Being an environmentally conscious consumer requires one to constantly reevaluate their purchases, their lifestyle, and their wants vs needs to determine what they can do to "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle." There are alternatives to almost every single disposable item you can think of and often these alternatives are not only better for the planet but also your health, and your wallet. However, the rate in which western society consumes products is unsustainable and unnecessary. Purchasing new things even before the old things have died, throwing things out that could be repaired or donated, and consuming convenience items that are poorly made and break easily, has an enormous carbon footprint. Governments are too slow in regulating these wasteful products and holding companies responsible for their unsustainable and unethical standards, thus it is up to the consumer to stop purchasing items that negatively impact the planet and to make responsible consumer decisions.
10. Disposable Coffee Cups and Coffee Pods
How many of your colleagues show up to work everyday with a disposable cup from a coffee shop and how many offices provide their employees with a coffee pod machine? Did you know that many coffee pod machines have reusable pods that you fill up with your own coffee? That is a sustainable and economical solution to this convenience item. Coffee cups from cafes are flimsy and lose heat quickly, buying yourself a durable travel mug will save you from unnecessary spills and keep your coffee hot longer.
9. Plastic Toys
Walk into any toy store and you'll see rows upon rows of plastic toys in plastic packaging. Many of these toys are enjoyed for a brief time and then end up broken, discarded, and spend the rest of time in a landfill. Most plastic toys cannot be recycled so they will inevitably end up in the garbage, these hard plastic objects do not break down easily and are more troublesome than single use plastics because they are unmanageable. Before buying a plastic toy, ask yourself if it is necessary, if you can buy it second hand, or if there is an alternative made from natural materials like wood.
8. Liquid Soap in Plastic Bottles
Any liquid soap that comes in a plastic bottle is a terrible waste for so many reasons. Firstly the soap is mainly water, which means you are using more water than necessary to get the same effect as bar soap. Secondly, the bulk of the plastic bottles means companies have to employ more cargo trucks and trains to transport those goods around, and thirdly, the plastic bottles end up in the landfill creating an excessive amount of waste. Use laundry strips, or phosphate free laundry powder instead of liquid detergent. Use bar soap and shampoo, or find out where you can buy products in bulk so you can refill your own lotions and soaps in a reusable container.
7. Cleaning Products
Cleaning products come in plastic bottles which are immediately problematic but they are also full of harmful chemicals that end up in our water, soil, and air. These chemicals are toxic and easily cause severe harm to animals and children if ingested. There exist many green alternatives to cleaning products nowadays but you can often swap out most of those for a cheap alternative. Using a reusable container, add 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water (¼ cup vinegar to 1 cup water) and you can clean and disinfect almost every surface of your home.
6. Single Use Plastics
Many places are beginning to wage war on single use plastics like plastic bags, straws, cutlery. There are so many better options available now that it seems inconceivable that these single use plastic products are still in use everywhere you look considering the huge amount of dangerous waste these products produce. Canvas shopping bags are an easy solution to plastic bags, bamboo cutlery, straws, and even toothbrushes are much better to use than the plastic versions and 1 silicone cotton swab can save about 1000 swabs from the landfill. Many of these items can save you money over the long term and are often similarly priced to their disposable counterparts.
5. Cell Phones
Think about the physical phone, what happens when it becomes obsolete, what happens when you buy a new case, what happens to phones and cases that don’t get sold, what happens to all of those defunct chargers. Cellphones and their accessories make a lot of physical waste but the inner mechanisms of the phone require minerals that are being mined in places that have few environmental and labour standards. Cobalt is in every single phone and every lithium-ion powered electronic uses this mineral. Cobalt is predominantly mined in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), and many of these mines are informal which means that woman and children are toiling in the mines for a pittance, where they inhale toxic fumes in an unregulated environment. Mobile phones are ingrained in society now and while you can’t simply stop purchasing them, you can choose how often you purchase phones and other electronics to reduce your impact.
Fast fashion is a hugely detrimental industry to the planet. While you cannot simply stop buying clothes, you can opt for more ethical clothing brands and also buy less. Buying versatile clothing in durable fabrics will help you save money while saving the environment. Too many clothes end up in landfills and the process of actually producing garments is highly unsustainable, not to mention unethical. The clothing industry is water-intensive (about 10,000-20,000 litres for a kilo of cotton), requires enormous amounts of energy (about 1,715 million tonnes of Co2 in 2015), and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of clothing that end up in landfills every year. Certain synthetic fabrics like polyester release microplastics into the environment every time you wash the article of clothing. In this case, less is best and you should aim to reduce your consumption of poorly made fashion items and try donating your discarded items directly to a charity such as a women’s shelter or refugee group.
3. Disposable Diapers
Innovations in cloth diapers have come a long way from the previous generation and are thus much more convenient and way healthier for your little baby’s bum. The materials are safer and softer, and you can buy them with cute designs. Not to mention the sheer amount of money you save not having to buy diapers constantly. Diapers take about 500 years to decompose which means that every diaper ever thrown into a landfill is still there. Approximately 3.5 million tons of diapers end up in landfills each year, but it’s not just the physical waste but also the resources, like trees and oil that are used to produce diapers is wasteful as well. There are harmful chemicals and dyes used in diapers that can be detrimental to your health over time and continue to seep out into the environment after you throw them out. Some communities may offer vouchers towards the purchase of cloth diapers in an effort to reduce garbage.
2. Household Appliances
Refrigerators, ovens, toasters, and coffeemakers are all integral to our daily life but these everyday items take a hefty toll on the environment. As with many objects, the production and disposal of them has the most negative impact on the planet. The production process requires immense amounts of water which then produces polluted water that needs to be discharged somewhere, the factories also emit a lot of fossil fuels into the atmosphere which creates greenhouse gasses. Some countries have strict disposal regulations but not all so when your entire refrigerator gets tossed, coolant and other toxins leak into the soil and the air. Most people live a lifestyle where it is not possible to simply do away with refrigerators but there are things you can do to lessen the impact of these items on the environment. Consider buying second-hand, consider repairing instead of tossing your appliances and only buy when absolutely necessary. When disposing of your old appliances, check with your municipal waste management department to make sure you are doing it correctly. In some cases, you can choose to buy a manual appliance rather than the electrical one; for example, choose a French Press over an electric drip coffee maker.
Yes, you cannot simply get rid of your car depending on where you live and work, but if you live and work in an urban area blessed with public transportation there is no need to drive a car everyday. The simple fact is there are too many cars on the road and the car is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases and climate change. In fact, car emissions cause about 33% of air pollution in the USA. Add to that the amount of tires that end up in the landfills, and cars in dumps as well as the energy used to manufacture vehicles and you can see start to picture how irresponsible buying a car when you don’t need one is. If you do need a car, opt for a small car that is easy on gas and make a move towards hybrid or electric. Some governments actually give rebates towards buying an electric car so it’s a good idea to review your options. A bike is also a great way to get around and more and more places are implementing bike share programs like the BIXI in Montreal. In addition to being a zero-emission mode of transport, cycling to work is great exercise!
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