The Little things can quickly add up. When it comes to environmental safety, there are very few things that are truer than those words. In recent years there has been a massive surge of enlightenment when it comes to environmental issues, such as recycling, reducing carbon emissions, green energy, etc. Still, there is more we can do to improve ourselves, and it may start with how we treat some unexpected items.
This article will list out some common items that you either shouldn’t be using at all, or at least don’t need to be throwing into the trash.
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. A copious amount of paper is being used, but it’s bleached, and has likely been contaminated by the spices and tea leaves inside. They are essentially unsalvageable. Yes, most tea bags can be composted, but about 30% of them cannot. A heat-resistant polypropylene plastic, which can cause damage if introduced into the soil, is found in those 30%.
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. Still, it takes a lot of resources to make them, and knowing there are alternatives, like using a rewashable tea strainer, it can be hard to justify using such a luxury item. Simply buying loose tea can cut down on your overall cost by you then having the ability to measure out how much you want to brew at one time, meaning you can ration them accordingly to your particular lifestyle.
How do K Cups Affect The Environment?
Introduced in 2004, k cups have exploded in popularity. One in three Americans were reported as having a single serving, pod-based coffee maker in their home as of 2015. Thing is, the plastic cups can’t be recycled. It’s not widely known, after all, plastic can be recycled, so why can’t these K cups? The recycling process is to blame for this dilemma. In order to properly recycle something, materials have to meet a criteria before they’re broken down. The potential recyclables can’t be mixed when they get broken down, which is why you normally must separate plastic, glass, and paper. A batch of mixed items would leave you with a defective product which isn’t able to be used, and therefore has to be tossed into the landfill.
K cups have a few problems with them, such as them not having enough material to justify recycling, their seals being made of metal or paper while the cups are plastic, and the fact that they typically still have liquid contaminants inside them. Because of all this almost all K cups, as well as other pod cups, wind up in the landfill. Remember what was said above, about how one in every three American households have one? Now think about how many people live in a house that might use the coffee maker, or how many cups a person might make in a day. The information on how many cups are in landfills can only be so accurate, but if we consider that the company sold 9.8 billion single packs in 2014. A quick calculation for over the years yields a crazy high number. You’d have enough to wrap around Earth’s equator nearly 12 times.
Until the company finishes their work on making a more eco-friendly design, our environment may be better off if you get something like a French Press instead.
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Can Microbeads be Recycled?
Microbeads are the small pellets that you find in some bottles of body wash or lotion. They were used to exfoliate your skin, giving it a more thorough cleaning than regular soap, and could be washed off your skin afterwards. Great plan, but there was one huge drawback: these beads were made entirely out of plastic.
It may not seem like it, but those tiny little pellets can cause some serious damage to the environment, entirely because of how small they are. When they get washed down the drain, that drain connects in some way to a water source. Water filtration plants can’t do much to prevent that, because they’re too small to be properly filtered. Once these beads get into the environment, local fish mistake them for food, causing these beads to get trapped in their bodies and slowly kill. Michigan recorded that in Lake Erie there were about 1.7 million bead particles were present, and New York said over 19 tons of the beads were being washed into the waterways.
Of course this may sound like a moot point considering that in 2015 the Obama Administration passed a bill outlawing the use of these beads in products like creams, soaps, and toothpastes. Chances are though that many homes still have these products with the beads in them, and are still using them. It’s really something to reconsider, if you happen to still have these products in your home.
Are Disposable Cleaning Cloths Safe For the Environment?
Disposable cleaning cloths can range anywhere between disinfecting wipes to cleaning rags for electronic use. Many people believe that they are similarly made to that of paper towels, but the truth is that they’re made from completely synthetic materials. Not only does this prevent them from being recycled, but it also means that they are far less biodegradable than other cleaning cloths. Disposable cleaning cloths will stay in a landfill much longer than regular, non-synthetic cloths, which are also a risk for slipping into our waterways.
Fortunately there’s a pretty simple solution in the form of microfiber. 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. In the long run this also saves you money as you no longer have to continue to purchase more cloths when you run out.
Do Disposable Razors Harm the Environment?
Over 2 million disposable razors find their way into the trash each year, alongside their packaging. The razors aren’t made from salvageable materials either, so you can’t recycle them. The blades themselves are made from a very cheap steel, which is then molded to fit permanently onto a plastic handle. Since it’s too dangerous to extract the blades from the plastic the razors end up in the landfill, where they take a very long time to break down. They can take anywhere between 50 to 500 years to fully break down, depending on what materials were used to make the blade.
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 must have a disposable blade then you might consider Recycline Blades by Preserve, as it’s a company that uses solely recyclable materials so the blades won’t need to end up in landfills.
Are Menstrual Products Dangerous For the Environment?
Menstrual products are easily amongst the most overlooked items with regards to their environmental impact. Over half of the U.S. population requires these products. That’s around 160 million women who use these products just in the states, which equates to something close to 12 billion sanitation pads and 7 billion tampons. Since these products aren’t exactly reusable they go directly to the landfills.
There are other options on the market, such as the Diva cup, which don’t use dioxin or rayon, and can be reused with washing. As well, products like Glad Rags can be used externally, then washed for reused. Unfortunately these products will eventually need to be replaced, and each new purchase can be three times as much as simply buying a box of tampons. For now though they are the only option aside from the regular disposable ones.
Are Produce Bags Dangerous to the Environment?
Along the produce aisle, in every grocery store in the states, you’ll find produce bags. Yes, many companies have started using compostable bags, however there’s still a copious amount of the regular kind. Remember, you can’t necessarily recycle plastic bags. Produce bags are similar, in that they’re difficult to work with and can fly about 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.
At the moment the most environmentally friendly options are to either exclusively shop at stores that offer compostable bags (which will be indicated on the side of the bag) or to bring reusable bags that can be washed. These options aren’t the most reliable, as there aren’t many chains that have compostable bags, and bringing your own bags for all of your produce can be overwhelming. Still, by just using a couple of reusable bags with each trip you’ll be able to significantly cut out on the amount of plastic put into landfills every year.
Can You Recycle Disposable Cutlery?
Only 6% of plastic cutlery is able to be recycled because it, like styrofoam, is made from polystyrene 1. The reason that plastic cutlery is so widely used is because it’s extremely cost effective. A case of 1,000 plastic forks is around $10, whereas a case of compostable forks can range anywhere between $30 and $40 each. It can be stressful trying to budget for the environmentally friendlier option, especially for restaurant or business owners who don’t have much profit. 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.
While they would mean a bit of sacrifice, there are other options for you as a consumer if you’re eating at a restaurant that doesn’t offer eco-friendly cutlery. If you’re eating in at a restaurant, ask the owner if they have silverware to offer instead of plastic. You’re more likely to find silverware at a sit-down restaurant, but it won’t hurt to ask. When it comes to take out, ask that they don’t add the plastic cutlery in your bag. Assuming you’ll be heading home to eat, you can use your own silverware instead. If you’re eating at work or away from home then you may need to have some silverware you bring with you. 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?
It is common to throw away old batteries, especially smaller ones like the often required AA and AAA batteries. Even if you try to recycle them, all batteries will find their way to the landfill. This is because they contain many toxins, like nickel and cadmium, that are harmful not just to the environment but to humans as well. The outside metals and plastics take upwards of 100 years to decompose, but the chemicals inside have an indefinite decay time, meaning that they more than likely never break down completely. 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. Rechargeable batteries are more cost efficient, and they significantly reduce the number of batteries that end up in landfills. Like most great investments you may find yourself paying a little more initially. However, if you swapped to rechargeable batteries, you would likely save yourself over $308 during the course of 5 years.