11 everyday items that are damaging the environment
10:38 AM EDT, Tue July 17, 2018
Many brands of hand soap contain the controversial chemical triclosan, which is linked to serious health conditions and causes cancer in mice.
The chemical is also extremely resilient and can survive water treatment, enabling it to reach the ocean and destroy bacteria that form the base of the food chain.
In September 2016, the Food and Drug Administration issued a rule banning antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan or 18 other active ingredients from being marketed, because the ingredients were not proved to be safe and effective for long-term daily use.
Coffee pods deliver gourmet-quality coffee with the advantages of low cost and high convenience. Little wonder that the pods achieved rapid popularity; 29% of US households own a coffee pod machine, according to the National Coffee Association.
But there are high costs elsewhere, as the plastic and aluminum pods are fiendishly difficult to recycle and billions end up in landfill each year. Former Nespresso CEO Jean-Paul Gaillard has stated that they are contributing to an environmental disaster, although the company claims to be addressing recycling and sustainability concerns.
In 2016, the German city of Hamburg banned the use of coffee pods in public buildings, and the conflict seems guaranteed to escalate.
Many toothpaste brands have been discovered to contain plastic microbeads, a leading contributor to the 8 million tons of plastic that enters the ocean each year, with devastating consequences for wildlife and the marine environment. Microbeads do not biodegrade and are too small to be caught in clean-up exercises, and they attract toxic chemicals as they travel.
The microscopic menaces are also found in various shower gel and cream products, but perhaps not for much longer. Microbeads have been banned in the US, Canada and the UK, and countries across Europe are looking to follow suit.
Disposable chopsticks are stripping Asian forests bare. Almost 4 million trees are sacrificed to produce 57 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks each year, according to Greenpeace, and they are treated with chemicals that can cause respiratory disorders.
There are also human rights issues, as chopsticks have reportedly been produced in labor camps, according to Amnesty International.
Wet wipes are increasingly popular for use on skin or household surfaces, which is causing problems further down the line. Although labeled as "flushable," they contain plastic and don't break down easily like toilet paper. When disposed via the toilet, the non-biodegradable products cause blockages and "fatbergs" in sewers and wash up in huge volumes on beaches.
Plastic bags are one of the most damaging sources of everyday pollution. By some estimates, 1 trillion non-biodegradable plastic bags are disposed of each year, breaking down in waterways, clogging landfill sites and releasing toxic chemicals when burned.
Initiatives to control plastic bags such as supermarkets charging for them are beginning to make a dent in the epidemic.
Batteries typically contain a toxic cocktail of harmful elements, including cadmium, lead and mercury, that leak into soil and waterways, causing dangerous pollution. If batteries are incinerated, the metals become airborne and increase health risks.
Recycling facilities for disposable batteries are increasingly common, but it's better to choose rechargeable alternatives where possible.
Traditional paper tea bags contain elements of plastic, but manufacturers are increasingly using new formulas based on nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Plastic tea bags supposedly offer a higher-quality brew, but they are resistant to composting, and there are fears that they release dangerous toxins.
There is a growing evidence that playing it safe with birth control pills can play havoc with the hormones of fish populations. Studies have found that certain species were unable to reproduce after exposure to endocrine disruptors, threatening the population and wider ecosystem.
Don't stop using the pills, but if you need to dispose of them, don't pour them down the drain.
Polystyrene-based material is almost unavoidable in disposable packaging, but it's also non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle, going on to blight landscapes and poison small animals after use. Several cities across the US have banned it. Fortunately, ingenious alternatives are becoming available.
A cheap shave has a high cost through the carbon-intensive production of steel and plastic, and the high water use they are associated with. An estimated 2 billion razors are discarded each year in the US alone. Electric and straight razors will give you peace of mind to accompany your smooth glow.