By Fredrica Syren
Once you have decided to go green and live a life reducing your carbon footprint, knowing where to start might be overwhelming. I always believe in dreaming big but starting small, so when my family decided to really make the effort to live a green lifestyle, we began by changing one thing at the time. Here is a list of the top ten items to change in an effort not to damage our planet. Remember that every little act you undertake will make a difference even if it does not feel that way.
Styrofoam can be found it many takeout products such as food containers and cups. Not only is Styrofoam bad for the environment because its manufacture requires petroleum, but it also takes eons to break down in the environment. Styrofoam also poses a risk to your health because it can release potentially toxic breakdown byproducts (including styrene), particularly when heated! If you don’t want harmful chemicals leaching into your food or drink, even at low concentrations, choose ceramic, glass, paper or safer plastics like numbers 1, 2 or 5.
Paper and Plastic Products
The plastic material with which forks, spoons and knives are made usually is not the recyclable type of plastic. Disposal of plastic cutlery adds to the density of landfills and sometimes pollutes waterways. Petroleum-based products last for hundreds of years in airtight landfills. These materials also contain harmful components such as Bisphenol-A or BPA that can leach into food, soil and ground water.
Use plastic made from recyclable materials — or — why not use real forks, knives and spoons instead?
Paper towels are bad for the environment because they are made from trees, and when these trees are cut down the ecology of that area is devastated. Additionally, manufacturing paper towels from raw tree material requires energy. This energy, often provided by coal or natural gas, releases greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions contribute to global warming, which causes a wide variety of problems.
The better option is to buy paper towels created from recycled materials or to use cloth instead. Replace your paper napkins with cloths napkins: they look nicer and are so much better for the environment.
Bleached Coffee Filters
I have to admit that I love coffee, but when I read that bleached coffee filters contain dioxins, I knew I had to replace my filters. Yes, dioxins, which are carcinogenic chlorinated hydrocarbons, add up in our bodies and stay in the environment. Dioxins are persistent organic pollutants, meaning that they can move from coffee filters to the coffee (as well as within the ecosystem). Actually, almost 25 percent of the residual dioxins in bleached coffee filters can end up in brewed coffee and be ingested.
The better option here is to use non-bleached brown coffee filters or a cloth coffee filter that can be reused.
Nothing makes me angrier than foods individually wrapped in plastic and paper — or any other products you buy, for that matter, that are so over packed you barely can get to them. Imagine what all this extra plastic and paper does to our planet. Plastic takes forever to break down in landfills, and chemicals from it leak into our soil and water, and cause damage.
I buy as much as possible in bulk at the famers market because then I can bring my own recycled bags or use eco bags. I also know that nowadays Amazon.com has a shipping packaging option, so you can choose not to have so much extra packaging.
Many of the products used every day by American businesses and consumers, including paper, furniture, building material and hardwood floors, are made from tropical wood. Deforesting the tropics is bad because these forests are homes to many plants, animals and communities. Cutting down natural forests also adds to climate change problems because tropical deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions, more carbon pollution than the emissions from every car, truck, plane, ship and train on Earth.
To reduce this problem, make sure that the wood comes from certified forestry programs or consider buying bamboo instead. It grows like crazy and is highly renewable, therefore, the eco-friendliest option.
Conventional Household Cleaners
Many “regular” household cleaners contain chemicals known to be health hazards and they will even be labeled “keep out of reach of children.” The interesting part is that we all, especially children and animals, absorb so much through our skin that there really is no way to keep these chemicals from entering your child’s or pet’s bodies. They are smaller so the chemicals’ concentration is stronger, essentially. Also, children’s immune systems are still developing. Thus, they are probably the population at highest risk for chemical exposure through cleaning products. For many of these same reasons, pets may also be at risk.
Some cleaners even contain suspected carcinogens, and reproductive and developmental poisons. Conventional household cleaners also sully the environment with ingredients that can contaminate the air, water and soil when they are manufactured, used and thrown away. Cleaning products with phosphates, for example, can cause “dead zones” in lakes and streams. Triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial cleaners that have been shown to interfere with thyroid function in animals, is now polluting more than 60% of U.S. streams. At our home we use only homemade house cleaners or non-toxic green cleaners. There are so many options that using toxic ones should not even be an issue.
I hate the fact that I live in a city where public transportation or biking is not an option, especially with small children. We have no choice other than to drive a car, but we do make sure our cars are well taken care of and run on low-octane gas at least. Many car owners are unsure whether high-octane gas will help improve the performance of their cars, but the truth is that itoffers absolutely no benefit. It won’t make cars perform better, go faster, get better mileage or run cleaner. High-octane gas is very harmful to the environment, and it contributes to pollution in the air and to smog over large cities.
The worst plastic, from both an environmental and health standpoint, is polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, commonly known as vinyl. PVC plastic is used in food wrappers, bottles, cling wraps and even in children’s tethers and soft toys. Unfortunately, this means that many people are exposed every day to plasticizing chemicals through food wrapping. Of course, once it’s in our landfills, all this PVC plastic leaks chemicals into our soil and waters, therefore causing damage to wildlife, the environment and, yes, us. These materials are NOT recycleable.
Substitutes for PVC include traditional materials such as clay, glass, ceramic and linoleum. In those cases where traditional materials cannot be used as a replacement, even chlorine-free plastics are preferable to PVC. As consumers increasingly demand PVC-free products, and as the environmental and health costs of PVC are recognized, practical alternatives will become more economically viable.
The biggest problem with an incandescent light is that it must produce a lot of heat to give off enough light to be functional. More than 70 percent of the energy going into the bulb produces heat rather than light. The bulbs also give off carbon dioxin that is very harmful to the environment. This is very easy to change in order to make a green statement because the option is a compact fluorescent light. You can find these light bulbs pretty much everywhere and, yes, they cost more; but they last longer and use less electricity, so it’s a win/win situation here.
Dawna Matthews recently wrote a green-mom.com article about batteries and the much better option of using rechargeable batteries. You can read that article here: https://green-mom.com/home-and-personal-care/recharge-your-home-recharge-the-planet.html
A battery takes chemical energy and converts it to electrical energy. The chemical byproducts are, or eventually become, hazardous. If the batteries are left in the environment, the chemicals can drain out and leach into water supplies and the like, causing people to be exposed to the hazardous chemicals.
Rechargeable batteries are the best option here because these days the most commonly sold rechargeable batteries are Nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH). NiMH batteries have a longer life and better performance than NiCad; and they don’t contain as much of the toxic heavy metals, so they are a “greener” choice.