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Do you ever wake up, get dressed, go to work, and wonder what kind of impact the things you use every day have on the planet? Oh, you don’t? Weird.
Actually, that’s not strange at all because it is the reality for most Americans. The fact is, we live in a culture that values convenience and as a result, we are willing to overlook all the sordid details of what makes our morning coffees and to-go containers possible. The only problem is, by doing this we can run ourselves into a serious trash problem.
To give you an idea of how serious, let’s consider this: Americans only represent five percent of the world’s population, but collectively, we generate 30 percent of the world’s trash. You know how they say that an ant can lift up to 5,000 times their body weight, that’s like Americans with garbage. Except if we were all tasked with holding the trash we generate, maybe we’d be inspired to create less!
We can all stand to be a little more mindful of how our consumptions habits impact others and the planet and rethink the choices we make congruently. So let’s take a look at some of the things we use every day and see if we can do better.
Do you use exfoliating face wash or extra whitening toothpaste? If you do, chances are these items contain plastic microbeads. These tiny beads are used in many consumer goods because they are relatively cheap and highly versatile. The only problem is that because these beads are so small (in fact, you probably never even noticed them in your toothpaste), that when they get washed down the drain and travel to water treatment facilities, they are can move right through the filters. From here, these beads travel into local waterways, polluting streams, rivers and eventually ending up in the ocean where they can be easily ingested by marine life.
Considering the fact that a single tube of face wash can contain 300,000 microbeads, we can only imagine how many billions of plastic beads are being consumed by fish and moving up the food chain to eventually reach humans. Like other plastics, these little beads leach toxins and can cause serious digestive issues in marine life. The good news is, many companies have already sworn off microbeads and there is even a handy app that can tell you if the products you purchase contain these pesky plastics.
While you might think that these little plastic coffee pods are a lifesaver, they are actually quite the opposite for the planet. Just think about it. If you drink one cup of Keurig-friendly coffee a day, that’s easily 365 tiny plastic cups. And remember, you’re not alone here. In 2014, Green Mountain coffee produced enough k-cups to circle the earth 10.5 times! And these pods are only about two inches tall.
To make matters worse, k-cups cannot even be easily recycled. After a 2018 lawsuit, the brand changed the plastic from number 7, which can’t be recycled, to number 5, which can be. However, they are still difficult to recycle since the consumer has to remove several parts and clean the cup first. Even then, “K-cups may be too small for recycling centers to process because their equipment is designed to detect larger sized containers.”
Coffee is meant to make you a better person, not a trash-machine! Leave behind the mentality of single-use, disposability, and opt for something you can reuse. You can reduce the damage your coffee habit is having on the planet by switching from a k-cup to a French Press. All you have to do is scoop the coffee grounds, add water, press the lid down a pour. Just as easy as a Keurig, we think so!
3. Cell Phones
It breaks our hearts to say this, but our cell phones are not the most planet-friendly devices out there. While they might look clean and sleek on the outside, the minerals on the inside of our phones are responsible for environmental destruction and social unrest across the world. Tin, the mineral used to create the glue that holds together all the parts of smartphones is responsible for mass deforestation and environmental damage on Bangka Island. Minerals such as gold, tungsten, and tantalum are also responsible for extreme social conflict in the Congo. Mining for these finite minerals has also caused significant damage to the native habitat of the world’s remaining chimpanzee population.
The average person upgrades their cell phone every 18 months which means about 130 million devices are discarded every year. Although virtually all electronics can be recycled and their precious mineral centers can be recycled, around 85 percent of smartphones and other electronics end up in landfills. To learn more about how you can recycle your cell phone and lower your impact, click here.
4. Synthetic Clothing
We love synthetic clothing because it stretches, it’s easy to clean and it is affordable. The only problem is, these garments are made up of millions of tiny plastic fibers. Most people don’t realize this, but every time we wash our clothes made of nylon, polyester, or acrylic, plastic microfibers are released from the item. According to Peter Ross, vice president of Ocean Wise in Vancouver, British Columbia, “There are estimates of anywhere from a few thousand fibers in a single load of laundry to as much as 10 or 12 million fibers per load of laundry.” Like microbeads, these plastics sneak past water treatment plants and are dumped into the ocean.
Fish and other marine life ingest microfibers and the plastic is allowed to move up the food chain. According to ecologist Mark Browne, “Ingested and inhaled fibers carry toxic materials and a third of the food we eat is contaminated with this material.”
There might not be a perfect solution to this major problem yet, but you can help reduce your participation in this microplastic problem by shopping for clothing with natural fibers, check out this article to help.
5. Processed Foods
We all love quick, easy meals and snacks, but when you stop and think about all the packaging that comes with frozen dinners and granola bars, it turns out to be a whole lot of waste. According to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, food containers and packing account for about 23 percent of landfill waste, 12 percent of which is plastic waste. This packaging also makes up a majority of the litter that ends up in waterways. Given the fact that there are 250,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean, it’s pretty clear that this is a serious problem.
Processing, packaging, and transporting processed foods is also a highly energy-intensive process. Especially when you compare it to the energy needed to produce whole foods. Plus, processed foods tend to be filled with partially hydrogenated oils, packed with sodium or sugar, and doused with chemical preservatives that can be harmful to your health. Suddenly that 100-calorie pack isn’t looking so appetizing, huh?
Luckily, there’s a simple solution to this problem, whole foods. Grabbing an apple or a banana in the morning instead of a granola bar or soy yogurt cup is not only better for the planet, but in the long-run better for your own health. You can also make your own versions of your favorite snacks and packed them with nutritious ingredients and skip the plastic problem. With a little advance planning, homemade, non-processed foods can be just as convenient!
Thinking in the Long-Term
While these items all make our lives a little bit more convenient, we can’t ignore the damage they are causing to the planet. As humans, we have the incredible ability to influence the world around us and up until now, that influence has not been such a positive one. By taking a look at how products, like these, affect the environment and animals downstream, we can all start to make a change to mitigate our impact on the world. Even if you just start by thinking about these five items and searching out more planet-friendly alternatives you can make a real difference! If we all worked to put long-term impacts before short-term convenience, we really could make the world a better place.
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