An important aspect of green thinking is reducing the amount of waste we produce. While it’s not realistic to assume that everyone will drastically reduce the amount of resources they normally consume, it’s realistic to ask that we use better, more eco-friendly products! An overlooked element of what makes something “eco-friendly” is its decomposition rate. It’s surprising to find out that the conveniences we use every day stick around so long after we’re done with them, especially compared to their just-as-easy alternatives.
Something is defined as biodegradable when it’s capable of being broken down or decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. Very few things are considered un-biodegradable, so the main issue is the timeline of how long certain items take to decompose. Our world is rapidly growing and we simply don’t have the space to house decades, or even centuries, worth of garbage. So here’s the breakdown (no pun intended) on what and what not to use in terms of their decomposition rates.
One plastic bag takes anywhere from 10-100 years to breakdown, but scientists fear they will never completely decompose. Read more on that here. Think about how many plastic bags you walk out with every time you leave a store. Plastic bags are so hazardous that dozens of cities all around the world are either taxing them or banning them altogether. They’re simply not an effective or green way to carry around our goods.
Alternatives: Step one is recycling or reusing the plastic bags you already have. After that, you have a few options. You can opt out of plastic bags and ask your cashier for paper bags, which only take 1-2 months to decompose. Or, you can follow the popular trend to purchase roomy cloth bags to carry out your goods. You can use your own bags or buy affordable ones from your grocery store; many are even made of recycled materials! Besides being environmentally friendly, cloth bags are also more efficient. They fit more goods and never break or tear.
Whether or not we need diapers isn’t up for debate. As far as I know, no baby has ever been born potty- trained. However, diapers are extremely damaging in the biodegradable sense. One disposable diaper takes up to 500 years to break down in a landfill. Imagine how many babies are born every day and how many disposable diapers they use in the average three years before they’re potty- trained. In addition, popular disposable diaper brands contain toxic chemicals like chlorine.
Alternatives: There are disposable diaper brands available now that use biodegradable materials and are chemical- free, though they cost more than traditional diapers. Another important alternative to consider is cloth diapers. New mothers see cloth diapers as intimidating but they have a lot of benefits. They’re extremely environmentally responsible and end up saving you money.
Styrofoam is one of the few things that isn’t biodegradable whatsoever. It can break down into smaller pieces, but its volume will never go down. Though a lot of Styrofoam indicates that it’s recyclable, most recycling companies don’t accept it because it’s difficult to work with and there isn’t enough of it recycled to constitute going through the recycling process. In addition, when burned, Styrofoam produces little energy and is toxic. All in all, Styrofoam isn’t a good choice.
Alternatives: Recycled paper, bamboo and certain plastics are all renewable and better choices than Styrofoam. Use paper resources for packages, reusable or recycled paper cups for coffee, and sturdy plastic containers for heating and carrying food.
You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing cigarette butts on the ground. That’s because millions are disposed of everyday and each one takes 10 to 12 years to decompose, so they pile up quite fast! The average cigarette smoker produced 10,000 every year, making them a bigger portion of what fills our landfills than one might imagine.
Alternatives: The obvious, and healthiest, solution to this is to quit or cut down on smoking. But if that’s not an option, you can try out an electronic cigarette or a pipe. If all else fails, try out one of the new eco-friendly cigarette butt brands that use better biodegradable materials.
More and more people are becoming conscious of how their lifestyle effects the environment every day. Recycling, cutting down on waste and using easily biodegradable products are all important steps towards thinking green.