Life

Are Electric Cars Really Better than Conventional Vehicles?

The environmental and health impacts of conventional and electric vehicles

Thanks to the environmentalist movement and increasing innovation, electric cars are taking off! Just a few years ago you may not have seen many electric cars on the road, but because of the growing market and interest in finding a solution to the environmental damages of conventional cars, car manufacturers are making more and more electric vehicles. Now that these cars are getting more affordable, people interested in buying them are starting to wonder if they are really better for the environment compared to gasoline powered cars. Many are concerned with the batteries used in electric cars and how the electricity is generated. What if the electricity is generated from burning coal? Are electric cars really better for the environment and how about our health?

To answer this question we need to break down the environmental damages of these different types of cars and also look into how they affect our health. Conventional vehicles are known for causing serious damages to human health through particle and gas emissions (3), but are there any health impacts of electric cars?

What is the difference between electric and conventional vehicles?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the environmental and health differences between electric and conventional (combustion) cars, we should get into the actual differences between the cars themselves. Check out the chart below to read about the different types of vehicles on the market!

Environmental and health concerns of combustion vehicles

The biggest concern with conventional vehicles is what comes out of the tailpipe! Conventional vehicles are notorious for emitting tons of dangerous chemicals, some of which are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter (6). This chart breaks down the different tailpipe emissions and their environmental and health impacts.

It's pretty clear that the environmental damages go hand in hand with the health concerns associated with conventional combustion vehicles. Besides the impacts from the emissions, the lifecycle of a car has other detrimental environmental effects. Since mining is needed to source materials to manufacture a car, large amounts of land degradation and a decrease in biodiversity can be attributed to cars. New landfills have had to be created in order to dispose of old vehicles (9).

Other than the car itself, there are also emissions and health concerns that come from the gasoline needed to power conventional vehicles. There are several airborne contaminants and emissions from the machinery and vehicles used to extract, process, and transport the gasoline that can lead to similar health issues mentioned in the chart above. And besides the airborne emissions, the process of extracting oil from the Earth can be very messy and lead to water and land contamination (15). Different heavy metals are released into the air and soil affecting people who live directly in the area or allowing it to bioaccumulate in the surrounding plants and animals. Being exposed to crude oil or the heavy metals released from the extraction process can cause psychological disorders, blood disorders, reproductive and developmental issues, respiratory issues, and cancer (14).

All of these issues and negative impacts that come along with conventional cars are the reason manufacturers and engineers created the electric vehicle. But there is still the burning question: are electric vehicles really that much better?

Environmental and health concerns of electric vehicles

Many scientists have done life cycle analyses of electric vehicles, and conclude that electric vehicles, whether they are fully electric or hybrids, are better for the environment than conventional cars (6,16). This is mainly because electric vehicles have no emissions coming out of the tailpipe. Besides the difference in tailpipe emissions, the two types of cars are relatively similar in terms of how they are built and then disposed of. The metals are mined, the parts are assembled, and eventually the car gets recycled or put into a landfill (6). However, one aspect conventional cars do not have to deal with is the recycling and disposal of electric batteries.

The most common type of battery used in electric cars is a lithium-ion battery (12). This is the same type of batteries used in power tools, electronics, smartphones, and other common household products but just on a much bigger scale. Lithium batteries are made of lithium, cobalt, and nickel, all metals that are very water and energy intensive to extract, creating a concern for the long term sustainability of these batteries. The mining of cobalt also poses an ethical concern due to the lack of environmental safeguards, labor, health issues, and political uncertainty in the Dominican Republic of Congo, which supplies about 58% of the world's cobalt (10). As of right now lithium ion batteries are rarely recycled compared to other types of batteries on the market with some estimates at around a 5% or less recycling rate (13). In order for electric cars to be a completely sustainable option the rate of recycling needs to be much higher and the issues with the extraction of metals also needs to be more environmentally friendly and less of an ethical concern. Thankfully there are many organizations and government agencies working on solving these issues and working to create better recycling programs for these batteries (10).

Another concern people have with buying an electric car is about where they are getting their power from. If your car is hooked up to an electrical grid powered by coal is the car still more environmentally friendly? The answer is: absolutely! Most electric cars still emit less emissions and require less energy overall even if they are being powered by a nonrenewable energy source (6,16). As of 2020 the U.S. had a majority of its energy needs met by nonrenewable resources such as natural gas which accounted for 40% of energy use, coal at 19%, and nuclear at 20%, while renewable resources accounted for only 20% of energy use (17). But thankfully energy sources like coal have been on the decline due to the country's transition to more renewable energy sources, meaning most electric vehicles in the upcoming future will be powered by green energy reducing their overall emissions even more! (17)

Benefits to owning an electric vehicle

Besides the benefit of cleaner air and a healthier planet, there are also a lot of financial benefits to owning an electric vehicle. Studies have found that in some circumstances, electric cars are much more cost-competitive than conventional cars when considering the long-term costs of ownership (8). In many states there are financial incentives to purchase an electric vehicle and depending on where you live, those incentives could take thousands of dollars off the initial purchasing price! Check out this link and see what the incentives are in your state. Data also shows that the larger the electric car and the more it is being driven, the more cost competitive the car is (8). Meaning that if you drive a lot and have a big family to haul around, an electric car would be a perfect fit!

Another bonus is that because the electric car market has grown so much over the years many of the electric car models are in the same exact price range as conventional cars and because you won't have to buy gas, that's just extra savings! Gas prices are only going to go up as there is less and less gas to be drilled, so as time goes on electric cars will be astronomically cheaper than conventional vehicles to maintain and use (8). And speaking of cheaper, the prices of electric car batteries are expected to continue to decrease rapidly in the next few years. This means that the most expensive aspect of an electric car will be more affordable than ever, making electric cars a great option! (10)

Plus, the availability of charging stations is increasing while at the same time the batteries are lasting longer and longer. The average electric car can go over 200 miles on a full charge which means you should easily be able to make it to another charging station or do your weekly routine without a problem. If you are concerned your area is lacking enough charging stations, check out maps in your area to see where the nearest charging stations are to make sure it won't be too much of a hassle for you.

So what should you do?

If you are in the market for a new car, think about getting an electric one. Whether you are buying a new or a slightly used electric car it will save you a lot of money down the road and is also a healthier option for you, the people around you, and the world!

It would be great if we could all go out and buy an electric car, but we get that buying a new car isn't an option for a lot of people. But just because you can't buy the newest Tesla model, doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to minimize your emissions.

  1. Drive less!
  2. Take public transportation or ride a bike to work even just one day a week
  3. Be efficient with your driving. Do all errands in one day instead of spreading it out
  4. Carpool to work or school
  5. Get a smog check so your car is running efficiently and not releasing extra emissions



Sources

  1. Ma, H., Balthasar, F., Tait, N., Riera-Palou, X., & Harrison, A. (2012). A new comparison between the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of battery electric vehicles and internal combustion vehicles. Energy Policy, 44, 160–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.01.034
  2. Electric Vehicle Basics. (n.d.). Energy.Gov. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/electric-vehicle-basics
  3. https://www.epa.gov/transportation-air-pollution-and-climate-change/smog-soot-and-local-air-pollution
  4. https://gimletmedia.com/shows/howtosaveaplanet/94hblz9
  5. https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/fuel_cell.html
  6. https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/transport/vehicles/docs/2020_study_main_report_en.pdf
  7. Manisalidis, I., Stavropoulou, E., Stavropoulos, A., & Bezirtzoglou, E. (2020). Environmental and Health Impacts of Air Pollution: A Review. Frontiers in Public Health, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00014
  8. Weldon, P., Morrissey, P., & O'Mahony, M. (2018). Long-term cost of ownership comparative analysis between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles. Sustainable Cities and Society, 39, 578–591. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scs.2018.02.024
  9. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/environmental-impact
  10. Simmons, D. R. (n.d.). ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND RENEWABLE ENERGY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. 8.
  11. https://www.epa.gov/no2-pollution/basic-information-about-no2
  12. Iclodean, C., Varga, B., Burnete, N., Cimerdean, D., & Jurchiş, B. (2017). Comparison of Different Battery Types for Electric Vehicles. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 252, 012058. https://doi.org/10.1088/1757-899X/252/1/012058
  13. Sonoc, A., Jeswiet, J., & Soo, V. K. (2015). Opportunities to Improve Recycling of Automotive Lithium Ion Batteries. Procedia CIRP, 29, 752–757. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2015.02.039
  14. Ramirez, M. I., Arevalo, A. P., Sotomayor, S., & Bailon-Moscoso, N. (2017). Contamination by oil crude extraction – Refinement and their effects on human health. Environmental Pollution, 231, 415–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.08.017
  15. Johnston, J. E., Lim, E., & Roh, H. (2019). Impact of upstream oil extraction and environmental public health: A review of the evidence. Science of The Total Environment, 657, 187–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.11.483
  16. https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/downloads/T%26E%E2%80%99s%20EV%20life%20cycle%20analysis%20LCA.pdf
  17. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/el...
Roundups

Healthier Food Storage Containers

Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

Updated for 2022!

We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Life

Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

4. Teach children swimming and water safety

Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!


References

1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

Roundups

Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Updated for Summer 2022!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

Keep Reading Show Less
Food

4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!


Spiked Lemonade

-1 gallon of water

-3 cups lemon juice

-3.5 cups white sugar

-Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

-4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring

Instructions

  1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
  2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

Fruit Punch

-8 cups ginger ale

-4 cups orange juice

-4 cups pineapple juice

-sliced fruit like orange

-Optional: 2 cups rum

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

Watermelon Refresher

-8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

-2 cups water

-2 cups ginger ale

-2 cups lime juice

-4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
  2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

8 cups water

8 hibiscus tea bags

8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

½ cup honey

1 cup lime juice

4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

Instructions

  1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
  2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
  3. Serve over ice

As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.


References

  1. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-car-wash-4863509
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-water-wasters/
  3. https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/KSMO_CarWashing.pdf
  4. https://www.carwash.com/law-requiring-carwashes-to-recycle-water-passed-in-ca/
  5. https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/09/one-california-drought-winner-local-car-wash/

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



Keep Reading Show Less
Food

Tasty, Vegetarian-Friendly Summer Grill Recipes

Trying to eat less meat but don't want to give up your grilling habit? We've got you

School's out for the summer and we're officially swapping out backpacks for shades, sunscreen and the good ole' grill. Yep, you heard us right, we're firing up the grill and believe it or not, no meat is involved. Trying your hand at incorporating more vegetables isn't just good for you, it's great for the environment too. In a nutshell, it takes a TON of energy and water to produce the steaks and pork ribs traditionally grilled (1). The extra carbon dioxide pumped into the air from raising livestock then contributes to increasing Earth's temperatures (2). So, if you're on board to beat the heat, keep on reading for some awesome recipes and ideas to try out this summer.

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL