Even though this blog focuses on waste, it’s important to keep your environmental impact as a whole in perspective. You might think that you have this whole “low-impact” lifestyle thing figured out, but some of your everyday behaviors have more of an impact that you think. These 5 things don’t sound bad for the environment, but they can really add up. It’s important to remember that just because something doesn’t sound bad for the environment, doesn’t mean that it is not.
1. In-store shopping (is worse for the environment than online shopping)
It may come as a surprise if you were considering the fact that online products have to be shipped to your house in a truck and arrive in additional packaging, but online shopping is actually better for the environment.
Plus, you have to drive your car to and from the store to purchase the product. The Department of Transportation found that the average American makes a round trip of 14 miles when they shop. So that’s two trips for a product purchased in-store, rather than one trip for items purchased online.
Think of delivery as a carpool for your purchases. It keeps shoppers off the road, which reduces carbon emissions.
Regarding the packaging, products purchased in-store are given to you in extra packaging as well. The difference is that in-store shops pack your products in non-biodegradable plastic bags while online stores pack them in recyclable cardboard boxes.
I hope to see Amazon’s drone delivery program become a reality soon. The battery-powered drones will decrease emissions produced from online shopping even further. And let’s not forget the fact that our packages will be arriving to us within 30 minutes of purchase to wherever we are. The future is a beautiful thing.
2. Buying too many reusable bags (or not using the ones you have)
Reusable bags are far better for the environment than single use plastic bags, but only when they get used regularly.
Reusable bags required more energy to produce than single-use plastic bags. Which means, by purchasing reusable bags you are initially doing something worse for the environment.
There’s a tipping point where reusable bags become better for the environment, and a UK environmental agency conducted a study to find the exact tipping point. According to the study, polyethylene bags need to be used four times, a polypropylene bag must be used at least 11 times, and a cotton bag must be used at least 131 times to be superior to disposable plastic bags.
This might seem like an argument to buy polyethylene bags, but remember that each of these materials has their advantages. Polyethylene and polypropylene are still types of plastic; therefore, they are not biodegradable. They are also not recommended for machine-washing, so they can be a hotbed for harmful bacteria, and may require replacing earlier.
Cotton bags can be machine-washed and are easy to repair if they get a tear in the fabric. They are also biodegradable and made from a renewable resource.
The more important factor in the bag you choose is to choose one that you can use forever. The longer you can go without replacing a bag, the bigger impact you are having on the environment.
If you do need to purchase new reusable bags, recycle your old ones. And if you buy polyethylene or polypropylene bags, choose ones that are made from recycled materials.
Reusable bags become a problem when you collect too many from various stores and events and don’t actually use them. Unused bags are worse for the environment. Especially when you forget them at home and end up using disposable bags anyways.
3. Buying perishable items in bulk
It’s generally more environmentally beneficial to buy your food in bulk. Except when it comes to perishable items; like fruits, vegetables and dairy.
If you can’t eat all your food before it spoils, then you just end up throwing it out and adding to the massive global food waste problem.
Items that should be bought it bulk:
- Cleaning products
Items that should NOT be bought in bulk:
It’s better to throw out a little extra packaging than to load up your trashcan with food waste.
4. Smoking marijuana
Don’t let the color fool you, marijuana is not “green” at all. In fact, marijuana is the worst drug for the environment.
One joint is worth 2 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
Most of this energy use is due to the fact that most marijuana is grown indoors where it can be concealed from law enforcement. So one may argue that if marijuana is legalized, production can be moved outdoors and marijuana’s carbon footprint will be reduced.
If marijuana becomes legalized, cocaine, heroin or meth will likely take its place as the most harmful drug for the environment. But for now, marijuana’s title is here to stay.
5. Eating meat
A 2012 report from World Bank Group said that our best chance to avoid the effects of climate change down the road is to start eating less meat now.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that “…the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”
51 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry.
It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. With the western US experiencing the worst drought on record, we can’t afford to allow that much water to go to meat production.
That doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to go vegetarian, but it is vital to environmental sustainability that we normalize a less meat-based diet. That means reducing the number of our meals that contain meat and using meat as a condiment or garnish, rather than the focus of a meal.
And because beef has the highest water footprint, severely reducing or eliminating red meat from our diets is essential.