America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Unfortunately, it can also be the land of planet-ruiners. Thanks to decades of learned behavior and greed, major corporations get rich off of America's consumption of earth-destroying products.
You've likely been taught since you were little that things like pollution, climate change, and the destruction of rainforests and other wild habitats are bad. But it's easy for most Americans to let those childhood lessons fall by the wayside when they see commercials for things like fast food, disposable diapers, and throw-away single mop heads. Terms like "trade up", "upgrade", and "replace" have become almost synonymous with happiness. Think of how excited people get when it's time to upgrade their cell phone or when people have saved enough to re-do their kitchens, often tossing out old but functional appliances. By contrast, other countries, such as South America, have become full of experts at repairing almost anything. This is because many people in poorer countries do not have the money or means to buy a new product if the one they already own breaks down. Here's a list of how American habits continue to negatively affect the planet.
15 The Greenhouse Effect
According to a 2014 study by the World Resource Institutes, the United States is second behind China as far as the top ten emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. This is definitely not a top ten that any country wants to be in, let alone take second place. When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide is emitted through fossil fuel combustion associated with large-scale industrial activities, such as deforestation, factory farming, vehicles, and agricultural processes. America's exact number as of 2012 was 6.34 million kilotons of CO2 eq. For reference, China's number was 12.45 million kilotons of CO2 eq, and Russia (number five on the list) was at 2.80 million kilotons of CO2 eq. If America wants to truly be number one, this is the wrong way to get at it and unfortunately, they're holding the second spot steadily.
14 Refusing To Recycle
Recycling is a great practice for many reasons: saving precious space in landfills, reducing pollution, it helps the economy by creating jobs, and helps to preserve our natural resources. Campaigns heavily promoting recycling have been around for decades, so why do a quarter of Americans still refuse to do it? A 2011 study conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs found out that only about half of Americans recycle on a daily basis. Experts and psychologists say that because recycling requires effort (separating and carrying to a different receptacle) and the rewards for doing so (helping the planet) and the negative effects of not recycling (ruining the planet) are not clearly visible and immediate to most of the American public, it can be difficult for many to make recycling a learned behavior. So what does this mean? Bring back more campaigns and public service announcements, maybe with a more direct approach?
13 Eating Meat
By purchasing meat products, individuals are contributing to a five-in-one: All five ways Americans are killing the planet in one fell swoop. This is because factory farming contributes to air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, fossil fuel/carbon emissions, and monocultures. Whew. That's a lot of damage caused for a meal. Here's a small tidbit of the overwhelming data that meat production is ruining the planet: over 37 percent of methane emissions are due to factory farming. Besides this, 90 million tons of fossil fuels are used for meat production and slaughter transportation each year. A staggering 70 percent of the world's fresh water supply is used for factory farming, which sadly also leads to 75 percent of all water quality problems in America’s rivers and streams as estimated by the EPA. Stopping your meat and dairy consumption, or at least cutting down, is a major key to helping this massive issue that affects us all. Instead, choosing meat alternatives and supporting your local, organic producers and small-scale crop farming is recommended by environmental experts.
12 Litterbug Syndrome
America stands out above all other countries for having the strongest anti-littering campaigns. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be working. Forty-three percent of Americans have admitted to tossing their trash outside a trash bin. It's tempting for most people. If you generate some form of trash, like a used up piece of paper or a food wrapper of some kind while on the go, and you don't see a trash can anywhere in sight, letting the trash become someone else's problem can be a welcome relief. But as your mother and teachers likely told you at some point, once trash becomes litter, it becomes everyone's problem. And not just for us humans. It's unsightly and can actually harm us, animals, and even plants as well. The problem is that littering has a "trickle-down effect" since water pollution is linked to littering. It's also expensive and laborious to clean up. So the next time you think of littering, don't!
11 Wasting Water
According to the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency), the average American family wastes 180 gallons of water per week, or 9,400 gallons each year from minor leaks. To give that some perspective, that's enough wasted water to wash about 300 loads of laundry. Some people put off getting minor leaks repaired right away because it's "only a small leak", but even the tiniest of leaks can add up fast... and not only end up costing homeowners money, but costing our planet precious resources as well. Additionally, Americans could potentially save up to 5,700 gallons of water per year if only they would turn off their taps while they brush their teeth and shave. If you're not using it, turn it off!
10 Using Aerosol Sprays
Aerosol sprays have successfully huffed and puffed their way into the American way of life from everything to morning routines with a spritz of hairspray, to making sure dinner is non-stick. Aerosols were quickly popularized in American culture thanks to their convenience and, to be perfectly honest, that satisfying ssshhh sound. But aerosol sprays were not invented for these reasons. They were first invented by scientists in the 1920's from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the goal of pressurizing insect spray. Then American soldiers got wind of the idea and used the technology to help fend off Malaria during World War II. It all sounds pretty heroic, right? But fast forward to the mid-1970s when researchers started to realize that our ozone layer was being depleted by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), found in aerosol sprays. As a result, the EPA regulated that aerosol sprays made in the U.S.A. must not contain CFCs. However, aerosols manufactured in other countries can wind up for sale in America, so to be safe, check the ingredients the next time you're out aerosol shopping.
9 Causing Smog/Not Carpooling
What happens when the smog lifts over Los Angeles? If you're a jokester than you'd respond with the punny answer: "UCLA", making sure to draw out the syllables. But it's actually not that funny if you're someone who must breathe the smoggy air in Los Angeles, which has become the poster child for smogged out cities in America. Although for nearly 50 years California has been considered a national leader in environmental law, it's difficult to find a city in the entire long state that is not affected in some way by thick smog. Obviously, vehicles and their emissions are the biggest cause of this problem, and with approximately 39 million people living in California, there are a lot of vehicles on the road. The state spent 193 million dollars from 2005 to 2007 in emergency room costs for 30,000 smog-related visits. Around 9,600 people die each year due to respiratory complications and most of the cases are due to repeated smog exposure. Despite desperate pleas for carpooling in congested areas, many Americans decide to journey alone.
8 America's Overpackaging Problem
Packaged things look pretty. American retailers have figured this out, along with the mindset that convenience is key. Think about how much waste is created with every drive-through meal you eat. In feeding just one or two people, the end result is usually an entire bagful of trash. Every item comes with its own packaging, napkins are plentiful, and for a small amount of liquid, one plastic lid and straw. These will damage the planet for many years to come if not recycled. We live in a throwaway culture these days, and while some companies are out to make things better (like a toilet paper manufacturer that's done away with the cardboard tubes, and eateries that use biodegradable packaging), they are sadly few and far between. We generate trash so quickly thanks to America's overpackaging problem and the instant gratification of getting rid of it. But by not bothering to recycle recyclable material, our instant gratification will become our grandchildren's never-ending nightmare.
7 Using Plastic Straws
Five hundred million plastic planet-damaging straws are used and tossed every day in America. Many of these straws are headed for America's oceans, and plastic straws are in the top ten list of dangerous items ingested by sea animals. Although tiny in size, using them creates a massive consequence for our planet because they can last up to 600 years, which is a very long time considering that we only use them for about 30 minutes or so. To try and combat this issue, some planet-loving companies have created eco-friendly reusable versions made of glass or stainless steel. Last month, the city of Seattle did away with straws for one month as part of the "Strawless in Seattle" campaign, and they successfully eliminated 2 million plastic straws. In keeping up with the momentum from the campaign, the city has promised to do away with all plastic straws and utensils by 2018. If all Americans started to request their drinks straw-free from fast food places and restaurants, our planet and its sea creatures would gratefully be able to drink up the benefits.
America has shamefully earned the nickname of "throw-away society" thanks to this fact: the average American creates up to 4.6 pounds of garbage per day. One factor is that most material goods are not made to last on purpose. While manufacturing well-made products that last might earn a company a great reputation, it's not going to bring in waves of repeat customers. Many American companies, even very popular ones, have adopted a "made to last just long enough" policy. This is true of everything from cell phones, to jeans, to kitchen appliances. They work well enough for the consumer to fall in love with the product, so much so that when it's no longer usable, they run out to buy the very same brand. But what happens to the old product? Back in the 1950s, appliance repair shops were not uncommon, as it cost less to have your appliance repaired than to replace it. Not true for how things are today. If it's broken, Americans are likely to say bon voyage to their old product and simply toss it out.
5 Love Of Antibacterial Soap
A common television commercial in America shows a person with disgustingly dirty hands at a sink, washing them with antibacterial soap. "Kills 99.99% of germs!" someone excitedly exclaims off-screen and back at home, we sigh with relief that all is right with the world now all thanks to the hero, antibacterial soap. But, as it turns out, America has been getting duped. Theresa Michele of the FDA has stated, “Manufacturers did not demonstrate that they are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections." As of September 2016, the FDA banned manufacturers of these products from using 19 chemicals frequently found in soaps, because there is insufficient information on the long-term health effects of their use. The FDA is urging American consumers to stop using anti-bacterial soap now before it is forced off shelves for health reasons. Another good reason to stop using them is their harmful effect on our planet. Triclosan, a common ingredient in these products, can disrupt algae's ability to create photosynthesis and has already started to cause problems for sea animals like bottle-nosed dolphins.
4 Farm-raised Fish
As of this writing, more than half of all seafood purchased for human consumption is from farm fisheries, thanks to overfishing in America's oceans, lakes, and rivers. The World Bank estimates that by the year 2030, about two-thirds of fish sold for food will be from farms. Some think that farm fishing isn't such a bad thing since it reduces the carbon footprint because there aren't fishing boats that require fuel and trucks to transport the dead fish to the market. But that point is moot once you understand what farmed fish are fed. Fishing boats that work for aquacultures or farmed fisheries go out to sea and catch small salmon which are ground up and fed to the farmed fish. While some believe that farm-raised fish are free of the metals and toxins often found in wild-caught fish, a recent study found high levels of PCBs, a potentially carcinogenic chemical, in American's farm-raised fish. Some aquacultures place open net-cages right in the ocean, where disease, chemicals, and parasites feed into the ocean and sea animals like seals and sea lions are often shot by fish farmers if they get too close to the cages.
3 Leaders In Food Waste
Food is cheap in America and, for the most part, people have picky tastes when it comes to what they want to see served up on their dinner tables. You might have heard about the Ugly Fruit & Veg campaign. Their goal is to turn the tables by getting people to recognize that produce deemed "too ugly" to sell by grocery stores is actually delicious and eating it can help save the planet. Other parts of the world have already gotten on board with this trend. Australia and Europe have fallen in love with "ugly" food, which is a great solution to the massive food waste problem. Sadly, about half of all produce grown in America is tossed out annually — that's 60 million tons which equals to about 160 billion dollars worth of perfectly edible and great-tasting fruits and veggies — that restaurants and grocery store owners think won't appeal aesthetically to their picky patrons. When it comes to fruits and veggies, beauty is on the inside and the sooner America realizes this, the better.
2 Scary Dairy
With documentaries like What The Health becoming increasingly popular on Netflix, America is learning that "milk is nature's perfect food," as Dr. Mark Hyman puts it, "but only if you're a calf." But besides the negative health effects that dairy causes, which are now coming to light, the dairy industry is torturing the environment. You're probably thinking that greenhouse gas emissions like methane from dairy farms are contributing to climate change, and while that is true, it's only part of the problem. Water waste is another massive issue. Currently, there are 9 million dairy cows in America. While being constantly impregnated in order to provide milk, a staggering 19 percent of the total global water footprint is used for dairy cows and maintenance. To provide relevance, around 150 gallons of water is used per day per cow just for flushing manure since many dairy cows don't have space to move. If there's one thing America loves, it's cheese. But if American habits like that don't change soon, Americans could be putting the planet on the back of a milk carton.
1 Disposable Everything
In America, convenience, not cash, is the real king. Americans prefer to pay extra rather than be inconvenienced with the hassle and headache of cleaning up after a picnic in the park. What's easier? Taking reusable plates, utensils, and cups from home, packing everything into an old-fashioned picnic basket and then returning home with a basket of things to wash? Or taking a disposable tablecloth along with disposable plates, cups, and utensils and then just bundling up the whole mess to pitch it in the nearest trash bin? Clean up is a breeze when you have disposable everything at your fingertips... but that's the kind of thing that's going to get America in trouble... soon. America is running out of space to put all of this convenient garbage. What is not disposable is this planet, which desperately needs our help now.