As I’ve previously mentioned, the sustainability movement has become very popular lately. It’s trendy to be sustainable, so it seems like everyone is trying to cash in on it. This leads to a lot of buzz words and greenwashing thrown around. One buzz word/phrase is “single use plastics”. It’s something I’m sure most people have heard of by now, but may not exactly be sure what it means. So what is it?
A single use plastic is any plastic item that, as the name suggests, one would only use once, and then discard. They’re made from petrochemicals, made from crude oil and natural gas. Some examples are things like plastic food containers, coffee cups, water bottles, straws, plastic bags, etc.
Ever since the 1970’s, plastic has gained immense popularity, and skyrocketed to the place we know it to be today. Within the last 50 years, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced, and half of that in the past 15 years alone. This can largely be attributed to increasing consumerism and overconsumption. We’ve embodied a throw-away culture, where things aren’t made to last, and replacing an item is the standard procedure, rather than trying to fix it. Single use plastic is the ultimate example of that. We now rely on these single use plastics rather heavily, creating one massive problem: waste. We produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. The problem is that plastic doesn’t necessarily break down the way that other materials do. Plastic gets smaller instead of decomposing. Those pieces become microplastics. Microplastics have become a huge problem in recent years, due to the massive amount of plastic thrown away, they come from everywhere. Those microplastics then end up getting in the water, and affecting the health of wildlife and people alike. It’s a problem often overlooked, but one that deserves our attention. In my previous post, I mentioned some sustainable swaps, some of which were for single use plastic items, and trying to find alternatives is a good way to reduce your plastic use. But one other major component is recycling your plastics. Many plastics go in the garbage when they can go in the recycling. Polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most commonly recycled plastics and the material that makes up most water and soda bottles, can be turned into everything from polyester fabrics to automotive parts. So it’s important to always double check for the recycling symbol on your plastic. Or not use it at all when possible.