Reducing Your Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By using less energy, recycling, and creating less waste in your day-to-day life, you can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that go into the Earth's atmosphere and cause climate change.

Whenever you turn on a light, plug in a video game, or use your computer, a power plant has to create more electricity. Most power plants burn fossil fuels (such as coal, natural gas, or oil) to make electricity, and burning those fuels produces greenhouse gases.

The materials and energy used to manufacture products; the fuels and packaging used to transport these products to stores and homes; and the wastes generated along this product life cycle all result in greenhouse gas emissions.

A note on measurements: The savings in the calculator are given in pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. Burning fossil fuels and generating waste lead to the emissions of several kinds of greenhouse gases, each of which has different heat-trapping qualities. For example, a pound of methane traps 25 times more heat than a pound of carbon dioxide. Because carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas, the emissions of other greenhouse gases are often reported in equivalent amount of carbon dioxide: for example, a pound of methane is expressed as 25 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents. (Learn more about greenhouse gases.)

Details on the Individual Actions

Please note that this calculator is intended to give you a rough idea of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you could avoid by taking the actions listed. Your actual results might vary from those shown here because the calculator uses general assumptions about the amount of energy that the average American uses for different tasks.

Turn off the Tap

Turn Off the Water When You Brush Your Teeth

It takes a lot of energy to deliver and treat the water you use every day. American public water supply and treatment facilities use about 56 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually—enough to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year. Letting warm water run for two minutes twice a day while brushing your teeth uses 180 kWh over the course of a year, about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 8 hours every day for an entire year.

If you shower for just one minute less than normal, you can save 100 kWh in a year. If your family installs a WaterSense-labeled shower head, each person in your house can save 120 kWh in a year.

Additional tips:

  • Turn off the faucet while doing dishes.
  • Make sure that any leaky faucets or toilets get fixed, especially hot water faucets.

Lighten Your Impact

Turn off the Lights

Don't forget to turn off the lights when no one is in a room. The annual energy consumption of a standard incandescent light bulb is 117 kWh. This assumes you are using a 75 W bulb, and that the light is on for 8 hours a day.

Replace Light Bulbs

Energy Star LogoAsk your family to replace your light bulbs with new bulbs that have earned the government's ENERGY STAR label for energy efficiency. Even if you just change one bulb in your bedroom light, you can reduce your home's energy use by 80 kWh annually, which means preventing 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Additional tip:

  • Visit the ENERGY STAR Change a Light Kids page for more information.

Stretch Those Legs

If possible, bike or walk to and from school and other activities to reduce your carbon footprint. Cars are a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Using alternative transportation will save 1 pound of carbon dioxide emissions for every mile you travel. This calculator assumes that the average person travels 1 mile to get to their destination.

Travel Together

Use Public Transportation

Instead of taking a car to school, use the bus, subway, or other public transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The calculator assumes that you travel 3 miles to get to school. If you don't take a car, you'll avoid 1 pound of carbon dioxide emissions for every mile you travel using public transportation, and even more by biking or walking.


Help your family arrange to carpool whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint. The more people you travel with, the more emissions you can save! This calculator assumes that you travel 3 miles to get to your destination. The calculator divides the car's emissions by the number of people you're carpooling with in order to figure out each individual's share of the emissions.

Don't Trash it

Recycle at home—and wherever else you go! Schools and many public places, including stadiums and parks all over the United States, have recycling programs. Recycling paper, bottles, cans, and other items will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by the following annual average amounts:

  • magazines = 52 pounds
  • newspaper = 172 pounds
  • glass = 30 pounds
  • plastic = 47 pounds
  • metal = 146 pounds

If you recycle all these materials, you could avoid a total of 447 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year, which is about 1 percent of the average home's emissions. Learn more about reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Give it a Rest

Turn Off Televisions, DVD Players, and Video Game Systems.

Before you leave home, turn off your electronics. TVs, DVD players, computers, and video game systems use a lot of energy when they are left on. The annual energy consumption of a TV is 184 kWh, assuming it is on for 6 hours a day. The average annual energy consumption of a DVD player is 13 kWh, and a video game system uses 16 kWh, assuming they are on for 3 hours a day. Reducing the amount of time you use these devices can save a lot of energy. Even if you turn off the TV for one extra hour, you will be helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions!

Even better, unplug your electronics when you're not using them. To save the time and hassle of unplugging all the components of a computer or an entertainment system, you could plug them into a power strip or surge protector that can be turned off with a single switch (surge protectors still work even if switched off). Unfortunately, some devices must be left on at all times to ensure proper functioning.

Energy Star Logo

Additional tips:

  • If someone in your family is buying a new TV, ask them to consider one that is ENERGY STAR certified. TVs that carry that ENERGY STAR label are as much as 30 percent more efficient than conventional models–which will save money on your family's electricity bill, too!
  • The average home has two TVs, three phones, and one DVD player. If every home in the United States replaced these items with ENERGY STAR qualified models, it would prevent the emissions of 25 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions from more than 2 million cars.

Unplug Charging Devices

Even when you are not using them, chargers for your cell phone, MP3 player, camera, and other electronics still use energy. If you leave them plugged in when not in use, they still consume an average of 30 to 50 percent of the energy they use when they are charging. Unplug these devices when you're not using them.

Additional tip:

Enable the Sleep Feature on Your Computer

Make sure the sleep feature is turned on for your computer. This will let the computer take a nap while you are not using it! The annual energy savings from enabling the sleep feature on a computer and monitor is 98 kWh. This assumes that you also turn off your computer at night, which saves a lot of energy over the course of a year.

Additional tip:

Other Actions You Can Take

  • Bring reusable bags when you go shopping.
  • Don't leave the refrigerator door open! This lets cold air escape, making the refrigerator work harder and use more energy. Decide what you want before you open the door.
  • Only wash clothes when you have a full load of laundry, using cold water when possible. If you need to wash your favorite pair of jeans, offer to do some of your family's laundry in the same load.
  • A household dryer uses an average of 750 kWh per year, which means a lot of energy is used to dry your clothes! So don't run the dryer for just a few things; dry a full load.
  • Pack a waste-free lunch. Did you know that the average student produces 67 pounds of trash over the course of the school year just from the packaging that comes with their lunch? Waste requires energy for disposal, so packing your lunch with reusable or recyclable items can help save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about waste-free lunches.

There are many more things you, your friends, your family, and your school can do to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about climate change and what you can do to help.

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