BeingGreen: Getting Rid of Petroleum.

March 13, 2009

Petroleum has become a ubiquitous ingredient in our everyday lives.  We run our cars on it (most of the time).  We rub our lips and babies’ rear ends in one of its byproducts (petroleum jelly).  And most of the candles available on the market are made from petroleum.

Unfortunately, like many other of our favorite products, petroleum is not such a great thing.  For one thing, it is not biodegradable.  For another thing, it tends to emit dangerous fumes when burned, and has been known to contain trace amounts of sulfur (and potentially other harmful chemicals, though this is unknown for certain).  Either way, it’s not very green, and it should be replaced as soon as practical.

Keeping it off your lips is pretty easy.  Several companies, including Burt’s Bees and Chapstick, offer natural lip balms without petroleum jelly.  Keeping it off your baby’s bum may be a bit harder; there are other moisturizers, but I have yet to hear of one with the greasy goodness of petroleum jelly.  Fortunately, the jelly is mostly harmless if not ingested; the only concern according to Skin Deep is potential contamination.

Candles are a bigger problem.  As stated above, petroleum (the rawer stuff, not the jelly) contains several chemicals which create nasty fumes when burned.  Your best bet is to get organic candles made from either soy or beeswax; soy candles are now available in several stores, though beeswax may be a bit trickier to come by.

Then there’s your car.  At the moment, there are only two things to run your car on: petroleum-based gasoline and ethanol.  Ethanol is said to be the greener of these options, although a recent kerfuffle suggests that it may not be as green as it’s cracked up to be – possibly because of the large amount of farming required to create it.  Rather than splitting hairs over which of these fuels to use, it’s best to cut down on your driving – which is better for the environment in several different ways – and consider obtaining a hybrid car, which will help to reduce the amount of gasoline used when you do drive.

These are the three biggest sources of petroleum in a home – and, without a doubt, the three most likely to pose a problem.  While it is by no means the most glaring threat to your health, petroleum does pose some long-term problems – most importantly, it is a non-renewable resource.  We can keep finding new places to drill for it, but eventually the supplies will be exhausted.

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