We are all afraid of the green police. You know, those people who go around being more righteous than thou and shaming us lesser mortals for our shortcomings. At The Green Mama, we implore people to judge less (especially themselves): just start somewhere, just do something, and, gosh, have a little fun along the way. Yet, most people still want to know what are the clues: the green faux pas that show they are tuned-out when they want to be tuned-in: like handing a person the sacred prayer cup with your left hand while in India, or asking for “gas” while in Europe, or picking up the cute eco girl wearing the “I HEART the planet” shirt in your brother’s Hummer.
To welcome the new year we are revealing the top 16 eco faux pas. Starting small and finishing with #1 biggest green faux pas of 2016. Read on…
16. Using disposable, plastic shopping bags
According to Worldwatch Institute, “Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags. (Only 0.6 percent of plastic bags are recycled.)” Many people have developed the habit of taking reusable bags to the grocery store, but what about all the other shopping that’s done? We can do more by taking bags with us everywhere and refusing a bag when we only buy a few things that we can easily carry. Reusable bags are everywhere now and are affordable, so this is an easy thing to do.
15. Paying for electricity you aren’t using
Turning lights off is a very easy way to cut down your energy bill and reduce your energy bills. For even greater savings, plug your appliances into power strips and then turn off the power strip at night. “Phantom loads” can make-up 10 percent of your total energy costs–this means that you are playing just to have your stereo or TV turned off.
14. Not buying recycled
Common items that we use everyday, such as toilet paper, disposable diapers, notepaper, plastic containers, cellphones, ink printers, bottles, and so much more COULD be made with recycled paper, plastic, metal, glass, or even concrete. If you aren’t buying the recycled items when and where they are available you are not only contributing to, for instance, new trees being used but you are also making it harder to develop markets for recycled products. Some big companies really need reminding, for instance Kleenex and Huggies both came under fire recently for using OLD GROWTH FORESTS in their products. You can buy toilet paper or diapers that use recycle content (no, silly they aren’t made from recycled diapers or recycled toilet paper, they are made from recycled paper).
It is best to find products with the maximim amount of Post Consumer recycled content (for paper products). As well, make sure you are avoiding toilet paper, diapers, and other paper products whitened with chlorine bleach. The process creates one of the worst human toxins: dioxin.
13. Letting the water run… while you brush your teeth, shave or do the dishes
Whether you receive a water bill or not, it’s a precious resource and your tax dollars have gone towards cleaning what is just running down the drain. Consider how much water is wasted while brushing your teeth. If you brush for 1 minute twice a day and your faucet uses 2.5 gpm (gallons/minute) you waste 5 gallons a day and 1,825 gallons a year.
12. Not using energy-efficient light bulbs around the house
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are both more efficient, longer lasting, and guaranteed to save you money. In fact, Consumer Reports rates is at one of the top 10 best ways to save money. Lighting is the third biggest user in the home according to Micheal BlueJay (aka Mr. Electricity my favorite know-everything nut for energy savings). CFLS can give you the same amount of light as incandescents while consuming 70% less energy. Up front cost and perceived light quality issues often keep people from switching. Even better for the environment, light quality, and energy savings are LCD light bulbs, but they are substantially more expensive still. CFLs take some know-how to pick the right bulb (for the light quality you want and the type of fixture you have) but once you get it right, the cost of the bulb will be more than made up for by a reduction in your energy bill. Check out this guide for picking the right bulb.
11. Using disposable plates, kitchens, towels, napkins, or utensils at home
Disposable products are an expensive habit around the house—both in terms of dollars and environmental resources. Petroleum is used in making most of these products and is also involved in the shipping of these products. As well, many of them are associated with serious, negative health effects from the super-toxin dioxin which is released when paper products are bleached to the endocrine disrupting (hormone-messing) effects of many plastics (vinyl and Styrofoam have some of the most dangerous human health effects of the plastics). As well, most of these products are not recyclable. A family getting out of the papertowel habit (using more than one roll a week) alone can save more than $50 a year.
10. Letting your car idle
Idling equals getting ZERO miles to the gallon. It wastes money and petro, damages modern car engines, and creates pollution. Each day Americans waste 3.8 million gallons of gas and 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide by voluntarily idling their cars. Voluntarily idling can also damage a car. It is better to turn the car off and back on, even if it is for just 20 seconds while you are at the drive-through or car-pool. Learn the facts of idling versus the myths at Hinkle Charitable Foundation.
9. Not composting your kitchen scraps
You can read more about the beautiful potential of composting in The Green Mama Composting 101 blog. The short version, though, is that we are spending loads of money and significant greenhouse gasses to take our kitchen scraps to landfills where they make up 65% of landfill waste and, once there, will take lifetimes to biodegrade (if they ever do). At home you can turn kitchen scraps, paper products, and maybe even compostable diapers into fertilizer.
8. Putting your kids in the most toxic room of the home
There are over 74 billion pounds of industrial chemicals imported or produced everyday in the U.S. and they find their way into every aspect of our daily lives in North America. We know these chemicals enter our bodies because of body burden testing which shows that even a newborn baby (in North America) is born with over 200 different toxins in their blood. Our indoor air quality is consistently more polluted than our outdoor air. A typical child’s bedroom is full of the worst polluters: new furniture, paint, carpet, mattresses, toys, and more. Learn more about the worst polluters in the nursery.
7. Using toxic chemicals in your home
One of the main culprits are the cleaning supplies we use. We don’t want to drink chemicals, but we have no problem pouring them down the drain to be filtered out of our drinking water (we hope). We don’t want them in our food, but we clean our countertops with them. We don’t want our children exposed to poisons, but they play on floors cleaned with chemicals often known to be toxic, allow them to mouth toys disinfected with bleach, and play on grass treated with pesticides. We are scared of bees and ants and other bugs, but often forget that pesticide use around the home is associated with a 6-fold chance of childhood leukemia. Just having toxic cleaning products around the house is responsible for thousands of cases of poisoning every year in North America. Who is tracking the slower poisoning from everyday exposures?
6. Drinking bottled water at home or at work
Bottled water is an expensive habit. It can cost a family upwards of a 1,000 a year. And for what? About 40% of bottled water starts out as tap water. Bottled water isn’t required to meet as stringent standards as tap water and, according to the EPA, “bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water.” As well, bottled water can leach chemicals into the water from the plastic. Only 10 to 20% of the bottles ever get recycled and it requires significant petroleum to make the plastic, bottle the water, and ship the bottles to a store near you. A more affordable, healthier, and more ecological alternative—a GREENER option—is to filter your tap water.
5. Buying “dirty” fruits and veggies
The most contaminated fruits and vegetables–a.k.a. The Dirty Dozen–can expose you and your children to dozens of different pesticides, many known toxins. For instance, take the supposedly safe levels of OP pesticides. A Harvard study found that kids whose typical daily exposure was among the highest were twice as likely to have ADHD. The popular organophosphate (OP) pesticides that make up 70 percent of current insecticide use, are found at very high levels in almost every person in North America. There is research linking pesticide exposure in children to a slew of health effects, including lower IQ, birth defects, neuro- logical disorders, hormonal system disruptions, brain cancer, and leukemia.
4. Not consuming the best meat and dairy and other animal products.
Even Consumer Reports tells us that meat and dairy is among the most important foods to eat organic. In both the U.S. and Canada meat that is NOT organic can be irradiated (purposely nuked), and will be from an animal almost certainly fed artificial growth hormones, routine (even daily) antibiotics, and genetically modified (as well as pesticide-sprayed) grains. In the U.S. dairy cows can be treated with the artificial growth hormone rBGH and even though it is illegal to sell rBGH-treated U.S. dairy in most of the industrialized world, it can still be used in Canada as a raw material in products such as your child’s string cheese. Because many drugs, pesticides, and hormones concentrate in the fatty tissues of animals, we are exposed to greater portions when we eat meat and dairy.
Meat and dairy production are also responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gasses. One kg of beef releases the green house gas equivalent of 36.4 kg of carbon (more than driving 160 miles) and that doesn’t account for the emissions impact of farm equipment or transporting the meat, according to a study in New Scientist magazine. Grassfed beef reduced greenhouse gas emission by 40% and consumed 85% less energy, according to a 2003 Swedish study.
3. Getting duped by not reading labels
Especially if you are a parent and definitely if you are buying beauty care products (and we are all buying beauty care products). There are over 10,500 industrial chemicals used in our beauty care products, most never tested for human safety. Both the U.S. and Canada have so many loopholes in regard to labeling, that even if you know how to read a label it doesn’t guarantee that the product will have listed all (or any) ingredients on the label. Even worse, kids products—especially the ones that taut Natural! Safe for Baby! No Tears! Doctor tested!—are usually the worst offenders. Buy USDA Certified Organic and learn how to read labels.
2. Forgetting to apply your green values to your children
What does it mean, to you, to be green? At minimum, I hope that it means being curious about the why, how, and what of living. Can you take it one step further? If you have started eating green, what about your skincare? If you have started buying green for your home, what about your office or school supplies? If you have been living green, what about when you have kids: have you considered what a more natural birth looks like, healthier parenting habits, and greener education?
Get started by getting inspired (see below.)
1. Not having fun and finding your “green” community
Whether you are looking for a healthier lifestyle for yourself or are looking to raise your children slightly different (READ: healthier, more intentionally) than the mainstream, it will go better with friends, community, or family that has similar values. We learn from models–so surround yourselves with those who are living and parenting in a way that you want to emulate.