The Gulf disaster has brought into cruel relief our reliance on petroleum-based products and made it all too clear how much that reliance is costing us and our environment. Reducing our dependence on oil means burning less gas by carpooling, taking public transportation, bicycling and walking. But we consume oil in many everyday products without even knowing it and excess plastic packaging only adds to the problem. In this ongoing series we look at how oil is used in products and how to stretch our resources further by choosing petroleum-free products, recycling plastic waste and buying items with recycled content.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Buy in bulk, bring your own containers and cups, or otherwise reduce your use of packaging wherever feasible. Reuse plastic food containers like yogurt cups where you can, and look for products packaged in recycled content and recyclable materials. “Bioplastics,” or compostable plastics made from renewable resources, may be preferable to synthetic polymers (especially if they are made from agricultural wastes such as bagasse or straw), but better still are stainless steel products or glass containers, which are long-lived and more readily recyclable than most plastics.
As for beverage containers, when on the go, consider bringing a reusable water bottle to avoid the need to purchase single-use beverage containers. If you do need to buy single-use beverages, you may be able to choose aluminum cans or glass bottles instead of plastic bottles. Recycle used beverage containers too.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: The U.N. is calling for a global ban of plastic bags, but in the meantime it’s easy to limit our consumption of plastic bags at the grocery store or anywhere else we shop. Bring reusable bags on your next shopping trip. Just be sure to wash your reusable bag intermittently. If you already have a stack of plastic bags building up at your house, reuse them wherever possible (for food storage, trashcan liners, pet waste, etc.), and also check with your local grocery store or local waste management authority to see if they take back bags for recycling.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Look for plant-based, biodegradable products. The Natural Products Association, which requires that 95 percent of ingredients must be derived from natural sources, now certifies cleaners and detergents. According to Seventh Generation, if the 107 million US households each replaced a single bottle of conventional detergent with one using plant-based ingredients, the total oil savings could provide a year’s heating and cooling for 8,500 homes. Check out This or That: Laundry Detergent Powder vs. Liquid.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: There are still a few brands of gum that can be found in health food stores or online that use natural chicle and no petroleum products. However, if you’re looking for something a little more accessible, try satisfying your minty cravings with natural herbal mints!
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Look for petroleum-free craft supplies like natural beeswax and soywax crayons. Options include Stubby Pencil Studio crayons, which are made from a combination of plant and vegetable waxes and pure beeswax, and Prang crayons, which use a soybean-based wax.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Candles made from soy wax, beeswax, and essential oils are fairly easy to come across and do not include the contaminants found in paraffin, so their smoke poses less of a health threat.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Wherever possible, buy fresh, organic produce and limit purchases of canned food. Frozen food in recyclable cardboard as well as foods packaged in glass also make a suitable alternative to cans.
The Gulf-friendly alternative: Beeswax- and shea butter-based lip balms have no known negative health effects.
This article was written for Simple Steps by Julia Black and was reprinted with permission.
Photo (shopping bag): ZUMA Press
Photo (laundry detergent): trixieskips/Flickr
Photo (gumball dispenser): Jupiterimages
Photo (crayons): Jupiterimages
Photo (candle): beta karel/Flickr
Photo (can): Jupiterimages
Photo (lip balm): Valeri / DutchBlytheFashion/Flickr
MNN homepage photo: IvovIJzendoorn/iStockphoto