Two weeks ago, I completed a form to calculate the extent the way I live affects Earth. Overall, I was astonished by the impact my actions have on the planet. My ecological footprint was 7.1 hectares, which equates to 710 square meters, or nearly 11 football fields. Upon reaching out to some of my classmates, I discovered that my footprint was marginally lower than some of theirs, which ranged from 6.57 to 11.16 hectares, with most falling between 8.43 and 9.35. In comparison, a person with the average Canadian lifestyle has an ecological footprint of 8.56 hectares, while someone living in Ethiopia, Africa, has an average ecological footprint of 0.67 hectares (Ecological Footprint of Nations). As can be seen, the magnitude of an ecological footprint is heavily influenced by the habits and daily practices of a certain area. Canada, which uses a considerable amount of energy, relies on non-environmentally friendly forms of transportation, and has the world’s second-largest surface area, ranks eighth in the list of countries with the highest ecological footprints. If the entire world followed our significant consumption rates, we would require 3.5 Earths for everyone to live on.

The components most prominent to me were my use of transportation, entertainment, and food. As a member of a family with two cars, one of which is an SUV, it is evident that spending more time walking, biking, or taking public transportation will not only be beneficial to our health, but also to the environment. Although we do frequently carpool with other families, I believe that we could be putting in more effort to reduce the amount of time we spend travelling in our cars. In terms of entertainment, I believe my footprint is increased drastically by my involvement in extracurricular activities and reliance on technology, particularly for educational purposes. For instance, my love for sports such as skiing and rhythmic gymnastics require a considerable amount of space, and I use my laptop more than an hour on a daily basis for school and homework alone. Lastly, my food intake resulted in the highest score increase, of 2.35 hectares. This is partially due to the balanced, open approach my family takes toward food consumption, meaning none of us are following restrictive diets such as dairy-free, vegetarian, or vegan lifestyles. As a result, we consume environmentally demanding products like meat, eggs, and dairy on nearly on a daily basis. However, we have taken steps to reduce the damage this causes to the environment. For example, we always strive to purchase free-range eggs, organic milk, and we grow a considerable amount of fresh produce in our backyard, ranging from lettuce and kale to pole beans, squash, and cucumbers. Other family practices that result in an increased ecological footprint include not using water-saving devices in the toilet tank or showerhead, watering the garden every week, purchasing new clothing rather than second-hand clothing, not utilizing our basement more effectively by potentially renting it out to others, keeping the temperature in the house relatively high in the winter, and having some light bulbs that are not energy saving.

In order to reduce my ecological footprint, I determined several actions I can take over the course of the following two weeks. Firstly, I resolved to purchase and drink milk alternatives rather than dairy. A 2018 study by the researchers at Oxford University found that plant-based options such as soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk create more than three times less of the environmental impact produced by cows milk. Upon doing some preliminary research, I realized that this was a strong candidate for a change I can make to better the environment; although it is not a demanding task, it creates a significant change to the health of the planet. In particular, this change was suitable for our lifestyles in self-isolation as an unopened container of plant milk can last considerably longer than dairy milk, and I did not face many obstacles regarding this change.

Another change I made was to challenge myself to sew some of my own clothes. This decision was slightly more ambitious. Despite being someone who enjoys creating crafts and sewing, I did not fully consider the amount of time and material I would require to create my own clothing, and I did not begin this overwhelming task right away. Even though I contemplated knitting scarves, socks, or creating a headband, I knew that I wasn’t going to use any of those items extensively, as I am not in need of any of those products. Then, I began looking into sewing hats and masks for the medical community. To my delight, my in-depth mentor, Sharon, reached out to me and asked me whether I wanted to help her sew ear savers for an amazing cause. She had many more resources and leftover fabric than I did, and I was able to receive the supplies without direct contact. I have recently finished making the products and hope to collaborate with her again to continue to support our community while bettering the environment.

Next, I decided to reuse and recycle plastic bags, because it was a simple but effective change I could make while participating in self-isolation. Over the past two weeks, I have been delighted to discover the methods I can use the plethora of plastic bags our family has collected over the past few years, and, in a way, the quarantine was a blessing in disguise to bring awareness to prompt us to pay attention to the items we already own, as opposed to purchasing more. For instance, our family has been washing and reusing some Ziploc bags by storing buttons, electrical cords, or pictures. This has not only helped in putting some of the bags to use but also given us the initiative to organize our living spaces a little bit more.

Then, I tried to limit my device time, because self-isolation has given me the opportunity to pursue hobbies like art and piano and I did not want to be extensively distracted by media consumption. By tracking the amount of time I spend on my laptop and phone, I have been able to grow less reliant on technology, which has also helped me focus on spending time for myself and with my family. Since I have done this with very effective results in the past for a digital literacy experiment, I did not face many difficulties.

Lastly, I took initiative to reduce my meat consumption, because it was something I had complete control over. This was one of the most difficult changes for me to make, because I did not want to affect my family and their lifestyles substantially, especially considering the self-quarantine occurring at the moment. However, upon mentioning my goals to my parents, we decided to cook meat once every day at most, opposed to having it for both lunch and dinner. This has been especially beneficial as it reduced the stress shared by my parents in finding sources to purchase meat and prompted our family to eat more plants for dinner, as opposed to meat, which is more difficult to digest.

Overall, I am very thankful for this opportunity to decrease the impact I have on Earth. Even though I felt slightly restricted by the actions I could take due to the present state of the world and our community, I believe that some of these changes are very sustainable and even beneficial for my health. In the future, I plan to continue to incorporate plant-based milk into my diet, reuse and recycle plastic bags, reduce my meat consumption, and work on helping Sharon sew ear-savers for our community. Earlier today, she was kind enough to drop off additional supplies for me, and I will continue to take advantage of my skill set to better my community.