 Kilogram of Wool (clothes): 46kg of CO2

Return Flight to Spain: 350kg of CO2

It is very difficult to have no carbon footprint at all but there are things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.

Ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Walk to School

Switch up using a vehicle that uses fossil fuels and walk or cycle instead. Not only will the environment thank you but you’ll also be keeping healthy. 

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Holiday in the U.K. instead of abroad

When an airplane flies it releases CO2 into the air. Flying from London to New York and back generates about 986kg of CO2 per passenger. In Paraguay in South America this is more than the average person’s carbon footprint in an entire year. 

Travelling from London to Rome carries a carbon footprint of 234kg of CO2 per passenger – more than the average produced by people in 17 countries over a year.

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Buy less stuff

If pretty much everything we do creates emissions then choosing to use a bag we already have instead of buying a new one, playing with a toy we have and repairing things that are broken instead of replacing them can have a really reduce our carbon footprint.

Plant a tree

Trees breathe in CO2 and turn it into oxygen – plant a tree and you can help suck that carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere!

Reduce how much meat you eat/ go veggie

Food’s carbon footprint is the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat.

Meat, especially lamb and beef, has a high carbon footprint. It is estimated a vegetarian diet has half the carbon footprint of a meat eater’s diet and that vegans have the lowest carbon footprint of all diets. 

Think about eating less meat – maybe have a veggie school dinner option instead of meat or find ways to reduce the meat you put into something by adding an extra vegetable to your meal like a sweet potato. 

If vegetables are locally grown that’s even better because it will have less transportation emissions. Look for the British flag on vegetables in the supermarket!

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Wear secondhand clothes

Clothes create a lot of carbon emissions when they are made, plus some fabrics like polyester are made from plastic which means they release little pieces of plastic into the oceans when they are washed and pollute the sea.

By buying a secondhand coat instead of a new one you are stopping a brand-new item being made and not adding to your carbon footprint. 

Switch off things when you’re not using them

Make sure you turn off the lights in the classroom before you go to lunch, don’t leave the oven on for an hour before you put your pizza in and try and find ways to use less electricity.

The good thing about electricity is one day it might all be made from wind power and tidal power which means that no carbon emissions are pumped out. At the moment 46% of electricity comes from eco-friendly energy – these are known as renewable resources. 

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It’s important to know that in richer countries like the U.K our carbon footprint per person is usually bigger because more people go on holidays in planes, we generally have more clothes than poorer countries and more people can afford things like central heating – although this isn’t the case for everyone in our country. That’s why it’s really important richer countries help with climate change related disasters in poorer countries and use their money to fund research.

Refuse Reduce Reuse Repair Recycle 

Everything we use has an environmental impact. An environmental impact is when something we use changes nature and our world. Everything we use has a different environmental impact. Driving a car burns fossil fuels which cause carbon dioxide to enter our atmosphere, this adds to the greenhouse effect and then this causes to climate change. You can learn more about this in our Greenhouse Effect Worksheet.

Things we use can have other environmental impacts too. For example products made from plastic can end up in our ocean and damage sea life.

We need to think about the things we use and use less things which have a negative or bad impact.  

One way to think about the things we use is to look at the 6 Rs : REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR, RECYLE, ROT

Let’s look at them in more detail:

Refuse: Say no to what you don’t need

The best way to reduce the environmental impact of what we use is to consider if we need to use it at all. 

Ask yourself “Why am I buying this item?” or “Why do I need this?” For example, make a personal commitment to say NO to plastic bottles. Whenever getting a drink use your refillable bottle and refuse a drink if you know it is in plastic. 

Reduce: Only buy things when you really need them

Do you really need those new trainers or do the ones you have still fit? Do you already have toys at home you can use rather than buying new ones? Can you walk instead of getting in the car?

Reuse: Using something again

Reusing things can save time and money as well as energy and materials. For example, you could fill old food jars with leftovers. Use library books which are reused all the time instead of buying a book that will only be read once. If you get a present, you can take off the wrapping paper carefully and use it again.

Repair: Before you buy something new see if you can repair what you have

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If your cardigan is missing a button then buy a button and sew it on instead of buying a new item. If something is broken at home ask if it can go to a repair shop and be fixed rather than replacing the whole item.

If we repair more things we own they last longer and we are not having to create as many things which damage the environment. 

Recycle: Making materials into new materials and objects

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You’ve probably recycled before. Maybe by putting your cereal box in the paper bin. Recycling is when our rubbish gets turned into new products. You might notice some plastic bottles and paper being made from recycled materials. 

Unfortunately, most of our waste doesn’t get recycled. The government says 45% of our waste gets recycled which still means that most goes to landfill or is burned. Thousands of tonnes of our household plastic packaging which we put in our recycling bins ends up in waste incinerators in the UK where it is burned releasing lots of nasty chemicals into the air. 

Some people say the amount of things getting recycled is even lower than 45% because more than half of our plastic recycling in sent abroad where some plastic waste we think is being recycled is actually dumped or burned illegally. Plastic that has been dumped can end up in our oceans where it harms animals and pollutes the sea.

Recycling is really important when it is done correctly but remember it is also important to refuse, reduce, reuse and repair before we consider recycling. 

Rot: You can put old food scraps like banana skins and tea bags in a compost bin where they will break down into compost. If you have a garden, then a worm farm is a fun way to rot your food waste. The worms will break down your food in no time and produce worm juice when they wee and poo which is really good to put on plants and help them grow. 

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Remember though we should try and reduce our food waste by only buying what we need, eating up things before they go of and finding ways to eat things we might normally throw away. For example cauliflower leaves can be roasted or eaten in a curry and spring onion end can be places in soil where they will grow into new spring onions within a fortnight. 

Find out more about climate change at

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