Delete your old emails

Every standard email has a carbon footprint of 4 g CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). I used to be really good at managing my emails (filing what I want/need to keep, deleting spam or unnecessary emails, and printing important ones to PDF for filing on my computer). I rarely kept emails that I didn’t need and I rarely go searching for emails later (with the exception of a few that I should have filed appropriately right away). I don’t even feel the need to keep email from family or friends unless the emails are special (which is rare). At the end of the day, all the information in my emails is:

  1. stored elsewhere (downloaded to my computer, logged/saved in online accounts, etc.), or,
  2. no longer needed (receipts for things that I received and used, information that’s no longer relevant to me, etc.).

So, why do I keep them? Because email platforms makes it easy to just archive everything and forget about it. Also, we tend to think that things like receipts are super important, but you don’t need to keep them long term unless you need them for taxes or warranties.

But, there are those carbon dioxide equivalents to consider. Every email you save is a tiny bit more that has to be saved on servers.

Today, I did a ruthless weed of my emails. I kept about a quarter of my emails (making sure to properly file them for easy management and deletion later), but I deleted over 3,500 emails. Assuming they were all standard emails (they weren’t – many had attachments), that’s over 14,000 g CO2e … or, over 55 km driven in a standard passenger vehicle, which may not sound like much, but consider that I’m just one person and that I don’t get that many emails.

If the idea of sorting and weeding your emails sounds daunting, start developing a filing system and deleting unnecessary emails immediately. You can deal with the old stuff later and you may find that, like me, you’re comfortable with do mass deletions based on simple searches, like finding and deleting all the Amazon receipts because you those saved on your Amazon account.

Because I don’t keep many emails, I find it easy to have a simple filing solution. But, I need to get better at processing emails immediately (downloading tax receipts, etc.) and remembering to delete unnecessary emails that I sent (like all the emails I send to myself at work as a reminder or to record a thought – as long as they make it to my work inbox, I don’t need to save them in my personal email).

So, now I’m down to about 750 emails saved over 3 accounts. At least 10% of those will be deleted in the coming weeks (when I file taxes, when a package arrives, etc.). I ought to go back and do a more fine tuned review because 750 emails still seems like an awful lot, but I’ve done enough for one day!

 

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Trash audit – why and how

This year, I’m enrolled in Green Indy Blog’s Essential Zero Waste Blueprint course. It’s 12 months of lessons and an online community to help you find ways to reduce your waste. I’m a little bit behind, but still committed to  learning as much as I can and to making some changes.

The program starts in the kitchen and one of the recommendations is to do a one-week trash audit. I’ve done a trash audit before, but I decided that it would be useful to do a new audit. I also decided to do it right away, despite knowing that the week I picked was unusual for me. I  knew that I would have more trash than usual because I had rescued some plastic wrapped food from a neighbour who was moving and I was expecting a couple of parcels.

The focus was on kitchen trash, but I only have two trash zones: my bathroom (mainly dental floss and all the hair and dust I sweep up in my apartment) and my kitchen (everything else). Though I only have immediate access to a garbage dumpster and a recycling dumpster, I split my garbage up into the following categories:

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  • Garbage
    • Anything that can’t be recycled, composted or reused
    • Typically just plastic
    • Always bagged tightly to keep it from blowing away into the environment (assuming a dumpster diver doesn’t tear it open)
  • Compost
    • Anything that would biodegrade – mainly tea leaves, apple cores and banana peels
    • I currently don’t have access to compost and I’m not comfortable dumping it in the nearest green space as I know that homeless people live there and I choose to respect their space
    • In the desperate hope that it might get separated or avoid being wrapped in plastic, I dump this in the dumpster loose (no bag)
  • Recycling
    • Anything that I can’t or won’t reuse and that my city can recycle
    • Properly washed, labels removed, etc.
  • Reusables
    • Anything that I think I can reuse
    • Typically boxes, bottles, paper, rubber bands, or bags that I can use for the garbage

A couple of years ago, I would have focused mostly on the garbage category. But, the point of a trash audit is to look at *all* of the trash you produce and consider where you can make some changes. This could mean buying more plastic free foods, focusing on reducing food waste, or finding new ways to re-purpose or reuse items.

Recycling is neither guaranteed nor the best option. Given the low rate of recycling, I prefer to avoid as much packaging as possible or to choose items in packaging that I can reuse, such as glass jars. Though, to be fair, that’s not a perfect solution either, as evident by the vast number of wee bottles that I’ve been storing but not using.

Reusing is a subjective category that depends on my needs and what items I already have on hand. Given that I have a limited amount of space, I can’t just accumulate potentially useful things until I use them or find someone who can use them. So, it’s better to avoid generating trash, even if it’s potentially recyclable or reusable.

As for the compostables, I’d be much happier if I had access to a compost pile, but I also don’t generate much compost as I tend to be careful about buying what I need and using as much of the food items as possible (for example, I use the whole broccoli, not just the florets). Yes, I have researched or tried various in-home compost options, including worms. No, none of them work for me at this time.

So, how to do a trash audit: keep everything and review what you have at the end of the week. I find it easiest if I categorize as much as possible during the process (separating major categories, as I accumulate trash) and if I wash packaging when I do my dishes to avoid the stench of decaying food.

At the end of the week, I did nothing. I hadn’t been smart enough to start on a weekend and I’d had a long day by the time I was ready to start the auditing process. I got as far as placing things on my drop-cloth and sorted things into piles after work the next day.

This is most of the trash I generated (missing are the hobby scraps, the food waste and a few random things from my work day, which I forgot to add to this pile).

 

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It’s at this point that you review what you have and consider why you have it and what kinds of changes you might be willing to make. There’s a lot of advice online for what to consider and what kinds of alternatives you can look at. But, I believe that this is a fairly personal thing that has to be based on what’s sustainable (do-able) for you.