The zero-waste movement has gained steam in recent years as more people have committed to bettering the planet. While many have touted the environmental benefits of reducing waste and adopting eco-friendly lifestyles, the human health benefits get overlooked. Here are four ways less waste is healthier for you.
1. Reduced Chemical Exposure
One of life’s simple pleasures is a clean home. However, many commercial cleaners contain harmful chemicals that can negatively affect your health and the environment. During COVID-19, about 69.3% of people cleaned their homes more frequently, while solution usage increased by 74.2%.
As a result, 46.9% reported skin irritation, nausea, dizziness and breathing problems. From January to March 2020, the National Poison Data System received 28,158 phone calls for cleaner exposure and 17,392 for disinfectants.
Making your cleaning products with everyday household ingredients is a much safer and equally effective way to disinfect your home. The best DIY cleaners include baking soda and vinegar to wipe down surfaces. You can even combine vinegar and lemon wedges to clean your garbage disposal in the kitchen.
2. Fewer Forever Chemicals
Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a hot-ticket issue as more people learn about what’s in their drinking water. However, plastic products like food containers are just as hazardous to your health.
Researchers recently found PFAS concentrations from 2.66 to 7.19 nanograms per gram in plastic food containers. When heated, the containers had concentrations that were 830% higher. The study suggests people who eat food stored in plastic containers could have significant exposure to PFAS.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns PFAS may interfere with fertility in women, increase the risk of prostate and kidney cancers, and decrease immunity. Stainless steel and glass are excellent alternatives to plastic food containers. Glass in particular is a non-reactive material and won’t generate harmful chemicals.
3. Less Packaging And Preservatives
The food sector contributes to poor air quality and human health. Nearly 50% of plastic food packaging comes from fossil fuels, contributing to global warming and taking many years to break down.
Prepackaged foods contain several additives and preservatives that could pose adverse environmental harm through extraction and leaching. Many preservatives are also toxic to humans.
For example, sodium nitrates hinder bacterial growth in meat and help it maintain its flavor. However, heat and stomach acid generate nitrosamines, which can cause pancreatic and colorectal cancers. Sulfites — often listed as sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite or potassium bisulfite — are also common additives and exacerbate asthma.
You can reduce packaging waste by bringing reusable produce bags to the grocery store, purchasing locally-grown foods at farmers markets and growing produce at home. Home-grown fruits and vegetables are also the best way to control exposure to pesticides, fertilizers and preservatives, ensuring better health for you and the planet.
4. Improved Air And Water Quality
Electronic waste — or simply e-waste — are products that have reached the end of their useful life. At that point, consumers discard or recycle them. The world generates 50 million metric tons of e-waste annually.
Unfortunately, many of these products contain chromium, lead, flame retardants and other materials that are dangerous to humans. For instance, chronic lead exposure could lead to kidney disease and cognitive decline in aging adults. Women who are pregnant also risk their unborn child having developmental issues.
E-waste pollutes air and water through incineration and leaching, so discarding your electronics appropriately is crucial. Better yet, avoid upgrading your devices before you need to. Companies often promote the latest models to encourage consumers to buy new ones — 2.35 years is the average replacement time for smartphones. However, if your electronics work well, there’s no need.
Waste-Free Living For Better Health
Often, people don’t realize how everyday habits affect their health. They use phones and laptops for work without considering the material effects on the air they breathe. Meanwhile, you might not think twice about storing food in Tupperware. Reducing waste can make a difference in your overall health while benefiting the environment.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.