Climate change and environmental concerns have become hot topics for discussion. What we do everyday matters, more than we realize. It’s easy to throw our arms up in the air and become pessimistic about the current environmental issues we face; however, there is hope. Conservationist, Jane Goodall and Broadcaster, David Attenborough have both presented their witness statements and although they’ve observed environmental damage from a closer view than the average joe, they are optimistic that environmental damage can still be reversed. It is imperative that it starts with all of us.
“Every single day that we live, we make some impact on the planet. We have a choice as to what kind of impact that is.” — Jane Goodall
But can you really make an impact?
Yes, because whether you intend to or not, you are always impacting the earth. A good start to becoming more aware of your environmental impact is by observing your daily habits and the products you consume. Let’s look at 10 types of products we use regularly that harm the environment.
Yes, we’ve all heard this before, but why do we continue to consume so much plastic? Partly because, in many countries, plastic packaging is still used widely, whether that’s in the supermarket, the electronics store, or the clothing store.
However, countries like Germany, for example, have a new law in place to ban plastic which will come into effect in 2022. New York has already banned their use of plastic bags in supermarkets, boutiques, and bodegas since March 2020, but does this cover enough scope?
It can feel like an impossible task to reduce plastic waste when the retail industry normalizes its use. But starting with a couple of items you use regularly, you can jump-start your journey on consuming less plastic.
- Plastic bags: Whenever the retailer asks if you want a bag, always have a tote bag or material grocery bag on hand. Even at electronics stores and clothing stores, the retail clerk offers a bag to accompany your product. Rule of thumb: say “no” to the plastic bag, even if the bag is for free.
- Plastic produce bags: It’s unnecessary to pack our fruit and vegetables in the plastic produce bags provided by the supermarket when you can use mesh or material bags to carry your produce.
- Plastic toothbrushes: Many companies are still supplying plastic toothbrushes in stores, however, there are alternative options available that are sustainable and kinder to the planet, like bamboo and charcoal toothbrushes. Electric toothbrushes are still harmful to the planet because of the use of plastic and its dependence on batteries.
- Plastic straws: Many restaurants and stores around the world have banned the use of plastic straws; however, we’ll still find places that supply these straws despite the harmful effect on the environment. Glass, bamboo, reed, and silicone straws are some eco-friendly options. And what’s more is that you can reuse these straws and keep them in your bag on standby if you prefer to slurp your smoothie, milkshake, or iced coffee.
- Plastic takeaway cups: Many millennials are choosing healthier beverage alternatives, but most still drink freshly squeezed, nutrient-dense juices in plastic cups. Adopting healthier habits to take care of our bodies goes hand in hand with the care of our earth, which so generously provides us with everything we need for survival. So for the on-the-go people who frequently visit their local cafe or restaurant, it’s time to ditch those plastic cups. Hunting down ceramic glasses or stainless steel reusable cups, rather than disposable cups, are more sustainable options for the planet.
The bottom line is while we don’t have a lot of control over plastic production, given that more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, but we can take some responsibility for plastic waste. Reducing our plastic consumption and using reusable items is doable. It’s the little actions that count. Try making a checklist of all the items you may need regularly so you don’t fall back into the habit of reaching for plastic.
Disposable products are items we often use for only a moment before we throw them in the trash. These are known as single-use items: products we only use once. In particular, plastic bags are used for 12 minutes prior disposal, but have an estimated life span of 20 years. Single-use items are readily available at restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, and more. We use them because they are easy to find and convenient for everyday use, but these items can negatively impact the environment for years. A recent study reports that the disposal of single-use plastic items kills over 100,000 marine animals every year, further damages our oceans, or ends up in landfills that can last for up to 1,000 years. Taking inventory of all the items we only use once before we dispose of them can give us a broader perspective of the number of items we throw away that may be a convenience for us in the short-term, but contribute to environmental destruction in the long-term.
- Picnic items: Paper towels, serviettes, and paper plates are all convenient items that often accompany us on picnics, camping trips, or even around the house. Utilizing these single-use items may be the simpler option since we don’t have to wash them and we can quickly dispose of them in the nearest trash can. Just because it’s out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the earth. What’s a greener option? Replacing serviettes and paper towels with reusable material cloth, and avoiding plastic utensils and paper plates with stainless steel utensils and ceramic plates.
- Takeout utensils: When we order takeout, we’re also consuming more single-use items, from chopsticks to takeout boxes. Be mindful of how often you order takeout for your health and the health of the planet. But if you do order takeout, ask for no bags or utensils to reduce your carbon footprint. If chopsticks are something you enjoy eating with your favorite Asian dish, switch to stainless steel chopsticks for a more sustainable option.
- Storage bags and cling wrap: It’s handy to cover our food with cling wrap to prevent it from spoiling, or pop our food items into a bag for storage in our fridge or freezer. We end up wasting many bags so that our foods don’t perish, but at the expense of our planet. A more sustainable option is to purchase glass containers and silicone stretch lids to store your foods away.
Products with harmful chemicals
It’s already a challenge to limit plastic and single-use items from our homes, but we need to consider the various products we use around the house daily that cause further environmental damage. What’s especially challenging is that these products are easily accessible items we use regularly, and are not only harmful to our planet but can negatively affect our health.
- Detergent: Many detergents from laundry to dishwasher detergents are made from synthetic chemical compounds such as phosphorus and nitrogen that go down our drains to infiltrate our freshwater. This causes an imbalance in our aquatic life ecosystems. Many people are opting for homemade detergents, but if not done right, this can cause damage to our clothes and washing machines. Switching to eco-friendly detergents or plant-based detergents are better alternatives for our health and our aquatic life.
- Toiletry products: Microplastics like microbeads are found in many of our cosmetic products. Here are some common microbead ingredients to avoid: Polyethylene (PE) Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Nylon (PA) Polypropylene (PP) Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Microbeads are small plastic particles that are typically found in exfoliators, toothpaste, make-ups, and other scrubs. What’s the big deal with microbeads? The microbeads in our products travel from our drains into oceans and freshwater. When aquatic animals consume microbeads, this causes a chain reaction. Although several countries have banned microbeads in 2018, many countries still produce products that contain them. It’s up to us to read our product labels and find alternatives for our personal care. Alternatively, we can make home-made facial products using quality and natural ingredients that are less expensive and healthier for our skin and marine life.
Environmental health is a core pillar at SolaVieve. We understand that not everyone has the budget to purchase eco-friendly alternatives that benefit the environment, but in many ways you have the means to contribute to the planet’s health to make a more positive impact on the environment. If you want to find more resources, make a larger contribution and learn more, visit Plastic Free July, Zero Waste Alliance and Beat the Microbead to find innovative ways to take care of the planet.