SustainAbility: Easing away from petrochemicals
You may have noticed gas prices are on the way up again. Some experts even predict the price of a gallon of gas will hit $4 by the end of this year.
Reducing your petroleum consumption will become a hot topic as gas prices rise. The easiest method is buying less gas at the pump.
Transportation accounts for about 70 percent of petroleum usage in the United States, but an additional 24 percent is used by industry to produce products made from fossil fuels.
We live in the “Petrochemical Age” and these products have insinuated themselves into almost every aspect of our lives.
Even if you are making a conscious effort to live sustainably, you can’t escape products made from petrochemicals. Almost everything we do on a daily basis employs petrochemicals.
The bike you ride doesn’t require oil for power, but the tires and several other parts are derived from petroleum.
Computers and other electronics that are so important in your daily life are encased in plastic, the best known petroleum product.
There is a good chance your clothes are made from oil byproducts. Even if you are wearing cotton, petrochemicals were probably used in growing the crop.
Food from large, nonorganic farms rely on fertilizers and insecticides made from petroleum. These products are an essential part of the agribusiness that dominates our food supply.
Even the personal care products you put on your hair and body, including lipstick, contain ingredients made from petrochemicals. Then they are packaged in plastic bottles with plastic caps, sporting labels with ink made from petroleum and affixed with glue from the same origin.
While natural body care products may not have ingredients made from petrochemicals, most of them have similar petroleum-based packaging.
We could go back to the days before the widespread use of plastic packaging and use glass containers. The downside is glass is breakable and heavier to move, requiring more fuel for transportation.
For better and worse, petroleum is currently the material foundation of our society. For the foreseeable future we are all dependent on oil.
As the supply of oil decreases, there are some things we can do as a society to ease the transition away from oil.
Innovation will play a big part in this transformation. We must invent new materials that do not use petrochemicals for use in packaging and the shells for an ever-increasing array of electronics.
Agriculture will likely consist of smaller, organic farms and ranches closer to home. Feed, fertilizer and insect control can be done without petroleum derivatives.
Our country existed before the widespread use of petroleum, and over time we can greatly decrease the usage again. The trick will be to find a compromise we can live with, balancing convenience and sustainability.