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10 Everyday Products Derived from Petroleum

Woman blowing a chewing gum bubble. | Veronica Aguilar/Creative Commons
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As we learn more about the environmental impact of human activities — the cars we drive, the electricity we consume and the food we eat, for example — we are faced with the challenge of reducing our contributions to climate change. Considering how deeply fossil fuels are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives is an important step in making more conscious choices. While burning fossil fuel accounts for two-thirds of all greenhouse gases trapping heat in our atmosphere, crude oil is also incorporated into the clothing we wear, the asphalt we drive on, and even the personal hygiene goods we use all the time.

When crude oil or natural gas is processed at a refinery, it is converted into numerous petroleum products. In 2017, 75% of oil was processed into motor gasoline, distillate fuel and jet fuel but the remainder was processed into chemicals, synthetic rubber and a variety of plastics used to manufacture our creature comforts. Below is a list of common products you might be surprised to learn are derived from petroleum hydrocarbons.

Aspirin

Aspirin, one of the most common medications used to treat pain, inflammation and fevers, consists of benzene, a hydrocarbon typically derived from petroleum.

CD’s and DVD’s

As most plastics made from petrochemicals, CDs and DVDs are made from polycarbonate plastics. When compact discs were created, petroleum-based lubricants were needed to made the disk spin smoothly.

Chewing gum

The base of chewing gum is manufactured with petroleum wax. The Food and Drug Administration approves the use of this substance as long as it meets particular ultraviolet absorbance limits. You may also find paraffin wax in your kitchen or pantry as it is used to coat cheese, raw fruits and vegetables, in chicken nuggets to prevent foaming during preparation, and in over-the-counter drugs to prevent bloating.

Clothing

Unless you make it a point to wear only 100% wool or cotton, you most likely have a dresser full of polyester clothing. Polyester is a synthetic petroleum fiber incorporated into 60% of clothing worldwide. Unlike cotton products, polyester is not biodegradable.

Dentures

Today’s dentures are made with acrylic resin, a hydrocarbon, along with porcelain, metal and nylon. The acrylic resin can be dyed to look more like natural gum color.

Lipstick

Some cosmetics, including lipstick, are made with paraffin wax, the same synthetic wax used for chewing gum and  scented candles.

Lipstick is made with paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum byproducts.| Lynette Olanos/Creative Commons
Lipstick is made with paraffin wax, which is made from petroleum byproducts. | Lynette Olanos/Creative Commons

Rugs

Any rugs made with synthetic fibers use petroleum based nylon or olefin. Some rugs have blended fibers, mixed with both synthetic and natural fibers like animal wool, cotton, and even plant cellulose.

Shampoo

So-called dry shampoo uses liquified petroleum gas to spray the cosmetic into dry hair. Also known as LPG, propane and butane is considered liquified petroleum gas. Another thing to keep in mind: the whole plastic shampoo bottle is produced from petrochemicals derived from the oil refinery process. Most plastics, including water bottles are a part of this process.

Solar panels

Fossil fuels are used in the manufacturing of solar panels but are also found in the solar cell parts that help convert sunlight into electrical energy. However, as the Scientific American reports, those synthetic petroleum-derived plastics may soon be replaced by plant-based fiber components.

Toothpaste

Toothpaste uses poloxamer 407, a common petroleum derivative that helps oil-based ingredients to be dissolved in water.

Top image: Woman blowing a chewing gum bubble. | Veronica Aguilar/Creative Commons

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