Expert Voices

From Toothpaste to Cellphones, Reducing Your Fracking Footprint (Op-Ed)

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Amy Mall is a senior policy analyst for the NRDC. This Op-Ed was adapted from one that first appeared on the NRDC blog Switchboard. Mall contributed this article toLiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

There's something on which the oil and gas industry and I agree: there is a lot more to oil and gas than gasoline, electricity and home heat. According to the American Petroleum Institute, "thousands of products — from your toothpaste to your iPod, your cellphone to your computer, and your vitamins to vegetables" contain components derived from oil and gas. But as a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council spending the majority of my time fighting to protect public health and the environment from the consequences of fracking, I know it doesn't have to be this way. And in my personal life, I've decided to do what I can to choose products free of fossil fuels as much as possible.

When most people think of oil and gas, they think of the gasoline in cars and the heat and power in homes, and people know how to reduce the usage of these fuels. I don't drive my car much, but I recently sold my Subaru and bought a 2006 Prius — doubling my average gas mileage overnight. And people can reduce natural gas use through such common efforts as turning off lights when they're not needed, buying Energy Star appliances and insulating homes.

But while people don't always have a choice about whether or not to use petroleum in cars or natural gas to power homes, Americans are able to reduce their contribution to oil and gas development — and therefore reduce the need for fracking and its potential to damage local environments — by making informed consumer choices in their daily lives.

Indeed, there are many choices people can make on a regular basis to reduce their "fracking footprints" and choose petroleum-free alternatives when they shop for clothes, household goods, personal care products and more. By purchasing fewer petro-products, Americans will lower demand and reduce the pressure to frack more in the United States and around the world.

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Here are just a few of the ways I have chosen to reduce my own "fracking footprint":

Plastic packaging

I strive to minimize my purchases of virgin plastic, which is made from derivatives of natural gas or petroleum. Some examples from my last visit to the grocery store: I bought pasta in a cardboard box, not non-recyclable plastic wrap. I used reusable producebags, not a fresh plastic bag every time. And I bought dog poop bags and trash bags made from non-petro materials, and toilet paper wrapped in recycled and recyclable paper instead of plastic. In 2011, Americans threw out 29 million tons of plastic, while 2.65 million tons were recycled — meaning the vast majority of those petro-products were just thrown into the trash, potentially requiring more fracking to replace them.

Synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals

I buy organic food as much as possible for several reasons, but one important reason is organic farmers are generally prohibited from using petro-products, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weedkillers (except for a few, rare exceptions). Organic farmers do use fertilizers and pesticides, but they are not made from petro-products. And for food storage, I use containers made from recycled plastic or glass.

Personal care products

Look around any drugstore shelf and you will see hundreds of products containing petrochemicals, packaged in petro-based plastic. Instead, I try to buy products made without any petro-chemicals, packaged in recyclable packaging. There are a lot of these products for sale. Instead of toothpaste made with petro-chemicals, I've been buying products like tooth powder in a recyclable bottle (also great for traveling!), and dental floss packaged in paper. There are also make-up and hair products that are petro-free. If I have to purchase products in plastic packaging, I look for products with recyclable packaging (in most communities, not all plastic products are recyclable), and packaging made with recycled-content materials, when available.

Synthetic fabric and textiles

A lot of textiles — polyester, acrylic, nylon — are petro-based. I try to buy organic cotton products as much as possible, and I am a huge fan of Patagonia products. They use organic cotton and, when it comes to synthetic clothing, they have pledged to "build useful things that last, to repair what breaks and recycle what comes to the end of its useful life." I have jackets from them made with recycled polyester and recycled fill. I also buy used clothing in consignment and thrift shops. I recently bought some carpeting made from recycled content that can be recycled.

Cleaning products

The cleaning aisle is another aisle of the grocery store filled with petro-packaging and petrochemicals. As an alternative, I make my own cleaning products from non-petro products, like vinegar and baking soda, use bottles made from recycled plastic content, and reuse those containers over and over again.

In today's world, it's unrealistic to think Americans will eliminate all non-energy petro-products anytime soon. And some of the alternatives also present concerns that need to be addressed. But, we can easily use our wallets and our consumer power to choose non-petro products and support companies and farmers who want to reduce their own environmental footprint and protect clean air and clean water. There are many more ways, but these were a few examples.

This Op-Ed was adapted from "Shopping to reduce my fracking footprint" on the NRDC blog Switchboard. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)