Single-use plastics are a big problem for our environment. They're everywhere and it can be difficult to avoid them, but luckily there are plenty of ways you can reduce your single use plastic usage and make a difference!
Single-use plastic is the type of plastic that we use for a short period of time, then discard.
The plastics that make up this category are typically used to package or carry food and personal care items.
These plastics can be found in single-serve bottles like water bottles and soda bottles; straws; takeout containers; bags (like shopping bags); cutlery (forks, spoons, knives); candy wrappers; plates and cups. Some single-use plastics are also used to make other products like carpeting.
After a single use, most single-use plastics are thrown in the bin and end up in landfill.
Single-use plastics that are thrown away after a single use (like coffee cups and straws) end up in landfill. They don’t get recycled because they’re too small, so they sit in landfills for hundreds of years.
A small proportion of single-use plastics are incinerated - this usually happens in an energy from waste plants which also generates electricity.
Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves burning municipal solid waste and other organic materials to produce heat and energy. This is the only way of disposing of some single-use plastics, particularly those made from polystyrene.
With very few exceptions, all plastic packaging can be recycled or composted – so why do we need incinerators? Well, we need them because not all plastic gets recycled, particularly if it’s contaminated with food waste. And while it’s possible to recycle or compost most things made from plastic, there are some products that cannot be broken down by these processes – including some types of carrier bag - which means they end up in landfills anyway.
There are also significant environmental impacts from the production and transportation of plastics as they require a lot of non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and water to produce.
You probably already know that plastic is made from non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and water. Fossil fuels are used to make petrochemicals, which in turn are used to make plastic. These fossil fuels take millions of years to form, but they can be burned and turned into a variety of products in just a few days. For example, oil and natural gas are often used as feedstock for the production of plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and PVC.
Just about anything you can think of that comes in a package or wrapper with a number on it like 3 or 6 has probably been made using one or more types of plastic resins from petrochemical feedstocks like ethylene produced from natural gas/methane extraction processes or methanol produced from coal gasification processes—all non-renewable sources!
If you can avoid using it without inconvenience, then you should!
If that means buying more fresh ingredients and making your own salad dressing instead of buying a dressing packet, it’s worth it.
If you can’t avoid using single-use plastic (and sometimes we just can't), then recycle it! In many countries there are recycling bins at grocery stores or nearby public places. You can also recycle some types of single-use plastic in your home by cutting them into smaller pieces and putting them in your curbside bin (but be careful—too small gets caught in the sorting machines).
If recycling isn't an option, then don’t use that product at all!
Using reusable products instead of single-use plastic can help save money and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Using a reusable water bottle is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, and save money on bottled water. If you’re replacing your disposable plastic bags with reusable shopping bags or canvas totes, you’ll be reducing the number of plastic bags in landfills and oceans. As for straws, try bringing a metal or bamboo straw with you when you go out so that if someone offers one at a restaurant or store, you don’t need to use a single use plastic straw.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to reduce your use of single-use plastic. You can start by making small changes like carrying a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, or switching from disposable plates and cutlery to reusable ones. If you're looking for more ways to reduce your environmental footprint, try swapping out plastic straws for bamboo straws. These are biodegradable and compostable so they won't harm the planet when they break down!