By Cassidy Gaudes
Over the last few years, a handful of restaurants and places around the world have begun to change their policies on plastic items. Places in the UK now charge for plastic bags, and countries including the U.S., New Zealand, and England have banned microbeads.
Some restaurants have moved to paper straws and Starbucks plans to get rid of single-use straws by 2020. While the fight against plastic bags and straws has been prevalent in the media, there are other things that are detrimental to the environment that do not get as much attention, even though they cause equal harm.
Here are five things that you may not have realized are bad for the environment, or the extent to which they are harmful.
You may want to rethink taking your makeup off with a wipe — avoid using them unless you need to. Wipes make up 93 percent of sewer blockage, according to a recent report from Water UK.
An environmental group, Thames21, cleaned up 5,453 wipes in a 116-square-meter by the Thames in 2018. In 2017, a fatberg made up of grease, fat, wet wipes and other garbage grew in the Baltimore sewer main and caused a million pounds of sewage to be dumped into a stream. Wipes are made of many non-biodegradable materials, including plastic, that can take 100 years to break down.
Instead of using a wipe to take off your makeup, try using a cotton muslin cloth that you can throw in the washer after several uses and is more gentle on your skin than a wipe. Some companies now are making biodegradable face wipes and regular wipes. Never flush a wipe down the toilet either. It can clog the sewage drain or end up in the ocean.
It may seem obvious that these are harmful to the environment, but that does not stop people from smoking or littering the butts. It’s common to see them on the sidewalk or at the beach and they seem small compared to other contaminants. Yet cigarette butts are the number one man-made pollutant in the oceans.
Out of the 5.6 trillion cigarette butts created each year, about two-thirds of them will be discarded irresponsibly every year, according to the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project. In Florida, many improperly discarded cigarette butts will end up in a waterway and pose a risk too much of the marine life. Cigarette butts are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can take a decade or more or decompose, synthetic fibers, and harmful chemicals.
Thankfully, there are things people can do to help. There are places that you can volunteer to help clean up trash, and if you want to smoke on the go, throw out cigarette butts responsibility or carry a portable ashtray and dispose of the butts later.
Many college students and working individuals drink coffee to help them stay awake. The coffee industry, however, is causing environmental destruction and polluting landfills and the ocean.
Coffee is traditionally grown in the shade, with the trees providing a habitat for wildlife, helping with soil erosion, and cleaning the air. But back in the 70s, farmers started growing coffee in direct sunlight, which yielded more coffee but also created the need to use more pesticides and fertilizers.
Solar powered plantations are leading to a loss of biodiversity, a higher threat of landslides, and soil depletion, and more chemicals in the water. This intense sun-style of farming is not sustainable because, in a few years, the soil will be exhausted, according to Shalene Jha, assistant professor at The University of Texas, Austin. Jha states that if you want to know where the coffee you drink comes from, check if it’s certified with Rainforest Alliance or Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
So, instead of reaching for a cheaper coffee brand to make coffee at home, buy from one that’s certified. Avoid using non reusable k-cups too, and buy coffee in a more efficient way, or use reusable k-cups.
If you’re going to get your coffee out, get it from places that buy coffee that’s grown ethically and, if possible, bring your own to-go mug so there is one less plastic cup in a landfill later.
Leaving appliances plugged in
When leaving your home, you should unplug all appliances that do not need to be used. Even when a device is turned off, it’s still using electricity while it’s plugged in. Devices in idle mode use around a quarter of all residential energy usage, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In general, electricity contributes to about 37 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Leaving devices plugged in also increases your electricity bill, which may already be expensive, especially for college students.
Smart devices are also a contributing factor to a waste of residential energy. Anything that stays connected to the internet, including smart TVs, uses more power. As convenient as smart devices are, it would help the environment if people did things the old fashioned way, like using a remote to turn on the TV.
If you want to leave appliances plugged in, try using a power strip that can be turned on when you need it and off when you don’t. This will help to save electricity as well as money.
Glitter may not be the first thing that comes to your head of things that are harmful to the environment, but it’s recently been banned in some UK schools due to the effect it can have on the ocean.
Glitter is a microplastic, which is a plastic piece less than five millimeters long and can be too small to be filtered out of the water. When microplastics get into the ocean, they are ingested by many marine life creatures from the surface to the ocean floor and can collect in animals stomachs.
Sherri Mason, a chemist who researches plastic pollution at the State University of New York at Fredonia told Newsweek that there is no specific data on glitter because scientists generally study microplastics as a whole. However, microplastics are everywhere and can absorb harmful chemicals.
You do not have to stop using glitter outright to help the environment. There are biodegradable glitters available to use for projects and biodegradable body glitters for when you want to add a sparkle to your skin. Biodegradable glitter won’t make a mess around your house, won’t stay in your hair for weeks, and is better for the environment.
Cassidy Gaudes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org