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31 Dec 2021 : How lightly did I tread in 2021? #
I'm trying to make doing an environmental check-up an annual habit. I have so many bad habits, it feels like getting a good habit would make a nice change. So this is my attempt. Looking back is also a lot safer than making future commitments.

It turns out that 2021 was a good year for me environmentally, or that it at least looks that way on paper. Hemmed in by the pandemic and forced to reduce flying, it wasn't hard to do less this year. On top of that 2021 made my third year of collecting waste data, which — even unconsciously — has trained me into throwing less stuff away.

So let's start with my 2021 household carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Footprint Calculator, in 2021 Joanna and I contributed a combined total of 7.73 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. That's a lot of CO2, but our output is at least following a downward trend. In 2019 we contributed 14.47 tonnes and in 2020 it was 8.50 tonnes. The following table summarises where all that gas came from.
Source Details for 2021 CO2 output 2019 (t) CO2 output 2020 (t) CO2 output 2021 (t)
Electricity 3 009 kWh 0.50 0.40 0.59
Natural gas 9 089 kWh 1.18 1.26 1.66
Flights 3 HEL-LHR, 4 TMP-STA 5.76 2.26 1.90
Car 3 219 km 1.45 0.39 0.39
Bus 168 km 0.00 0.01 0.02
National rail 676 km 0.08 0.01 0.02
International rail 513 km 0.02 0.01 0.00
Taxi 100 km 0.01 0.01 0.01
Food and drink   1.69 1.11 1.05
Pharmaceuticals   0.26 0.32 0.31
Clothing   0.03 0.06 0.06
Paper-based products   0.34 0.15 0.14
Computer usage   1.30 1.48 0.75
Electrical   0.12 0.29 0.19
Non-fuel car   0.00 0.10 0.00
Manufactured goods   0.50 0.03 0.03
Hotels, restaurants   0.51 0.16 0.15
Telecoms   0.15 0.05 0.04
Finance   0.24 0.24 0.22
Insurance   0.19 0.11 0.10
Education   0.05 0.00 0.04
Recreation   0.09 0.06 0.05
Total   14.47 8.50 7.73

The main reasons for the reduction compared to 2020 were fewer flights, and fewer computer purchases (I purchased precisely one less laptop than the one I purchased in 2020). Laptops, it turns out, are surprisingly carbon-intensive to make.

So those reductions are benefits, but I'm not sure they're benefits we'll be able to maintain over time. In early 2022 we've arranged to have a heat pump installed to replace our gas central heating. This is a big change, with the main aim to reduce that 9 089 kWh of natural gas usage in the table above. Gas is clean to burn, but as a non-renewable fossil fuel it's especially problematic, with no easily switchable environmentally-friendly alternative. Hopefully a heat pump will reduce our overall power usage, not just our non-renewable usage.

Our numbers equate to an average of 3.87 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2021. That compares favourably to the UK average of 5.4 tonnes, an EU average of 6.4 tonnes and a world average of 4.8 tonnes according to the World Bank.

How about waste output? My average waste output for 2021 was 114.69 g/day. You can see how this came about, and how it was split across different types of waste, in the graph below.
Daily waste data histocurve

This average is equivalent to a total waste output of 42 kg for the year. In theory everything except the General waste shown in the graph was recycled. The total is also a reduction on previous years, comparing to 57 kg of output in 2020 and 118 kg in 2019. These number are slightly lower than the actual amount. For example this year I've spent around six weeks in the UK, during which I'm not able to collect waste output data.

This all looks quite positive, but I'm becoming increasingly aware that waste output is a volatile metric. For example, if at some point I have to replace a piece of furniture, my waste output will go through the roof for the year. This does honestly motivate me to try to fix things rather than throw them away, but it's also a source of angst, knowing that it'll happen eventually.

According to eurostate, average per capita municipal waste output across the EU was 505 kg per person, with the average in Finland being slightly higher at 596 kg. Compared to this, my 42 kg of output looks pretty good. Still, I'm supposing that at least some of that 505 kg was made up of chairs.

So in summary I'm happy that Joanna's and my CO2 output was down on 2020, as was my waste output. We both trod a bit more lightly, even if it's not yet light enough. We've not quite reached that fully circular economy. The main driving factor for the reduction seems to have been the pandemic, so it will at least be interesting to see what happens next year.



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