According to Defra, the UK creates just under 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The average person is churning out around 11 tonnes, which includes emissions from gas consumption (27%), electricity consumption (17%), aviation (34%), car use (19%), bus travel (2%) and rail travel (2%). These averages will vary depending on your lifestyle.

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels and of the impact carbon emitting human activities have on the environment. It’s usually measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted on a yearly basis.

Websites such as www.carbonneutral.com and www.carbonfootprint.com can calculate your footprint from the amount of gas, oil and electricity you use, the way you travel and the way you consume. Mark Lynas’ book Carbon Counter (Collins, 2007) is another useful refererence.

Home Truths

Heating

As much as a quarter of all UK carbon dioxide emissions come from the fuels we use in our homes. An average of 3.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide is produced annually by each British central-heating system.

Electricity

Fridges and freezers Europe’s refrigerators and freezers account for 62 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions every year. Most models still use hydroflurocarbons (particularly potent greenhouse gases) as coolants, which must be removed by specialists before the fridge or freezer is recycled.

Lighting Some 20% of all electricity generated in the UK is used for lighting (60 billion kWh a year). Domestic lighting uses up 17 billion kWh annually. Electrical appliances About 8% of energy supplied to UK households is wasted by electronic equipment left on standby that’s equivalent to four million tonnes of C02 annually. Ten million televisions are disposed of each year.

Water

Washing machines About £800 million of electricity is needed to pass 500 billion litres of water through UK washing machines, tumbledryers and dishwashers every year. Some 90% of UK households have a washing machine. Each one averages 274 cycles a year, and each cycle gets through 50?120 litres of water (14% of household water use).

Bath and shower

The average person uses 60 litres of water daily in the UK 50 litres of that just for personal washing. A standard shower takes up 35 litres of water; a deep bath or power shower can use 80 litres. Lavatories These use 20?25% of the water consumed by each UK home. The average household flushes 50 litres away every day.

Rubbish

UK households produce 26?30 million tonnes of rubbish every year (that’s 500kg per person): 74% of that ends up in landfill; 18% is recycled or composted; 8% is incinerated. Landfill produces leachates (water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of its constituents) and chemicals which pollute the water. It creates 40% of UK greenhouse-gas emissions via methane. Incineration spews out toxic dioxins and CO2.

Recycling facts

Some 40?60% of household waste, including paper, is biodegradable, or organic matter that can be turned into compost; 8% is metals which can be recyled indefinitely. Glass and certain plastics can also be recycled. The UK has one of the worst recycling records in Europe, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research. In 2003?04, Britain recycled 18% of its waste, with only Portugal and Greece doing worse. The Netherlands leads the way, recycling 65%.

The four Rs

Reduce, re-use, repair and recycle these are the four Rs that comprise rubbish management. And avoid throwing food waste out with the rest of the trash. One quarter of the average bin is organic waste, which emits methane (a major contributor to global warming) as it rots in landfill. Instead, buy a wormery (www.wigglywigglers.co.uk) or start a compost heap

10 ways to reduce your carbon footprint

  • Choose energy-efficient electrical appliances and low-energy lightbulbs. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) use 75-80% less electricity than incandescent bulbs, and need replacing less often.
  • nsulate your home. The average home with loft insulation saves 9.5kg in CO2 emissions per week. Thermafleece makes insulation from the wool of British hill sheep (www.secondnatureuk.com).
  • Cover your water heater with a lagging jacket of at least 75mm thick.
  • Turn off the standby switch in appliances.
  • When the old one packs up, upgrade to an eco boiler (defined as possessing an A Sedbuk rating) and install outdoor sensors which automatically adjust the boiler to adapt to different weather conditions.
  • Switch to a green energy provider.
  • For trips of less than five miles, cycle rather than taking the car (transport accounts for 22% of UK CO2 emissions).
  • Limit your foreign travel.
  • Buy local, seasonal food imported fruit and vegetables carry a substantial carbon burden. Use the postcode-based internet guide to local food at www.bigbarn.co.uk. Try to buy unpackaged fruit and vegetables, or join a box scheme such as Abel & Cole’s (www.abel-cole.co.uk).

  • Recycle batteries, paper, plastic, aluminium cans, etc.