8 Surprisingly Unsustainable Things around You

Written by
Iryna Komazova
May 13, 2022

Often we don’t have time to check how all the items around us impact the environment. To save you some effort, we’ve chosen eight common things that everyone encounters in their lives, and explained why they are so unsustainable.  

Chewing Gum

Have you ever tasted plastic? No? Think again! Anyone who chews gum has tasted plastic many times! Plastic and different chemicals, including Polyethylene which can be found in plastic bags and bottles, comprise 25-30% of gum. It cannot typically be composted or recycled (though there are a few small-scale recycling programs). 

If discarded carelessly, used gum becomes a disgusting litter that takes a lot of time and energy to clean off. But the most terrible thing is that this item can poison living beings. Our beloved pets and wild animals swallow chewing gum mistaking it for food, which can cause digestion problems. In addition, Xylitol, a widely used artificial gum sweetener, provokes hypoglycemia in canines, so sugar-free chewing gums can be fatal for dogs in particular. 

Instead of chewing a synthetic gum, you can rinse your mouth with water to get rid of food leftovers and chew a parsley sprig or a mint leaf to freshen up your breath. If you can’t go without chewing, you can order a sustainable alternative based on a natural gum called chicle, which comes from the sapodilla tree.

Are fun bubbles worth all the harm to the environment?

Cotton Bag

It may sound surprising (we’re trying to live up to the title), but let us explain. Cotton requires a lot of water and pesticides to grow. So buying a new tote bag made from virgin material supports water pollution and soil degradation. Instead of a virgin cotton bag:

  • Choose grocery bags made from recycled materials; 
  • Reuse the bags you have as many times as possible;
  • Opt for simple designs instead of fancy decorated bags;
  • Don’t take excessive ones even if they are free;
  • Give bags to friends or donate them if you have a spare one.
That tenth cotton bag won’t make you more eco-friendly

Organic Waste in Landfills

You may think, “What threat can potato peels pose? They are biodegradable!” In fact, if organic waste is composted, it becomes a great fertiliser. But if buried in landfills, organics turn into a weapon to increase global warming. In a low-oxygen environment like landfills, food and green waste release methane when decomposing. Landfill gas accounts for 2 per cent of global greenhouse emissions on average, although this varies from country to country. In Indonesia, for example, this rate is 25 per cent. So, do your best to find a way to compost with a municipal service or privately.

There is not waste but future fertiliser in the picture

Oxo-degradable Plastic

Humanity definitely needs a solution that will replace plastic made from fossil fuels. But while scientists are inventing the perfect durable material which won’t harm the environment, we still have packaging and products that are even worse than traditional plastic on the store shelves: oxo-degradable plastic. 

Often bags made from such plastic are coloured green, so a customer subconsciously counts them eco-friendly. But in fact, they aren’t. Oxo-degradable additives make traditional plastic break down into smaller pieces faster, ending up as microplastics

Oxo-degradable plastic is neither biodegradable nor compostable. It can’t be recycled either, and furthermore, it hampers the recycling of traditional plastics if gets to the recycling plant. France has already banned oxo-degradable plastic, and many countries are also moving to restrict it. Even if it is still allowed in your country, we urge you to refuse oxo-degradable plastic.

Avoid products with this logo on the packaging. It stands for oxo-degradable additives.

Wooden Chopsticks 

You may be confused to see chopsticks here as they’re plastic-free and natural. What could be wrong with them? Let’s figure it out. As you know, the greatest enemy of the zero waste philosophy is single-use. Mass-market chopsticks are designed to be thrown away after you’ve finished with them. They are usually made of aspen wood with no coating. This means it’s not safe for restaurants to clean and offer them out for use again. 

Besides, chopsticks production is very wasteful. Only the finest wood is used (only about 25% of all cut wood becomes finished chopsticks), the rest is burnt or left to biodegrade. This accelerates the destruction of forests. 

So, refuse chopsticks in restaurants and when placing a takeaway order. Take reusable ones with you if you are an Asian food-lover. Repurpose chopsticks that you already have and compost them at the end of their life.

Get reusable chopsticks instead of disposable ones

Flushable Wipes

Please remember, there is nothing flushable except toilet paper. It doesn’t matter what producers try to convince you of, no wipes disintegrate in water. This includes wipes made of cellulose, plastic and textiles as well. 

When the wipes or other items (anything other than human waste or toilet paper) are flushed, they can block pipes and cause flooding within the home. If a lot of such waste ends up at sewage treatment plants, it can cause breakdowns and water shortages in a whole area. 

So, use water, soap and towels instead of wipes whenever possible. In urgent cases, use compostable wipes and compost them with municipal facilities or in a personal composter (if this option is specified on the package). Or, at the very least, dispose of them, but not by flushing.

You can go without wipes in most cases

Paraffin Candles

This type of candle is made of a byproduct of petroleum refining. Although there is no evidence that burning paraffin candles causes health issues (if the space is well-ventilated), they are still made of non-renewable resources. That’s why candles are on our list and should be avoided. The best alternative is soy wax candles made of sustainably grown material. 

Choose sustainable candles to relax without harm to the environment


Nobody likes standing in a queue waiting for the receipt to be printed. So, to make our lives simpler and shopping more pleasant, thermal paper was invented. It allows text and images to be printed without ink in milliseconds. Such a godsend has spread around the world since its invention in the 60s, and now most receipts are made of it. 

But the thing is, the text appears on the receipt due to its BPA or BPS coating. These chemicals influence the human reproductive system and are cancerogenic. Although exposure to BPA and BPS from handling receipts doesn’t put our health at risk, the receipts do harm the environment. They cannot normally be recycled because the chemicals can contaminate the whole batch. There are some exceptions, but they don’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Receipts cannot be composted either, because BPA and BPS may be released into the groundwater and lead to health issues. That’s why almost all printed receipts go into the trash bin. Say no to paper receipts if you can, and choose e-receipts instead if the option’s there.

Avoid paper receipts

Returning Online Purchases

An obvious reason to include this item is double wrapping: a box or a bag, duct tape and a post service sticker are used both when you receive and return your parcel. But in addition, transportation emissions are also doubled

There is one more hidden argument: some large companies are more likely to throw away returned products than repack and sell them again. But it is worth mentioning that after such cases are revealed, companies try to work out solutions to change the situation. 

So, buy quality online goods from reputable companies, choose sizes after making the necessary measurements and shop offline if you have doubts whether the item will fit you.

If you do have to return a purchase, reuse the packaging and use paper tape.

Returning online orders wastes resources

Share this article on your social media and tell your subscribers what items on our list surprised you the most! And we’ll of course be very happy if you tag our pages too!

Images credit - www.freepik.com.

It’s no secret that plastic bags are bad for the environment. But what about chewing gum? Or candles? Read on to find out what unsustainable things surround you every day.
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