You know the environment needs help, and you’re just the person to do something about it. But sometimes our well intended actions can be harmful, and we don't even know it.
Here are 5 ways you may be hurting the environment without realizing it:
1. Your yard
Using pesticides and weed killer like Round-up, and fertilizer like miracle grow is seriously bad for the earth, yet these are common products found in most peoples garage and yard.
Touted for years as harmless by Monsanto, scientific evidence has now made it clear that Round-up (glyphosate) is anything but. Round-up kills all the biodiversity in the soil, meaning the good bugs, bacteria, and fungi that make up the soil food web die when you use it. Not only that, poisoned bugs are eaten by birds and other animals which are in turn poisoned. In the US alone about 67 million birds die yearly from unintentional pesticide poisoning.
So why is Miracle Grow bad? Well, it's a chemical fertilizer meaning the nutrients it contains were made in a lab, and are derived from artificial sources. Fertilizers that are so unnaturally concentrated are toxic to the microbiome (living things) in the soil, which die when exposed.
Now normally with a natural, organic fertilizer those living soil creatures would work together to hold onto excess nutrients until they were needed by the plants. However, since artificial fertilizers kill all those organisms, excess nutrients become runoff - flowing into waterways and feeding the algae blooms in the coastal oceans. This algae, in turn, dies and sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by microbes, which consume oxygen in the process. More algae means more oxygen-burning, and thereby less oxygen in the water, resulting in a massive flight by those able to relocate, as well as the mass death of immobile creatures, such as clams or other bottom-dwellers.
To be sure you have an earth friendly yard you can start by looking for fertilizer that's organic, and combating weeds without using chemical pesticides. Shopping for organic foods will also help to ensure your aren't contributing to large scale pesticide runoff, too.
What is overfishing? It's simply the taking of wildlife from the sea at rates too high for fished species to replace themselves, and it's happening at dangerous rates. You may be thinking, there are plenty of fish in the sea, right? How could this be? Well, read on.
In the mid-20th century, international efforts to increase the availability and affordability of protein-rich foods led to concerted government efforts to increase fishing capacity. Favorable policies, loans, and subsidies spawned a rapid rise of big industrial fishing operations.
These large, profit-seeking commercial fleets were extremely aggressive, scouring the world's oceans and developing ever more sophisticated methods and technologies for finding, extracting, and processing their target species. Consumers soon grew accustomed to having access to a wide selection of fish species at affordable prices.
But by 1989, when about 90 million tons (metric tons) of catch were taken from the ocean, the industry had hit its high-water mark, and yields have declined or stagnated ever since. Fisheries for the most sought-after species, like orange roughy, Chilean sea bass, and bluefin tuna have collapsed. In 2003, a scientific report estimated that industrial fishing had reduced the number of large ocean fish to just 10 percent of their pre-industrial population.
Faced with the collapse of large-fish populations, commercial fleets are going deeper in the ocean and father down the food chain for viable catches. This so-called "fishing down" is triggering a chain reaction that is upsetting the ancient and delicate balance of the sea's biologic system.
A study of catch data published in 2006 in the journal Science grimly predicted that if fishing rates continue apace, all the world's fisheries will have collapsed by the year 2048.
What can we do? Look for plant based protein alternatives to eat in place of fish, and never, ever purchase commercially caught seafood.
Wait what? How could recycling be hurting the earth?! Hear us out. Recycling itself is a great idea. The reality of recycling, on the other hand, is a different story.
One of the biggest problems with recycling is the mindset it gives people. Only about 9% of our recyclable waste is actually recycled, yet people feel like Captain Planet every time they put another single-use plastic into the bin. The idea that we are recycling allows us to justifying our consumption rather decrease it. But since most of that waste is never even re-purposed, recycling is not much more than an illusion.
Beyond that, there are problems with the idea that you can just turn a spray paint can into a soda can. The potential toxins involved in turning plastics and metals into new things leads to health issues. For example a building made from recycled steel was recently found to be giving off gamma radiation to those living inside - for 12 years.
Recycled paper leaves behind huge vats of pulp, chemicals, and dyes leftover after the paper pulp has been extracted, which then goes right back into waterways and landfills.
Plastic is a pretty tricky subject too,and in all honesty, we just have no idea what to do with it. Take plastic shopping bags, for example. It’s estimated that fewer than one percent are recycled, and that might be just because it’s so expensive. It costs $4,000 US to recycle one ton of plastic bags, but a ton of recycled bags only sells for $32! As a result, about 300,000 tons of them end up in a landfill every year.
The only logical solution to reduce waste at this point is just to be less wasteful. Companies and consumers alike need to step up and find solutions that don't involve everything being "disposable" - a now clearly great misnomer and even greater illusion.
4. The clothes you're wearing
One of the most wide-spread industries in the world is the clothing industry. The world now consumes over 80 billion pieces of clothing per year - a 400% increase from what we consumed just two decades ago.
As all this new clothing comes into our lives, we've also begun to discard it at an alarming rate. The average American generates 82 lbs of textile waste each year - which adds up to more than 11 million tons in the US alone. In the past, we held onto our clothes for a long time. Clothes were made well and lasted for years, but with cheap clothing now readily available we have begun to view our wardrobes as disposable.
Unfortunately, the idea of disposable clothing is an illusion. Depending on what your textiles are made of it will take anywhere from 20-200 years for them to fully degrade. On top of that, conventional fabrics are produced with pesticides, chemical dyes, and finishes which are slowly released into the environment as they break down.
Cotton represents upwards of half of the total fiber used to make clothing today. Next to 99% of that cotton is now genetically engineered, using massive amounts of pesticides as well as water. Cotton production is responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use. Studies have now shown that many of these chemicals are links to serious health issues, and others are being used even though the effects are still largely untested.
Leather production is increasingly linked to a multitude of environmental hazards. The amount of grain, land, water and fossil fuels used to raise livestock for leather production come at an enormous cost to the health of our world. In addition to raising the necessary livestock, the leather tanning process is among the most toxic in all of the fashion supply chain.
Tanning leather required tons of toxic chemicals like chromium, and the waste generated pollutes natural water ways, flowing downriver and increasing disease for surrounding areas. Since most tanneries are in countries with little to no waste disposal standards or the ability to enforce them, the chemicals from leather tanning end up being dumped directly into the natural environment.
Luckily, there are some great environmentally friendly clothing brands on the rise making it possible to look stylish and purchase pieces that will last, and have a low environmental impact.
5. Drinking Coffee
Okay don't panic - it's not ALL coffee. But the commercial coffee industry is like any other - out to make top profits at any cost - and along the way has become a huge contributor to deforestation, pollution, and contamination. Because much of the worlds coffee comes from places that don't have efficient waste management and water purification systems, fertilizer runoff from coffee farms frequently makes it back into the water ways - and just like MiracleGrow - leads to dead zones.
The pulp leftover from coffee harvesting and processing is also a source of nitrogen and phosphorus. When it breaks down those nutrients leach into the water system, and feed the eutrophication process (the process of excess nutrients feeding hypoxic algae blooms).
On top of farming coffee, just think about all the paper filters that are used for brewing, and all the disposable coffee cups, lids, and stirrers being tossed out every second around the world. That's a lot of trash for just one drink.
The good news is, you can still have your coffee and drink it too. As long as you make sure it's organic or shade grown sustainable coffee that you put in your very own reusable mug, that is.
That's all for now
Even when we want to help the environment, what’s best isn’t always clear. If you want to do your part for the planet, start by educating yourself.
Please share this post to help educate others, and if you know of other common ways people unknowingly harm the environment, let us know in the comments.
If you're looking to help our planet by raising awareness and upgrading to a more sustainable wardrobe we've got you covered here.
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