Are you friendly to the environment? Do you do all you can to stay eco-friendly? Good on you then; it’s better than the rest of us who have to be constantly reminded from PSAs and color coded bins for different kinds of waste.
Did you know recycling isn’t as efficient as you think? For one, many re-purposed items are found not to be fit for purpose. This means the required metals still have to be mined, further gouging the Earth.
We know the obvious effects of oil refining on the environment, but did you know cross-contamination is also a huge issue in recycling? If those cans you turn in at the recycling center contain any impurities or toxins, more often than not, they find their way into the new product made.
And here you thought you were doing the Earth a big favor by recycling! Here are ten more ways we wreck our planet everyday.
10. Going Organic
Many consumers have jumped on the whole “Organic is better” bandwagon for the past few decades. They suck it up and pay the much higher prices (between 20 and 100% more), comforting themselves that the they are doing the planet some good.
Contrary to popular belief, organic food may not be that good for anyone. Till date, studies have shown little to no noticeable difference between organic and conventional food. Regarding growing, organic crops generally require much more acreage. There is also cause for concern about the natural organic compounds used as fertilizer. Finally, it is worth noting that organically grown foods may have a shorter shelf life. So on one hand, you think you are saving the planet, but then have to drive down to the whole foods store every other day to get fresh apples.
9. Smog-forming Emissions
Air pollution is literally a drag. In affected countries, it’s hard to draw clean air into your lungs due to the air being thick with particles and vehicular emissions. The smog problem in China is well documented, but they don’t have the monopoly on this. Fresno, Bismarck, Visalia and many more are American cities shrouded in pea-soup smog in 2015.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps track of hazardous air pollutants that can increase the occurrence of cancer and other respiratory conditions. These include carbon monoxide, benzene, methlyene chloride, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, asbestos, and metals such as mercury and cadmium.
Many of our everyday activities release one or more of these compounds. Driving around releases carbon monoxide; paints give off VOCs as they dry. Arson leads to copious amounts of articulate matter or fine particles.
8. Ocean Acidification
Our impact on the environment through air pollution is only one part of the whole equation. Our release of greenhouse gases (up to 22 million tons a day) through activities like burning fossil fuels causes carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. This CO2 ends up in our water bodies, causing it to form carbonic acid and lower the pH.
This low pH affects a vast majority of marine creatures, plants and the environment. Lower pH results in high acidity levels that affect the survival of the marine species. This has the knock-on effect of affecting the existing food chain; even mammals will be affected.
7. Chocolate Deforestation
To make chocolate smooth and shiny, palm oil is one of the essential ingredients. All major manufacturers use palm oil in their chocolate, causing concerns for the ethical sourcing of this important ingredient.
In Borneo, the planting of palm oil plantations is done at the expense of the natural habitat of the tigers, elephants and orangutans. Apart from destroying their natural homes, any orangutans that don’t escape are killed by unscrupulous farmers. Satisfying our sweet tooth has decimated the population to less than 61, 000 orangutans in the wilds of Borneo (54,000) and Sumatra (6,000).
It is estimated that at the current rate of human activities, the orangutan species could be extinct within the next two decades.
6. Our Communication Kills Birds
We marvel at migrating geese and starlings; how they can fly across continents without a GPS is something scientists are still studying. But many of our actions have negative impacts on their ability to do this.
How? That phone call you placed is routed through a communications tower; ditto for your binge watching of Orange is the New Black. These communication towers are responsible for the deaths of around seven million migratory birds every year. They become disoriented and end up colliding with cell tower structures and their cables. The birds affected include migratory birds and even rare endangered species.
It’s not just physical structures that affect birds. Wi-fi networks also affect birds as they are exposed to the radiation the towers emit. Effects include abandoning their nests, deterioration of the plumage and death.
5. Noise and Marine Life
When you think of ocean pollution, oils spills and the Garbage Patch are probably what comes to mind, but we do more damage than that. Way more damage. So much so that we could be on the verge of eliminating an entire specie.
Human activities in the ocean – fishing, traffic from ships, drilling – all generate large volumes of noise. This noise pollution affects marine animals that use sonar to communicate.
By interfering with how they call out and listen for responses, we are forcing them to adapt to adverse environmental conditions. Whales have been forced to expend much more energy than normal, just to hear what other whales are saying. Their range of communication has been so affected that it has been reduced by almost 90%. The stress they experience from naval activities, underwater drilling and pile driving has been blamed for the mass beaching events recorded in recent times.
4. New Phone Disaster
While it is quite easy to quickly upgrade when a new phone is released, have you ever wondered where the dumped phones end up? On one hand, they are shipped to Third World countries where they are crudely recycled for copper and any other salvageable parts. These recycling methods include burning the whole computer to melt the plastic and expose any metals. Air pollution is a huge problem in Ghana due to this.
At the rate at which new phones are produced, even recycling can’t keep up. This means more mining is bound to take place, further stripping the Earth of its resources. The extraction of one element in particular has caused a huge furore in the Congo. Due to uncontrolled mining, coltan extraction has been implicated in the Ituri conflict in the Congo and in the diminishing of the population of the Eastern Mountain gorilla.
3. Panic About Plastic
We can’t seem to escape plastic in any form, can we? From the packaging you rip off your new Xbox controller to the plastic bag you randomly ditch when you get back from the store, plastic is used everywhere. Successfully discarding plastic has also become one of the hardest things modern Man has had to grapple with.
Plastic accounts for around 10% of the total waste we generate; in LA alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments (read: garbage) ends up in the Pacific every day. Plastic is known for its slow rate of degradation, evident in the Great Pacific garbage patch floating in the Pacific.
Plastic fragments cause intestinal injury in millions of fish annually. Larger marine animals get tangled in plastic and drown. Chlorinated plastic releases harmful substances into the soil, polluting groundwater that may be drunk by humans and animals alike.
2. Kitty Litter Use
This one is for all you Grumpy Cat lovers. Because you can’t bear to be away from your cat, you keep them indoors as much as you can. That makes it easier to feed them, keep them away from birds and provide kitty litter for them to do their business, right?
But did you know kitty litter made from clay is wrecking the Earth from the inside out? Cat litter can only be sourced by strip mining, which is considered one of the most invasive mining methods available. Over two million tons of clay are extracted from the Earth annually, leaving massive craters exposed.
1. Animals “Use” Your Drugs
Sounds totally bonkers, but our pills have shockingly similar effects on animals.
When you use medication and then urinate, traces end up in the waste water, which is piped through the soil where leeching occurs. Earthworms exposed to these elements get eaten up by birds, causing really odd conditions to develop.
One study found that birds who were exposed to Prozac showed a marked loss of appetite and libido. Fish exposed to trace elements of human medication, through improperly treated human waste water systems, lose the ability to reproduce. In fact, they found that when exposed to small amounts of estrogen, male fish began to develop eggs!
There you have it, ten things we all do every single day that have adverse effects on our planet. Examine your behavior and see how many you can change. Remember, we have only one planet.