What is the Difference Between a Plastic Footprint and a Carbon Footprint?

You’ve probably heard of a carbon footprint and you may have heard of a plastic footprint, but do you know the difference between the two?

In short, a carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases your lifestyle emits into the atmosphere whereas a plastic footprint is the amount of plastic your lifestyle demands.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced directly and indirectly because of an individual’s lifestyle.

Every time you buy a manufactured item, eat food, or use an electrical item, chances are you are engaging in an activity that produces greenhouse gases. The question is really how much greenhouse gas does each of those activities produce?

For example, if you wear a t-shirt, your carbon footprint will take in account the total number of gases used while:

  • Growing and harvesting cotton
  • Transporting the cotton
  • Weaving the cotton into fabric
  • Dyeing the fabric
  • Transporting the fabric to the manufacturing plant
  • Making the fabric into clothes
  • Transporting the clothes to the warehouse, the store, and finally your house.

Each of these steps uses energy sources such as electricity, diesel, petrol, heating oil, and gas. Maintaining your lifestyle requires the use of a non-renewable energy source, it adds to the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere–and to the size of your carbon footprint.

factory emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Factories have an immense impact on climate change.

Do greenhouse gases really matter?

It’s important to keep greenhouses gases to a minimum because, in excess, they can increase the global temperature. Climate change leads to situations like melting glaciers and rising ocean levels. When ocean levels rise, land sinks. Places like Florida, coastal Louisiana, and the Maldives are at an extreme risk of the effects caused by greenhouse gases. While some places are sinking, others are drying out. Climate change has caused numerous droughts across the globe, disrupting entire communities. In fact, some even say the Syrian conflict was in part, caused by climate change.

Plastic footprint made of single-use plastics

What is a Plastic Footprint?

A plastic footprint is the total amount of plastic used and discarded by a single individual. This includes everything from plastic bottles to keyboards, microbeads in shampoo to nylon clothes. Every time you choose a single-use plastic instead of a reusable item (think plastic straw versus stainless steel straw), you’re adding to your plastic footprint.

Did you Know: Almost every piece of plastic that has ever been produced is likely still on our planet. It takes anywhere from 90 years (very thin, small plastics) to 1000 years (larger, thicker plastics) for plastic to biodegrade.

Does the size of a plastic footprint matter?

The more plastics you use, the bigger your plastic footprint. There are many reasons why using too many plastics–and having a large plastic footprint–is not beneficial for the earth or humans.

Annually, Americans throw away their body weight in plastic

Every year, the average American throws away more than their body weight in plastic.

Plastic adds to the worldwide waste problem.
Waste takes up space. Every year, people throw away enough plastic to go around the earth at least four times. Some studies say that Americans use and toss over 1500 pieces of plastic per year!

Bird looking for food.

Ingesting plastic can be dangerous for birds and other wildlife.

Plastic endangers animals.
Waste doesn’t always stay nicely put in a landfill. Plastic gets in lakes, rivers, oceans, and beaches. Whales, dolphins, seals, birds, and other animals wind up eating plastics they cannot digest. Beached whales have been found with their stomachs full of plastics. Tens of thousands of animals—many of them on the vulnerable or endangered species lists—die each year because of plastics.

Plastic increases the size of your carbon footprint.
The more plastic you use, the more plastic that has to be produced. The more plastic that’s produced, the more greenhouse gases that get emitted into the atmosphere.

Reduce your Plastic Footprint and  your Carbon Footprint 

There is a direct relationship between the negative impact of your plastic footprint and that of your carbon footprint. The first step to reducing your plastic & carbon footprints is by reducing your single-use plastics like glasses, cutlery, straws, bottles, and shopping bags. Check out these simple tips to get you started.

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