Small things can add up quickly. In the sense of environmental safety, few words ring truer than this. When it comes to environmental awareness, we have had a major influx of realizations and changes made recently, including recycling, green energy, reducing carbon emissions, and more. We have more to do though, and the best place to start may involve some items that you would never have expected.
The following article is a list of common items that you may have thrown away in the past but really shouldn’t and, in some cases, you shouldn’t be using in the first place.
How Do My Tea Bags Impact the Environment?
There are a lot of problems for not only your tea bags, but more important the boxes they come in. They use an excessive amount of paper, all while being bleached, and are contaminated with waterlogged tea leaves and spices. Nothing about them is remotely salvageable. Yes, most tea bags can be composted, but about 30% of them cannot. That 30% contains a heat-resistant polypropylene plastic which is dangerous when introduced into the soil.
True, tea bags alone aren’t going to destroy the planet. That statistic does mean that the majority of tea bags are able to be composted in some fashion. However, it does use a lot of resources to make, and with other alternatives to tea bags being prevalent, such as using individual tea strainers, which can be washed and reused as many times as you wish, it’s hard to justify this luxury item. Buying loose cut tea can even cut down on your overall costs because it allows you to measure out and ration the tea more accurately to reflect your personal taste.
Can K Cups Hurt the Environment?
K cups have grown exponentially in popularity since their introduction back in 2004. One in three Americans were reported as having a single serving, pod-based coffee maker in their home as of 2015. There’s just one issue; those little plastic cups can’t be recycled. Since many people assume it’s like anything other plastic they don’t realize that it isn’t recyclable. The reason lies in the recycling process. A certain set of criteria must be met before the materials can be broken down and recycled. Mainly, materials can’t be mixed, which is why you have to separate your plastics, glasses and papers. If they were to be processed together, the result would be defective, unfit for commercial use, and therefore have to be thrown away.
K cups can’t be recycled because 1) they don’t yield enough after the process to merit recycling them, 2) they are often still contaminated with liquid contents, and 3) They contain plastic, and they’re seals are metal/paper, meaning that if they’re not completely separated from each other, it’s an immediate toss away. This is why almost all pod cups, not just K cups, find themselves tossed into a landfill. Remember reading that one in three American households have a machine that uses these? Consider other factors, such as how many people per household use the machine, how many cups of coffee each person makes a day, etc. We won’t be able to get exact numbers on how many cups fill our landfills, but keep in mind that the company sold about 9.8 billion single packs in 2014. A quick calculation for over the years yields a crazy high number. That’s enough to wrap around the Equator of the Earth almost 12 times.
The company is currently working on a more eco-friendly design, but in the meantime it might be more beneficial (both globally and fiscally) to get a French Press.
Can you Recycle Microbeads?
You’ll typically see microbeads, which are like small pellets, in bottles of lotion and body wash. They were known as a means of helping you exfoliate your skin, which would clean you better than a regular soap, and you simply needed to wash them off once you were done. Great plan, but there was one huge drawback: these beads were made entirely out of plastic.
It may surprise you, but those miniscule pellets are harmful to the environment because of how tiny they are. Those beads that were washed down the drain would follow it to the connected water source. Water filtration plants were unable to filter them due to their small size. When the beads are out in the water, fish who mistake these beads for food will end up dying, because the beads will get stuck in their bodies. New York reported that over 19 tons of these beads were washed into their waterways, and Michigan reported about 1.7 million particles of them in Lake Erie.
In 2015 the Obama Administration passed a bill outlawing the use of these in soaps, lotions, creams and toothpastes, so the point on this is admittedly a little moot. Chances are though that many homes still have these products with the beads in them, and are still using them. Take the time to reconsider how to deal with these products if you realize they are in your home.
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How Do Disposable Cleaning Cloths Affect the Environment?
Disposable cleaning cloths could be anything from cleaning rags for electronics to disinfecting wipes. Despite the common belief that are similar in makeup to paper towel, they are actually a synthetic material. Not only are they less biodegradable than other cleaning clothes, but they’re also unable to be recycled. They last in our landfills far longer that non-synthetic cloths, which are also pose the problem of sliding into our waterways.
Microfiber might be a simple solution to this whole problem though. Quite a few companies have begun using this material over other synthetics, so you can simply wash and reuse the cloth several times before having to throw it away. This can also save you money, as you won’t have to purchase anywhere near as money cloths.
Are Disposable Razors Bad for the Environment?
Over 2 million disposable razors are thrown away each year, not including the packaging that they come in. These also can’t be recycled, as the materials used to make them aren’t salvageable. The blades themselves are made from a very cheap steel, which is then molded to fit permanently onto a plastic handle. Recycling plants can’t do anything with that, as it’s too dangerous to extract the blades from the plastics, so ultimately they all end up in landfills, where they take a long time to break down. It may take 50 to 500 years before the razors finally finish breaking down, depending on the specific materials used in the blades.
Thankfully there are reusable razors available, and plenty of them. Electric razors are reliable and have long lasting blade heads, and straight razors are made with a much more durable material that tend to last three times longer than a disposable blade. If you’re in a position where you absolutely require a disposable blade, consider Recycline Blades by Preserve, a company that has managed to use completely recyclable materials that won’t end up in the landfills.
Can Menstrual Products Harm the Environment?
Menstrual products are easily amongst the most overlooked items with regards to their environmental impact. These products are absolutely necessary, used constantly and daily by more than half of the U.S. population. With the U.S. alone containing around 160 million women, the amount of tampons used it near 7 billion and pads is 12 billion. Since these products aren’t exactly reusable they go directly to the landfills.
Some products, like the Diva cup, don’t contain rayon or dioxin, and can be washed and reused. Along with that, there are external products, such as Glad Rags, which can also be washed and reused. These products are currently quite pricey, costing as much as three times that of a box of tampons, and will still need replacement over time. For now though they are the only option aside from the regular disposable ones.
Are Produce Bags Dangerous to the Environment?
All grocery stores across the U.S. will have produce bags set out along the produce aisles. Yes, many companies have started using compostable bags, however there’s still a copious amount of the regular kind. As you know, plastic bags can’t normally be recycled. Produce bags also pose such dangers, as they will often litter the ground and get stuck in machinery. Very rarely is a recycling plant able to deal with this problem, so the bags are normally thrown into the landfill.
Currently our best options are either we only shop as stores with compostable bags (as indicated on the side of the bag) or we bring reusable bags that can be washed out afterwards. Unfortunately these aren’t the most efficient options, as many stores will use regular bags, and it can be difficult to bring enough bags to tote about and fill your groceries into. Even if you were to only bring a couple bags, that still cuts down on the amount of plastic in our landfills each year.
How Does Disposable Cutlery Impact the Environment?
Only about 6% of plastic cutlery can be recycled because it’s often made from polystyrene 1, the same material used to make styrofoam. The cost is why plastic cutlery is so popular. With $10 you can get 1,000 plastic forks, but it can cost $30 to $40 for compostable forks. Especially for those who own a business or restaurant but don’t have major profits, the choice can cause some strain. We haven’t even talked about how chopsticks, a main choice in Asian restaurants, need 4 million trees to make 57 billion pairs of sticks each year.
There are more options for those who wish to stay eco-friendly, but the restaurant does not offer matching cutlery, they just may require some self-sacrifice. If you’re eating in then you can ask the restaurant owner if they have silverware instead of plastic. It won’t hurt to ask, but you should know sit-down restaurants are going to be the most likely to have this option. You can request that your take-out order doesn’t have any plastic cutlery added to it. You’re more than likely eating at home anyway, so you have silverware available. If you’re ordering it at the office, consider bringing in your own silverware. We can reduce the amount of trash added to our landfills each day if we can cut down on the amount of plastic cutlery.
Can You Recycle Batteries?
Many people simply throw away old batteries, especially the small ones, such as AA and AAA. No matter where you toss them, recycling or trash, they’ll end up in the landfill. They’re tossed out because they are dangerous, both to the environment and humans, due to the toxins found inside them, like cadmium and nickel. The metal and plastic shell can take upwards of 100 years to fully decompose, but the chemicals may never completely break down. The chances of water contamination is extremely high, and can pose a threat to nearby communities.
The best thing we can do to avoid batteries in landfills is to either deposit them at a local utility store, such as Staples or Office Depot, or to simply buy rechargeable batteries. It’s more cost efficient and environmentally friendly to buy rechargeable batteries. It’s expensive at first, but most great investments are. However, if you swapped to rechargeable batteries, you would likely save yourself over $308 during the course of 5 years.