What do you feel when you see this image?
Maybe just grab a bottle and gulp it down your throat.
The most common sight whenever you visit a shop, enter any office canteen or crash a restaurant for a bite, a refrigerator filled with carbonated and sugary cold beverages.
Whether you are a farmer in Kenya transporting milk to the local market, the owner of a London cornershop or a patient undergoing chemotherapy in Japan, we all rely on devices that keep us, and the things we consume, cool.
Without fridges our food would quickly go off, milk would rapidly sour and food poisonings would likely skyrocket.
The cooling industry is important, but it is also incredibly polluting accounting for around 10% of global CO2 emissions. That is three times the amount produced by aviation and shipping combined.
And as temperatures around the world continue to rise due to climate change, the demand for cooling will increase too.
- But what is it about refrigerants that makes them so bad for the climate?
Refrigerators certainly use a fair bit of energy, especially when they are running continuously in hot climates. But they also contain chemicals that readily absorb heat from the environment as they turn from being a cool liquid into a gas. As they transition back to liquid, they release the heat outside the fridge – before being cycled back to begin the cooling process again. The most common type of refrigerant used were chlorofluorocarbons, more widely known by their acronym CFCs. But after CFCs were found to be depleting the ozone layer, there was a worldwide effort to phase them out.
But the effort to get rid of CFCs resulted in many chemical manufacturers choosing to replace them with two groups of chemicals with a different problem: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
These refrigerants break down ozone molecules far less, but are extremely potent greenhouse gases. Their capacity to warm the atmosphere – measured as global warming potential – is thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide, with some being up to 13,850 times more potent.
This is because HFCs and HCFCs – along with CFCs – also absorb infrared radiation, trapping heat inside the atmosphere rather than allowing it to escape back into space, creating a greenhouse effect that warms the planet.
As HFCs are potent gases that can remain in the atmosphere for up to 29 years, there is an urgent need to phase them out. The urgency increases with the fact that as countries in the global south are starting to increase their wealth, their ability to purchase refrigerators is increasing dramatically.
The number of global cooling devices is estimated to increase from 3.6 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050.
Part of the problem with refrigerants, however, is that much of the harm they cause is after we as consumers have finished using them. It occurs out of sight, and so largely out of mind.
Roughly 90% of refrigerant emissions occur at equipment’s end of life.
Proper management and reuse of potent refrigerant gases could slash 100 billion gigatons of global CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2050. Regulators need to come up with laws which prohibits unsustainable disposing of the refrigerators. Manufacturers need to turn to climate-friendly chemicals, known as natural refrigerants, which have comparatively low or zero global warming potential.
I am sure you have never seen the refrigerator this way before. You must be sweating with the thought of the heat these chilling towers are emitting in the environment.
But before you go grab a bottle of chilled refreshing carbonated soda from the same fridge. Let us take a few precious minutes of your day and explain to you how these tempting bottles are actually not your friend.
- Next, what is it about carbonated soda that makes them our enemy?
No party or celebration is complete without a range of soft drinks that titillate our taste buds before temporarily quenching our thirst. Aerated drinks are harmful for our society especially the youth and are responsible for the epidemic of obesity. Such drinks are popular in all age groups, in fact; kids and teens consider such drinks to be an inseparable part of their lives.
If you think you’re hydrating by drinking soda, you’re likely off-base. The caffeine in many sodas has a diuretic effect, causing dehydration if you don’t adequately supplement with extra water. Over time, this can lead to a slower metabolic rate, electrolyte imbalances, water retention, and even heart arrhythmia.
Not only this, drinking soda in excess can lead to tooth decay, cardiovascular diseases and also improper functioning of the kidney and liver.
An infographic by the British pharmacist Niraj Naik shows the damage that a 330 milliliter (ml) can of Coca-Cola can inflict on the body within 1 hour of consumption.
According to Naik, the intense sweetness of Coca-Cola resulting from its high sugar content should make a person vomit as soon as it enters the body. However, the phosphoric acid in the beverage dulls the sweetness, enabling people to keep the drink down.
Blood sugar levels increase dramatically within 20 minutes of drinking the cola, explains Naik, causing a burst of insulin. The liver then turns the high amounts of sugar into fat.
According to Naik’s study these sweetened carbonated drinks have similar physiological effects as heroin to the human body.
Within 40 minutes, of consumption of such drinks the body has absorbed all of the caffeine from the drink. This caffeine causes the pupils to dilate and the blood pressure to increase. By this point, it has blocked the adenosine receptors in the brain, preventing drowsiness.
Just 5 minutes later, the production of dopamine has increased. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. According to the infographic, the way these drinks stimulates these centers is comparable to the effects of heroin. It triggers a person’s urge to drink another can.
An hour after drinking the beverage, a sugar crash will begin, causing irritability and drowsiness.
What to drink instead?
Plain water is the healthiest beverage you can drink. However, alternating plain water with beverages that provide a little flavor is more realistic for many people.
Here are a few healthy alternatives to sugar sweetened beverages and fruit juice:
- plain or sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime
- iced black or green tea with lemon
- iced herbal tea
- coconut water
- freshly squeezed fruit juices
- fruit smoothies/milkshakes
Most of these beverages are delicious without any added sweetener.
Having appropriate recommendations that would help cut down the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is thus the need of the hour.
Just like on a cigarette pack; there should be a warning printed on soft drinks “IT IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH”.
I know now you are picturing the refrigerator image again, and thinking at least we have one friend in that fridge with a big bottle of clean refreshing water.
Sorry to say but you are wrong again.
- What is wrong with bottled water?
Water does more than just quenching our thirst. The type of water we drink speaks to the type of world we want to live in.
Recent years have seen an increase in awareness regarding the negative impact plastics have on the environment. Unfortunately, while most people know that plastics are bad for the environment, this awareness has not resulted in a significant drop in the use of disposable water bottles.
In fact, their use is still on the increase with an average of 50 billion plastic water bottles a year; and while recycling is more accessible than ever, 90% of plastic water bottles are not recycled after use, meaning that billions of plastic bottles are entering our landfills, and even our oceans, every year.
In fact, so much plastic waste makes it into our oceans that it is estimated that over a million marine animals are killed by plastic waste each year, often due to accidental plastic ingestion.
However, while the environmental effects of disposable water bottles alone should be enough to make us consider purchasing a reusable water bottle and a home water filter, there are also other benefits to be gained by ditching plastic water bottles.
- One of the primary reasons consumers continue to purchase bottled water regardless of the potential environmental impact is due to a perception that bottled water is higher quality, more pristine water; and there is a reason for this misconception. Most advertisements for bottled water depict a fresh stream or mountain spring in order to make it seem like their bottled water is purer than tap water or other brands of bottled water.
However, water that is bottled from special springs is rare, and the fact is that most bottled water comes from similar sources as your municipal water supply.
- The primary risk associated with drinking bottled water is the fact that you can be exposed to harmful toxins from the plastic. Even though water is not acidic (unlike soda), whenever you drink out of a plastic bottle, you risk ingesting the chemicals used to make the bottles as these toxins can leach into the water over time. This is particularly common with older water bottles and/or those that have been exposed to heat.
BPA and other plastic toxins can then make their way into your bloodstream, which can cause a host of problems including various cancers as well as liver and kidney damage. These toxins can accumulate in your system over the years leaving you prone to a variety of health problems, like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and even infertility.
- In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some people have started reusing disposable plastic water bottles by refilling them multiple times. While this may seem like a good idea in concept, it can actually be dangerous to reuse a single-use water bottle. When you reuse these bottles you risk additional chemicals and microplastics from the bottle entering your drinking water.
Additionally, the shape of these bottles makes it nearly impossible to clean them, and the soft plastic they are made out of creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can make it hazardous to your health to reuse these bottles.
There is a high need for strict rules in order to ban these one-time use plastic bottles and replace them with reusable bottles and water refilling stations.
Not only government it is everyone’s responsibility to reduce plastic usage by following few suggested simple steps:
The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy. In one year, the manufacturing of plastic water bottles burns about and releases approximately 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So, even if you recycle your plastic water bottle, the production of that water bottle has already caused a negative impact on the environment.
To reduce waste, you can limit the amount of water you drink from a single-use plastic water bottle or 5-gallon plastic water jug. You can drink great-tasting, filtered water from a pitcher, dispenser, or water cooler, or even get a filtration system installed on/under your faucet. Just because it isn’t safe to refill a single-use plastic water bottle doesn’t mean you can’t reuse any water bottle. There are safe options out there including BPA-free plastic reusable water bottles, aluminum reusable water bottles, and glass water bottles. By refilling a reusable water bottle you can personally save an average of 156 plastic water bottles from being produced each year, which will also eliminate the associated distribution pollution.
If you can’t reduce the use of a product or you can’t reuse the product… or maybe it’s seen its time, then your best option is to recycle the product once you’re done with it. Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. By recycling plastic water bottles, you’re eliminating the need for additional plastic to be produced.
Remember bottled water production and consumption comes at the expense of our environment
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