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

Non-Toxic Bathroom Cleaners

products you can buy to make your bathroom squeaky clean without dangerous fumes

Nobody likes doing it, but it's got to be done! Cleaning the bathroom doesn't have to be gross or involve lots of chemicals with dangerous fumes that leave your eyes teary and your head hurting. You can use an all purpose cleaner on most surfaces in the bathroom, but sometimes you need a little extra oomph to get rid of hard water stains and mold or mildew. Every now and then we also find ourselves needing to clear the drains too! We checked out all the lists and figured out which bathroom cleaning products are the safest and effective.

In addition to these products, we also love using a simple non-toxic all purpose cleaner and have lots of DIY cleaner recipes for getting your bathroom squeaky clean.

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Healthy eating should be about more than just healthy ingredients! While there are many different specific diets, most definitions of healthy eating involve choosing fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that provide maximal nutritional benefits. Refined grains, sugar, vegetable oils, and other unhealthy ingredients are left off the plate. But if healthy ingredients become contaminated with harmful chemicals, are they really healthy? It is time for healthy eating to incorporate more than just ingredients. Healthy eating should also include how the food is packaged and what materials the food comes into contact with while it is being processed, cooked, and stored.
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Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Roundups

Eco-Friendly and Reusable Gift Wrapping Ideas

Spread holiday cheer without creating waste!

Since this is a safe space we can admit that one of the best parts about the holidays is the presents, right? But the amount of wrapping paper we go through every year is just insane... and most of it isn't even recyclable! Unless "recyclable" is specifically mentioned on the label, you'll have to throw used wrapping paper into the trash. And sometimes, we could do without that mountain of used wrapping paper after presents have been opened, even if it is the recyclable kind.
That's why we wanted to find the best wrapping options that could actually be recycled or reused year to year! Check out these great alternatives to tranditonal wrapping paper!


a) 2 Pieces Christmas Canvas Tote Bags Buffalo Plaid Check Shopping Bags

b) joywrap

c) Hallmark Recyclable Kraft Wrapping Paper

d) Eco-Friendly Reversible Wrapping Paper

e) Hallmark Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

f) Hallmark Black and Red Drawstring Gift Bag Set


g) Furoshiki Reusable Gift Wrapping Cloth


h) Organic Cotton Reusable Gift Wrap (Set of 3)

i) Brown Kraft Paper Jumbo Roll

Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, and fun gifts for your home chef? We created a gift guide this year for those people on your list who love cooking and hosting. Whether it's elaborate dinner parties or weeknight meals, these gifts are sure to bring some joys in the new year. We looked for gifts that avoided waste (like a stovetop popcorn maker), or that avoided harmful chemicals (like a cast iron skillet), or that could bring a little fun into the kitchen (like these fabulous cloth napkins).

This year, we have highlighted many products by many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) owned/founded brands. Buying from these brands is a great way to support economic opportunities in BIPOC communities and celebrates diversity in the sustainability space. Additionally, since climate change is an urgent issue with so many health impacts, we are also highlighting brands that are Climate Neutral certified. That means that the brand has committed to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit. We believe that consumers and companies must work together to embrace and make true commitments to diversity and sustainability. Look no further for the ultimate gift guide!

$: Under $50

Handheld milk frother

This stainless steel milk frother is the perfect way to warm up your milk (or milk alternative) without having to sacrifice counter space! Whether you're drinking coffee or matcha, this it the perfect tool to take things up a notch.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes (BIPOC brand)

Want to eat less meat, but don't know how to make vegetable dishes stand out? Step up your cooking game with delicious recipes from this unique cookbook from Bryant Terry. Bryant is renowned for his activism and efforts to create a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system, so this cookbook is right up our alley.

Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (BIPOC brand)

Looking to up your whole grain intake? Expand your baking skills with Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution. You'll be amazed how a simple cookie can change texture and flavor based on the flours you use. Learn about the world of ancient grains like buckwheat, sorghum, rye, barley, and heirloom wheat and bake some delicious treats.

GreenLife Bakeware Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Muffin Pan

This ceramic baking pan by GreenLife is non-stick without harmful chemicals and comes in a bunch of cute colors. Weekend muffins are calling you!

Great Northern Popcorn Original Stainless Steel Stove Top Popcorn Popper

Microwave popcorn is expensive and the bags are coated in Teflon like chemicals, but it's so convenient. Enter this amazing popcorn maker. You'll never look at microwaved popcorn the same way after you use this Great Northern stovetop popcorn popper! It's stainless steel body perfectly cooks kernels to tasty perfection.

Heath Ceramics large coffee mug

Elevate your morning coffee with this beautifully crafted mug from Heath Ceramics. It comes in many lead-free glazes and is as sturdy as it is beautiful.

$ $: Between $50-100

Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker

Sunday brunch just got so much better with this waffle maker by Hamilton Beach. Most waffle makers use a Teflon-like coating in their waffle makers, but this waffle maker uses a ceramic non-stick. It's really easy to use and the ceramic grids pop out for easy cleaning.

Diaspora Co. Single-Origin Spices (BIPOC brand)

Spices can make or break a dish, which is why we love upgrading our spice drawer with this set of single origin spices from Diaspora. We love that they pay a living wage to partner farmers and their partner model allows them to provide quality control that results in fresher, more delicious spices. That also means that they can also better control potential contamination and test for lead contamination. They are also working on organic certification for their partner farms.

Emile Henry Deep Food Storage Bowl

Who says food storage has to be boring? Beauty meets function with this deep food storage bowl by Emile Henry. The cork top serves as a fruit bowl, while the lower level with vents and darkness acts as a mini pantry to store root vegetables and onions.

Siafu Home Congolese Napkins

The scalloped edge and fun pattern of these napkins make them a great hostess gift! These are screen printed by hand in Kenya and are a great way to add some color to your table.

$ $ $: Over $100

Graf Lantz Felt Placemats

These sturdy place mats will protect your table from the messiest of eaters! The merino wool material is naturally water and odor resistant, and also offers amazing thermal protection.

Olivewood Serving Board

These hand-carved cheese boards are made from a single piece of olivewood, which means no glues or adhesives are added to the wood. They are the perfect backdrop to your next charcuterie board.

East Fork Serving Bowl (Climate Neutral certified)

This handmade pottery serving bowl from East Fork is perfect for all your serving need- whether it's for movie night popcorn or a salad at a dinner party for 10!

Brightland Olive Oil Duo (BIPOC brand)

There's a reason you've seen Brightland all over social, it's high quality olive oil and beautiful bottle make it a star! The Duo set is the perfect way to try two of their most popular flavors! The olives come from a family-run California farm that does not use pesticides and is committed to organic practices.

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset is known for it's quality and beautiful color choices and this enameled cast iron skillet is no exception! This pan will last you a lifetime and is naturally non-stick enough for scrambles and fried eggs. No Teflon chemicals needed.

Fellow coffee Pour Over Coffee and Electric Kettle

This Fellow electric kettle and pour over set are perfect companions for your coffee! These products don't contain any plastic and will make you feel like a certified barista.

Life

Artificial or Real Christmas Tree? What's better for you and the environment.

What toxic chemicals are in artificial Christmas trees and tips for how to stay safe

Artificial Christmas trees are becoming increasingly popular for families. They're seen as being convenient since they don't shed needles and can be reused year after year. Some even come with lights already on them! But is the convenience of artificial Christmas trees worth it? We break down the science and the pros and cons of artificial Christmas trees and farm grown real Christmas trees to help you have a healthy and sustainable Christmas!

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Life

Buying holiday decorations? Here's what you should know

Don't let these chemicals ruin your holiday cheer

You may need to be careful rockin' around the Christmas tree this year! Why you ask? Well, there might be some unexpected chemicals in that holly jolly decoration above your head. Holiday decorations can bring great cheer, but sometimes they can contain an unwanted surprise. Some decorations may be made with toxic chemicals - keep a look out for the ones below!
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