Every day, Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on goods, groceries, clothes and food, often with little thought to the environmental and social costs to our consumerism. Convenience and low-costs may be appealing as customers, but the price of buying disposable products is often higher than we think.
Here’s a look six costly everyday products that you should consider abandoning.
The single-serve coffee pods for Keurig machines are so popular that if you lined up every one sold in 2014 alone, they’d circle the earth more than a dozen times. The problem is that because of the plastic used to make them, they’re resistant to recycling methods, and a fully recyclable version is still years away. Even the inventor of the K-Cup told The Atlantic he thinks the product is a bad idea: “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it … I don’t have one. They’re kind of expensive to use. Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
Bottled water isn’t just wasteful. It doesn’t really make sense. With the availability of filters for tap water (which is already held to high health standards; from the Mayo Clinic: “Tap water and bottled water are generally comparable in terms of safety”), purchasing individual, disposable bottles can be bad for your wallet and the environment. Every year, at least 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the bottles—enough to keep gas in a million cars for an entire year. That doesn’t account for the amount of gasoline used to transport it. And, according to one study, 80 percent of the bottles never even get recycled. That means most of those clear plastic bottles end up in landfills, or worse, in the ocean.
Those tiny beads now found in many liquid soaps may be good at “exfoliating” your skin, but their environmental toll is so high, several areas have banned products that contain them. The problem is, the beads are so small that they get past water treatment filters and end up in bodies of water. That means animals—and people—who use those lakes and rivers for drinking water sources run the risk of ingesting them.
Everyone likes low prices. But when it comes to fast fashion, there’s a big cost to cheap clothes. Many garment industry employees in countries like Bangladesh—where a 2013 factory collapse killed 117 workers—have often worked in unsafe conditions for unfair wages. Some of the makers of cheap clothes that are found in many American stores, also have terrible environmental records, especially in countries where loose regulations are easily abused. Though some improvements are being made, avoiding cheap, disposable clothes in favor of brands that have made a commitment to ethical working conditions and sustainable practices in their supply chains can help eliminate the trend of disposable “fast fashion.”
Non-Ethically Sourced Chocolate
Because supply chains are often so complex, even large, well-known brands may be using cocoa that was obtained through the use of unethical labor practices. Child labor, unfair wages and dangerous working conditions are common in the West African chocolate industry, where 70 percent of all cocoa is grown. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make a difference. As we highlighted in a piece last fall, “Groups like Stop the Traffik and Food Is Power are working to educate consumers through fact sheets and even downloadable apps about how to purchase chocolate that was not produce by child or slave labor.”
Plastic Grocery Bags
From the Worldwatch Institute: “Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape.” Those thin plastic bags you use to carry your groceries are made from petroleum-based materials that drain resources and wreak havoc on wildlife—especially when they end up in the ocean. Durable, reusable fabric bags aren’t just more convenient (each one can carry a bunch of groceries), they are also more cost effective: Many groceries stores now offer discounts to customers who use them.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.