Single-use plastics are arguably the worst waste products in the world. They have the shortest use time, but one of the longest disposal times. A plastic bag has a usage time of roughly 15 minutes, but takes over 1,000 years to decompose. And even then, the plastics don’t ever truly return to the earth. Rather, they become even smaller microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute. In our day-to-day lives, we use single-use plastic in nearly every aspect. While there has been a push to opt for reusable bags and reusable water bottles, there are so many other items that go unnoticed.
Floss is an essential part of any oral health routine. Some dentists say it is even more important than teeth brushing. However, while it may be recommended for your smile, it is detrimental to the environment. The standard mass-produced floss is lined with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFSAs). These are a type of carbon responsible for powerful greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, floss coated in these chemicals is not great for your gums either. A recent study found elevated levels of the PSFAs in users compared to nonusers. Thankfully, more and more zero waste floss companies are emerging. Most of these companies use bamboo fibres in place of plastics. Some of these companies also offer refillable floss containers, meaning even less waste.
Plastic Wrap / Cling Wrap / Cling Film
Plastic wrap was a household staple in my kitchen for a long time. And I’m not the only one. A 2019 research study found that in several months, 80 million Americans had used one roll of plastic wrap. And more than five million Americans used over 10 million rolls. As you can imagine, at some point all this plastic has to go somewhere. Plastic wrap is made from two types of chlorides, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). When burned, these polymers release highly toxic chemicals into the environment. In recent years, beeswax wraps have grown in popularity. These more sustainable wraps are coated in wax to help seal the side. They are reusable and washable. While they aren’t an exact replica of the real thing, they are a much more sustainable alternative. Aside from being purchased online, beeswax wraps can be made at home. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet that show you how to make your own wraps at home.
Similar to plastic wrap, paper towels are found in nearly every American household. In a year, Americans used more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels. On a global scale, 254 million paper towels are thrown away each year. These single-use sheets continue to sit in landfills long after they are tossed. When it comes to swapping them out, there are few options. Reusable and washable bamboo cloths are a great option. If every household in the United States used just three rolls less per year than the average, it would save over 120,000 tons of waste. Recently, even sponges are getting a sustainability makeover. Some companies have begun to produce sponges made from natural and plant-based materials instead of the current synthetic manufacturing process. Other more sustainable options include rags and towels. These can be washed by hand or thrown in the washing machine when starting to become too dirty.
Let’s be honest, not many of us can make it out of bed without our morning cup of coffee. Unfortunately, with the rise of single-serving coffee machines came the rise of single-serving coffee pods. Machines like Keurig and Nespresso are in nearly 25 percent of all American households. And their waste only compounds. The number of coffee pods in landfills could wrap the circumference of the earth more than 10 times. While Keurig has tried to remedy its waste by encouraging customers to either recycle their pods or mail them back to the company, it is not enough. The better option is to avoid using these single-serving pods altogether. Companies have come out with a plastic reusable capsule lined with wire mesh. This acts as a single-serve coffee capsule that can be rinsed and reused over and over again. Not only is this option more sustainable, but it is more customisable as well.
Though our world has evolved to offer convenience in nearly every facet, with that has come an exponential increase in what is wasted. Though single-use items can be useful, they ultimately do far more harm than good. Making the switch to reusable and sustainable options is not only better for your long-term health as your exposure to chemicals is reduced, but is so much better for the environment as well. As citizens of this planet, it is time we sacrifice a little convenience for a lot less waste.