Despite our increasing awareness of how our lifestyle and waste-disposal habits impact upon the environment, there is still a multitude of common household products which pose a threat to the ecology of our planet. Here is a roundup of some commonly used items whose green credentials are now very much under the spotlight.
1) Plastic tea bags
A number of tea producers have switched from using a traditional paper sachet to a mesh-type bag. In some instances, this new ‘gourmet’ format has been adopted to facilitate the use of substantial leaf fragments, or even whole leaves. Sometimes these bags are made from nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – both substances which simply increase our use of plastics. Drinking these plastic-flavoured boiled infusions could cause contamination similar to the previously identified threat from disposable plastic bottles.
2) Coffee capsules
The convenience of capsule coffee machines delivering exotic blends of coffee has created a whole new way of consuming domestic beverages. According to US data collected in 2017, these new machines are used by 29% of American consumers – a trend which is very much on the increase. Unfortunately, countless numbers of these capsules are routinely sent to landfill. The resultant publicity has recently caused Hamburg in Germany to ban the use of coffee capsules in all their public buildings.
3) Disposable chopsticks
The use of disposable chopsticks is growing as a direct consequence of the popularity of Asian food. As a wood product, disposable chopsticks consume vast amounts of a scarce natural resource: Figures issued by Greenpeace warn that China’s annual production of chopsticks (57 billion pairs) demands the felling of around 1.18 million square metres of forest (3.8 million trees). In addition, Amnesty International claim many chopsticks are the product of forced labour.
4) Cosmetic microbeads
First used in the 1970s, plastic microbeads became a regular abrasive component used in cosmetics to replace nature-based options from the 1990s onward. Subsequently, many studies have found that wastewater-filtering systems are unable to remove plastic particles smaller than one millimetre in size. The resultant contamination of the food chain and marine habitats has become a major concern, and many countries now ban products containing microbeads.
5) Wet wipes
Initially designed to assist more hygienic nappy changes, wet wipes were soon adopted for general cleansing, disinfectants, hand-cleaning and more. They are now a common household item, often thrown away down the toilet, which have been implicated in the appearance of so-called ‘fatbergs’. These are vast waste accumulations with the capacity to block sewerage systems. In 2013, for instance, a fatberg the size of a shipping container blocked a London sewer, raising awareness of the potential threat such build-ups of fat, non-biodegradable wet wipes, condoms and more could pose to urban waste-disposal facilities around the world.
With exposure to sunlight identified as one risk factor for skin cancers, it is hardly surprising sunscreen has been widely promoted by health experts. Unfortunately, this protection has itself become a cause for concern, as identified by ecotoxicologist Craig Downs. It appears that many sunscreen ingredients have been implicated as hazardous to coral and other forms of marine life. For example, oxybenzone, used to block and filter ultraviolet rays, has been shown to be harmful to coral growth. Although some US states (e.g. Hawaii) are contemplating bans, the real problem is that, apart from staying in the shade, there are presently no viable alternatives.
A perennial children’s favourite for craft projects, glitter may be less innocuous than you think. Already banned by some UK nurseries on environmental grounds, glitter is, in fact, tiny PET (microplastic) fragments which can contaminate our aquatic landscapes. Biodegradable glitter alternatives are already on the market, so many experts are already pressing for a ban on all traditional forms of this material.
Despite the existence of such alarming environmental news, gambling remains a growing pastime. Many people travel for hundreds of miles just to have a chance to play casino games in Las Vegas, Monaco and elsewhere … However, many of us don’t consider the environmental impact this can have. So with the rise of online gambling replacing traditional casinos, what are the future prospects for the environment? Since there is no physical location, gambling through your laptop or phone results in far less garbage to clear away, less toxic waste, and fewer sewage problems.