There are those things we know are bad for the environment – products with heavy packaging such as individual servings (here’s looking at you K-cup) and harsh corrosive chemicals that we wouldn’t want on our skin let alone to run into our drains and natural water resources. There are also the things that the news loves to feed us with headlines that demonize products based on new hypotheses that are currently in testing, which may or may not actually be doing damage. Then there are those things that we’ve known for years have been hurting the environment, the information just hasn’t reached the larger public discussion. Here are three of those things, potentially sitting in your home right now.
Let’s forget about the packaging and operational energy requirements for a second and focus on the production. If you’re using an Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, which together account for the most popular smartphones in the US, you’re using something that just by virtue of being a finished a product has already created some environmental devastation.
A Friends of the Earth investigation found that Apple and Samsung were getting tin from suppliers who worked with mines on Bangka Island in Indonesia. The manufacturers were likely unaware of the source of the tin or its impact on the environment, but mining in the area has lead to major deforestation, the destruction of farmland on which island residents depend, and choking the area’s coral reefs.
Now add back in the packaging and the energy requirements back in, and you’ve got yourself a pocket-sized piece of environmental destruction.
Microbeads are one of those things that get talked about a lot but fade into the background when it comes time to make policies or personal changes, and that’s largely because we don’t really know they’re there. Microbeads are ultra-tiny plastic beads found in everything from toothpaste to facial washes. They’re inexpensive, versatile, and so small they slip our minds. They’re also so small that they slip right down the drain and through the filters at water treatment facilities, heading out into waterways where they can pollute and be ingested by marine life.
Like most other plastics, as these beads are degraded or ingested they can leach toxins into the environment or the animal that ate them, concentrating their way up the food chain and devastating local populations and food supplies. Thanks to some levels of corporate vigilance, though, microbeads are getting phased out in a number of consumer products.
Your Daily Cup
We already know how bad those single serving coffee packs are, but your daily cup of coffee or even tea isn’t honestly that much better if you’re using traditional methods. The cardboard and metal waste produced packaging coffee and tea bags is more than you might think, and parts of your tea bag can’t be composted. Your coffee filter might not make it to the compost, either. Instead of using disposable products, try metal or glass filters for your coffee, or go French press. Buy loose-leaf tea and a steep for it. Use refillable containers. Most of all – this one should go without saying – bring your own refillable travel mug to the coffee shop. They’ll have no problem filling you up while foregoing the disposable plastic, paper, or styrofoam cup.