You go to the supermarket and pick out a can of tuna. Any brand. What difference could it make? Well, a lot actually. Some companies catch tuna in ways that may harm dolphins. If you refuse to buy tuna from a company that uses fishing practices harmful to dolphins, you send a message that you’re interested in protecting the environment. If enough people send that message, they can effect change. And in the case of tuna, people did. On April 12,1990, H.J. Heinz, the world’s largest producer of canned tuna, agreed not to purchase any tuna caught by methods that harm dolphin.
Unfortunately, no labels proclaim a product or service environmentally unfriendly. So you have to educate yourself as to what’s harmful and why. The following will start you on the road to making healthy choices.
Food, Glorious Food
Many growers spray their produce with pesticides to kill bugs, larvae, or weeds. This raises a few concerns. One is that the pesticide may harm other plants and animals, not just its target. Another is that the chemicals remain in the environment. Once applied to a crop, the chemicals can stay in the soil or rain can wash them into waterways. Older pesticides, such as DDT, do not break down into nontoxic elements. Thankfully, many modern pesticides do.
The government inspects food sprayed with pesticides to ensure that the residue isn’t at a harmful level. Still some residue does remain, and washing doesn’t remove as much of it as previously thought. As an alternative, you may want to consider buying organic foods, on which farmers have not used pesticides. Sometimes this produce won’t look as nice as that which is chemically sprayed, but that’s just a cosmetic difference.
There are standards for the production and processing of organic foods in a number of states, and a national standards law will soon be put into effect. According to The Organic Trade Association in Massachusetts, two requirements many states follow are that farmers avoid using “prohibitive substances,” including petrochemical-based pesticides, for at least three years before the food can be considered organic; and that processed products must have 95 percent organic ingredients. Foods that meet state standards often will be identified with a “certified organic” label or sign. Although labeling will vary from state to state, be aware that foods labeled “fresh,” “natural,” or “green” aren’t necessarily organic.
A Package Deal
Sometimes it’s the packaging that’s the problem, not the product. Some packaging is wasteful and contributes to the 180 million tons of garbage Americans produce in a year. Fortunately, a great way to attack the packaging problem is to apply the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reduce: insist on less packaging. Refuse to buy individually wrapped snacks or foods wrapped in many layers.
Reuse: If possible, avoid packages that can be used only once. It’s better to buy a big glass jar of juice than individual-size juice boxes that can neither be reused nor recycled.
Recycle: Recyclable means an item can be reprocessed. When you buy recyclable products, you reduce waste and use up fewer resources. Some recyclable products include: newspaper, fine paper, computer paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and wood. Blister packages (cardboard-backed packages with plastic bubbles) cause problems because they can’t be separated efficiently for recycling. Polystyrene foam cartons are even more harmful because they can’t be recycled and they’re made with chorofluorocarboria (CFCs) which contribute to the thinning of the ozone layer. Although no one symbol has officially been adopted in the United States, recyclable products are usually indicated by three chasing arrows. Expect some variations on the shape the arrows form and what’s placed inside the arrows.
Home, Sweet Home
You also can make healthy choices for the environment when you select household products, such as cleaners and detergents.
Cleaning products that come in the form of aerosol sprays contain CFC propellants. Even non-CFC aerosols can be hazardous. Many contain nitrous oxide, which contributes to acid rain. Instead of buying aerosols, opt for pump sprays, which are less harmful.
Some detergents contain phosphates, which pass through the sewer system, into lakes and rivers, and cause the overgrowth of algae. The overabundance of algae uses up more oxygen, putting marine life at risk. Look for brands that are phosphate-free.
Also, clean up spills with reusable towels or sponges. Paper towels can be used only once and are often bleached, which traditionally has caused water pollution. In the past, paper products bleached with chlorine produced a chemical called dioxin. Waste water containing dioxin was discharged into the rivers and lakes and would accumulate in fish–and then people would eat the fish. Now many pulp and paper companies bleach paper using compounds instead of chlorine. If you must buy paper towels, select brown ones instead of “bright white” ones, which are more likely to have been bleached with chlorine.
Products Made from Endangered Wildlife
Jewelry, handbags, wallets, boots, and trinkets can pose an environmental threat if they’re made from endangered animals. For example, the hawksbill sea turtle found on tropical reefs is an endangered species that is often hunted to make tortoise shell souvenirs and trinkets. Each species depends on others for its survival and is important to biodiversity. So if we wipe out one, others soon will die.
In general, the World Wildlife Fund recommends that you avoid products made from wildlife. If you are buying a product, ask the retailer what it is made from. Watch out for ivory, coral reef trinkets, big cat and reptile skins, and tortoise shell souvenirs. The World Wildlife Fund – Traffic (U.S.A.) offers a free Buyer Beware Guide on the subject. You can contact them at (202) 293-4800.
Looking at Paper and Energy
Americans throw away 71.6 million tons of paper each year. In light of this startling figure, shopping for recycled paper, instead of new paper is a very reasonable idea. Fewer trees are used to make recycled paper, and less air and water pollution is created.
Even choosing a different light bulb can help reduce pollution. Your house gobbles up a lot of energy–partly in electricity supplied by generating plants that emit sulphur and nitrogen oxide that cause acid rain. By switching from conventional light bulbs to incandescent halogen bulbs, you cut power consumption in half and your bulb will last two and one-half times longer.
Support Companies that Support Environmental Causes
Another way you can help the environment is to support companies that champion environmental causes. Some companies support educational programs on environmental issues, establish special funds, or donate a percentage of their profits to environmental causes. Look in your area for companies that support environmental causes. You can make a difference.