Small Ways to Make Big Environmental Changes: Cut the Chemicals


We all know by now that chemicals are harmful. But which are the worst, and how do we avoid them?

Chemicals… just the word sounds bad. But where are chemicals found, and what can they do to us? According to Laurie David and Heather Reisman in their new book  Imagine It!: A Handbook for a Happier Planet, more than 40,000 chemicals are used in products today, but only a few hundred of them have actually been tested for safety. Today, we’re going to talk about the most common chemicals out there, and how you can cut back on them in a couple of easy ways. 

First things first: Chemicals are everywhere

From the food you eat, to the air you breathe… Chemicals are even found in the umbilical cords of newborn babies. They are in our soil. They are in our oceans. They are almost everywhere in our homes. It’s important to understand that synthetic chemicals come from petrochemicals, which are made from oil and natural gas. New research indicates that these chemicals can cause long term health impacts like thyroid problems, obesity, and even certain cancers. 

If chemicals are everywhere, which ones are the worst? 

Well, that depends on what products you’re looking at. In personal care products like shampoo, nail polish and perfume, try to avoid anything with parabens and phthalates. These can majorly interfere with your hormone systems. In sunscreen, steer clear of oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are bad not only for our health but pose extreme hazards for coral reefs when they end up in the ocean. Finally when you’re shopping for deodorant, make sure to avoid triclosan. It’s an antibacterial which can cause thyroid issues and is also giving rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

What chemicals should we avoid in food?

There are three major categories to consider here. Pesticides, which are used in conventional farming but can leave residue on fruits and veggies, synthetic fertilizers, which make foods grow faster but add toxic nitrogen and phosphorus to our soil, and Phthalates and PFAS, which can be found in plastic containers, plastic wrap, and nonstick and greaseproof food wrappers and leach into our food. The key takeaway here is to read labels, and make sure to avoid these chemicals as much as you can. 

Written by Emily Pinto