Reducing our dependence on oil means burning less gas by carpooling, taking public transportation, bicycling and walking. But we consume oil in many everyday products without even knowing it and excess plastic packaging only adds to the problem. We look at how oil is used in products and how to stretch our resources by choosing petroleum-free products, recycling plastic waste and buying items with recycled content. Julia Black, simplesteps.org
Plastic storage containers, packaging and cups
The petroleum problem: Almost all of the plastics found in a typical American kitchen are made from petroleum-based polymers.
The alternative: Buy in bulk, bring your own containers and cups, or otherwise reduce your use of packaging wherever feasible. Reuse plastic food containers such as yogurt cups where you can, and look for products packaged in recycled content and recyclable materials. "Bioplastics," or compostable plastics made from renewable resources, may be preferable to synthetic polymers, but better still are stainless steel products or glass containers, which are long-lived and more readily recyclable.
As for beverage containers, when on the go, consider bringing a reusable water bottle to avoid the need to purchase single-use beverage containers. If you do need to buy single-use beverages, choose aluminum cans or glass bottles instead of plastic bottles. Recycle used beverage containers, too.
The petroleum problem: The production of plastic bags is a petroleum-intensive process, and these nonbiodegradable items end up littering our landscapes and landfills.
The alternative: Bring reusable bags on your next shopping trip. Just be sure to wash your reusable bag intermittently. If you already have a stack of plastic bags building up at your house, reuse them wherever possible (for food storage, trash can liners, pet waste, etc.) and also recycle the bags at dropoff points.
The petroleum problem: Food additives — including sodium benzoate, FD&C red 40 and yellow 5 — put in canned goods to extend their shelf life and give them an unnaturally appealing color are yet more petrochemicals. The human body is not designed to consume petrochemicals, so there are many possible risks behind overprocessed foods. New studies are linking food dye consumption to ADHD. Bisphenol-A (or BPA), a chemical commonly found in can linings, is widely known to interfere with hormone production and is therefore associated with various diseases. Many varieties of additives have already been banned (for a full list see the Center for Science in the Public Interest: www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm#banned_additives), but still more of these ingredients remain in grocery stores.
The alternative: When possible, buy fresh, organic produce and limit purchases of canned food. Frozen food in recyclable cardboard as well as foods packaged in glass also make a suitable alternative to cans.
For better health and sustainable living tips, articles and how-tos, visit NRDC SimpleSteps at www.simplesteps.org.