It’s no secret that our planet is in a pretty dire condition.
Extinction rates have been estimated to be about 1,000
times higher than they should be, and that’s all due to
human influence—and interference. With around 20,000
species at risk for extinction and countless others that we
haven’t even discovered yet also dying, scientists are
rushing to figure out what we can do about it. Some have
suggested the sixth great mass extinction is looming on
the horizon, and the problem is a massive one. It’s so big
that there are things that you do every day that are helping
to bring about the end of the world, and chances are that
you might not even know it.
10 Using Disposable Chopsticks
Chances are good that you don’t even think about
environmental impact when you pull a pair of wooden
chopsticks out with your order of takeout, but those
chopsticks are having a devastating impact on China’s
forests. China produces a whopping 80 billion disposable
chopsticks every year. The vast majority are used—and
thrown away—in China itself. A mind-blowing number, 80
billion is enough to blanket Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in
at least 360 layers of chopsticks.
That kind of production takes 20 million trees, and not just
any trees. Twenty-year-old trees. The impact of that is
exactly as bad as you’d think. China suffers from a major
deforestation problem for no reason other than
chopsticks. It’s also not helped by the fact that demand
for disposable wooden chopsticks is increasing
dramatically, up from 57 billion in 2009. That’s resulted in
China ranking somewhere around 139th place when it
comes to per capita forest coverage with less than a
quarter of the world’s average.
The problem has gotten so bad that China is now
imposing restrictions on the production of chopsticks,
limiting quantities companies can produce and increasing
the taxes imposed on purchases. They’re also starting a
big push to introduce the idea of carrying reusable
chopsticks in a bid to aid in the recovery of the nation’s
forests. By 2020, they hope to add 40 million hectares of
trees, but that can only happen if they can alleviate some
of the stress placed on the environment by chopsticks.
9 Birth Control Is Working On Fish,
Know anyone who’s on the pill? They’re also spreading
pregnancy prevention to marine wildlife, and that’s a
In 2014, researchers at the University of New Brunswick
released the results of a study that had been going on for
several decades. They were looking at wastewater
treatment and its impact on freshwater ecosystems, and
they found that even trace amounts of estrogen in the
environment can wipe out entire species.
In 2001, a small amount of estrogen, one of the active
ingredients in birth control pills and hormone therapy
treatments, was introduced into a freshwater lake
research facility in Ontario. The impact was almost
immediate. Male fish first began producing egg proteins
and then producing eggs. Even tiny trace amounts were
enough to feminize the male fish , which led to a complete
crash of the ecosystem. The insect populations normally
kept in check by the fish suddenly skyrocketed. As the
minnow population plummeted, so did the population of
the lake trout that fed on them.
It’s not just happening in research facilities, either.
Calgary’s Red Deer and Oldman rivers have been hit by the
same problem. The cause has been traced back to the
release of improperly treated wastewater that contains
hormones from hormone therapy drugs and birth control
pills. Hormones that aren’t absorbed or used end up in the
sewer system after they cycle through the human body. In
areas where that sewer water is dumped into lakes and
rivers, the average fish population is about 85 percent
female , a stark contrast to the normal 55 percent. Fish
exposed to the hormones not only lose the ability to
reproduce, but their accidental hormone treatment
impacts eggs at the development stage as well.
8 Birds On Prozac
Record numbers of people are taking antidepressant
drugs like Prozac. While many of them might be
concerned primarily about feeling different, they should
also be concerned about what they’re doing to the
According to a study from the University of York, the
amount of antidepressants (specifically Prozac ) that are
found in the environment can be potentially devastating to
birds. They started by measuring the amount of Prozac
that made its way into the earthworms that were feeding
on sewage and wastewater. The dose was small, only
about 3 to 5 percent of an average human dose. They then
fed the Prozac-laced worms to a group of 24 starlings and
recorded their behavior for the next six months.
The birds began to show the same side effects to the drug
that are reported in humans. They lost interest in food and
stopped eating. They also lost interest in starlings of the
opposite sex. The two main side effects have dual
impacts; their loss of interest in food makes them weaker
and less likely to make it through winter months, and their
loss of libido has the potential to severely impact breeding
The birds didn’t seem to have any of the good effects of
Prozac. Their general mood and disposition remained the
same. Just how widespread an impact this could have on
the world’s bird populations isn’t known, but it’s thought
that it might have something to do with the decline in the
starling population over the last few decades—to the tune
of about 50 million birds.
7 Using Straws
Chances are good that if you get a cold drink at any
restaurant, you’ll be handed a straw, too. We curse the
people working the drive-through when we’re halfway
down the block and realize we don’t have one, but straws
are having a pretty devastating impact on our planet.
Every day, the United States alone uses about 500 million
drinking straws. For a visual, that means we could fill
46,400 school buses with straws every year. In the last 25
years, about six million of those have been picked up on
beaches across the country during annual cleanups.
Those are just part of the sum that ends up on the beach,
and according to the Ocean Conservancy, drinking straws
rank in the top 10 types of trash found floating in the
Straws are light, easily picked up by wind and water
currents, and made from a polypropylene plastic that
doesn’t disintegrate or dissolve. These millions of straws
are around forever, making up a huge part of the
estimated 12 to 24 tons of plastic that ends up ingested
by fish and other marine wildlife every year. And that
includes about one million seabirds that die after eating
plastics. One of the most common items found in
autopsies? The drinking straws that come attached to
6 Eating Frog
Far from exclusively a fancy French entree, frog is such a
popular food that it has become a huge global industry.
Bullfrogs are typically raised on farms in South America.
They are then either used there for food or shipped
overseas. Japan and the United States are two of the
biggest consumers of frogs, with more than five million
imported into the US alone each year. That’s proving fatal
for countless amphibians—and not just those being eaten.
Many of the bullfrogs shipped out of South America are
infected with chytrid fungus . The fungus is completely
harmless to humans. The North American bullfrog is
highly resistant to it, making them the ideal carrier for the
fungal disease that can infect toads, salamanders, and
other types of frogs.
The fungus that’s being spread by the live food trade is
different than one that’s being blamed for most of the
recent die-offs. It’s thought that the strain is not only
being spread, but that it’s being hybridized into a new,
extremely virulent strain. There are a few different strains
of the fungus, and researchers from the University of
Michigan have been able to track which frogs are carrying
which strains into which countries. They’ve also been able
to trace which strains of the fungus can reproduce with
other strains, leading to more and more different varieties
of deadly fungus. The consequences of the fungus and its
ability to hybridize create the potential to unleash an
epidemic across the globe.
5 Using Antibacterial Soap
There’s been a lot of debate about just how effective
antibacterial soaps are and whether or not they should
even be marketed, but using them has been proven to
have an impact on the environment.
Johns Hopkins University Center for Water and Health has
done a study on just what happens to all the antibacterial
chemicals in your antibacterial soaps after they swirl
down the drain. The most commonly used chemicals are
triclocarban and triclosan, and while most of those
chemicals are removed from wastewater when they’re run
through a treatment plant, they have to go somewhere.
That somewhere is sewage sludge, which is then recycled
for agricultural use. From there, those chemicals are
transferred into the ground and ultimately into surface
When triclocarban degrades, it degrades into two
chemicals—both carcinogens . When triclosan is run
through a treatment plant to make drinking water, it
doesn’t exactly make safe drinking water. Instead, it
makes other chemicals that can include chloroform. And
those chemicals travel through the food chain in plants,
animals, and ultimately humans. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention found traces of the chemicals
originating with antibacterial soap in 75 percent of urine
samples tested, all taken from people over five years old.
Triclosan has been shown to interfere with the basic
biological systems of a number of animals, including rats
and a range of amphibians. It interferes with thyroid
function, and when it builds up in the body, it causes early
puberty in young animals, infertility, obesity, and cancer.
Triclosan collects in the body’s fatty tissues, and since
animals—and humans—are higher up on the food chain,
that means we’re consuming all the trace amounts found
in lower animals and getting a massive dose of the stuff.
4 Keeping The Family Cat
If you have an indoor cat, you probably go through a lot of
cat litter. It’s a pretty new invention, only around since
1947 when a Michigan woman asked Edward Lowe if he
knew of an alternative to the sand or ash that she had
been using. Lowe, who worked in the industrial
absorbents business, gave her some clay—and the rest is
There is, of course, a big problem with that history. For
decades, at least 75 percent of the different brands of cat
litter available were made from bentonite clay. The clay is
what gives the litter its scoopable quality. Considering
America alone uses about 2 million tons of cat litter every
year, that’s a lot of clay the industry needs.
So how do we get it? Strip mining . Lots and lots of strip
mining. While that’s bad no matter the angle, some people
have had it incredibly bad. In 1989, Canada’s Mineral
Tenure Act was amended to include one of the key
ingredients in cat litter—diatomaceous earth. That meant
that suddenly, companies had the right of free entry onto
people’s land without a time limit to look for valuable
minerals. Landowners in Canada have found their property
strip mined for cat litter. Technically, landowners need to
be compensated, but that process can take years. The
Bepple family was one such victim, finding a plot of land
they once used for grazing livestock and farming trees
suddenly being strip mined for cat litter.
There are tons of alternatives to clay litter on the market,
from recycled paper litter to wood and plant-based litters.
Those options aren’t always widely available, though. In
many cases, they can be incredibly costly.
3 Eating Farm-Raised Fish
If there’s anything that seems like it’s an eco-friendly
dinner choice, it’s farm-raised fish. You’re not removing
fish from the open ocean, you’re not putting other animals
in danger, and you’re not even adding to emissions given
off from fishing boats. But farm-raised fish come with
their own set of problems, and they’re definitely not the
eco-friendly choice you’d think.
Shrimp aquaculture has resulted in the large-scale
degradation of coastal areas, the destruction of wetlands,
and salinization of freshwater areas and drinking water.
Salmon farming relies on the release of fish food and
nutrients into the water, which always results in wasted
feed and a huge amount of fish droppings in the water.
That’s normally not a problem, but when a lot of fish are
farmed in a small area, it’s too much for the ecosystem to
Extra waste products end up sinking to the bottom where
they react with the medicines and other nutrients used to
keep the fish healthy along with antifoulant agents used to
keep nets clean. That means fish farms are a breeding
ground for sea lice , which are as disgusting as they
sound. More chemicals are used to control the sea lice,
which end up killing the other marine life that was
supposed to be in the area in the first place.
There’s also the very, very good chance that nonnative
species of farmed fish are going to escape. That’s
introducing an invasive species to an ecosystem not
prepared to handle it, and that means a whole other set of
problems. Like many other environmental problems,
there’s absolutely no easy answer. Environmental
agencies are now looking for ways to improve husbandry
2 Eating Soy
Turning to soy products has long been heralded as the
healthier, more eco-friendly, and certainly more cow-
friendly alternative to dairy products. Unfortunately, recent
studies have shown that the environmental impact of
soybean production is pretty devastating, too.
Soybeans aren’t just used in products like milk
substitutes. They’re also being used for non-consumables
like soap and candles. And we’re not the only ones eating
soy, either; about 80 percent of the world’s soy production
goes into livestock feed.
There’s a huge demand for soy . As it grows in popularity,
more space is needed to grow the beans. Since 2008,
deforestation in Brazil has been on a steady decrease, a
direct result of a ban implemented in order to counteract
deforestation. The need for the ban comes on the heels of
Greenpeace’s numbers, which indicated that about 1.2
million hectares of soy was planted in Brazil’s rain forest
in 2005 alone.
In addition to the usual impacts of things like pesticides
and water use, there’s a huge human rights issue that’s
grown up around the development of soy, too. The
Brazilian government keeps a list of farms that have been
caught using slave labor, and soy farms throughout the
Amazon basin have been found guilty of luring people
there with work, then seizing their documents and forcing
them into slavery. There’s also the rather shady practice
of land-grabbing, leading to countless families being
kicked off land that’s deemed more valuable for farming
than for living.
1 Not Finishing Your Dinner
Most of us grew up hearing that we’d better clean our
plates, but it’s a bigger problem than our parents probably
ever realized. Every year, global food waste amounts to
about 1.3 billion tons , and that’s such a big number that
it’s impossible to imagine. It’s costing us about $750
billion annually, and the environmental waste is just as
Three times the annual flow of the Volga River is wasted
on producing food that gets thrown away, yielding 3.3
billion tons of greenhouse gases. About 28 percent of our
agricultural land is used to produce waste food. Clearing
more and more land is putting countless plants and
animals at risk.
Meanwhile, about 870 million people are starving.
A lot of the waste comes at the processing levels, but
consumer waste is also incredibly high. Fruits and
vegetables are often thrown away for being misshapen,
not necessarily spoiled. There’s a lot of food that’s
thrown away at the best-by date regardless of whether the
food has spoiled. Many consumers think that the sell-by
date and the best-by dates are the same, but that’s just
not the case.
While plans are in place for reducing waste like packaging
food in smaller containers and offering lower prices for
less-than-perfect foods, there’s still a long, long way to