They’re convenient, cheap and widely perceived as necessary, but products such as frozen meals and bottled water can leave you cold when you think of the waste. We are spending way too much manufacturing products we either don’t need or shouldn’t buy, because of the damage they do or the ingredients they contain. An estimated 56% of all energy we produce in the U.S. is wasted during production and also chalked up to poor technology and design.
Here are a few to products to reconsider:
1. Bottled Water
According to the Pacific Institute, the production, packaging and delivering of a liter of bottled water consumes between 1,100 and 2,000 times more energy than treating and transporting the same amount of tap water. Scientists conducting the research found that making those plastic bottles alone worldwide uses 50 million barrels of oil annually – which could supply the total demand for oil in the U.S. for more than two days. Meeting the demand as a whole in the country requires energy equal to between 32 million and 54 million barrels of oil (and quenching needs worldwide is three times that amount). Most tap water is safe to drink unless you have health problems, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
2. Synthetic Fabrics
Producing clean organic Merino wool in New Zealand takes far less energy than the synthetic alternatives that are hugely popular in modern garments because of the cheaper factory assembly and retail price points. According to the Merino Life Cycle Assessment project, yielding a kilogram of wool tops takes 46 megajoules (MJ) of energy which involves the farming and shearing of sheep, sorting, blending and scouring the wool and shipping the top (the ribbon of wool from the combing machine) to Shanghai. Meanwhile, synthetics from fossil fuels such as nylon sucks five times as much energy to make a similar fabric; acrylic takes 3.8 times as much energy and polyester 2.7 times as much. Analysts also find cotton and viscose (from wood pulp) take more energy as well to be spun into fabrics. Cotton is closer to wool in terms of efficiency but it leaves a heavier footprint overall because it requires more water, fertilizer and pesticides to produce.
3. Short Lived Cell Phones
Yep, new styles are introduced all of the time and appeal strongly to text-addict teens drawn to colors, bells and whistles. The EPA tells us if we recycled the 130 million or cell phones tossed every year, we would have enough energy to power more than 24,000 homes annually. Currently, only 10% of the phones are recycled. Making and processing of the phones pollutes air and water and adds greatly to greenhouse emissions, and for every one million recycled, we could recover an estimated 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and 35, 274 pounds of copper.
4. Cardboard Moving Boxes
At a time when new, green alternatives are becoming widely available, you have to wonder why we’re still stuck on making single-use cardboard moving boxes which expend energy to make and waste shameful amounts to break down and recycle – hence the massive amounts of the boxes in our landfills. Making one ton of cardboard uses some 17 trees, 79 gallons of oil, 7,000 gallons of water and 42,00 kilowatts of energy. This is a case where plastic makes more sense as long as it is reusable and made from recycled materials – as with new reusable alternatives like Recopack and the Karmaboxx.
5. Frozen Foods
The frozen foods industry argues it is highly sustainable and buying frozen peas and whatnot means fewer trips to the market which saves on gas. But critics argue most of the foods are unhealthy (often high in sodium and fat calories) and the massive energy to make, box and ship the “convenience” foods to supermarkets is only the beginning. The real chill factor is the energy supermarkets waste with their refrigeration systems. Research shows markets spend more than 50% of their energy costs keeping food and drinks cold for us, a large percentage in open front or open top units to make products more attractive. Can we live without frozen, including the good stuff like Amy’s pizza? The truth is, the healthiest foods are fresh ones we make ourselves. True, steaming on the stove or slow cooking in a crockpot uses energy too, but nearly not as much as the frozen option, and you can store it in an Energy Star appliance in your own home.