The problem with single use products

So what’s the problem with single use products?

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not realise that July is the month when millions of people all across the world make a pledge to do without some form of single use plastic for the whole month. Plastic (and other items) that are designed to be used once and then discarded are a major, major problem the world over.

Not only do they clog up our landfills, but consider for a moment what happens when these items don’t even make it to landfill in the first place. Mostly they end up in our waterways and oceans, floating endlessly in a sea of plastic junk. Not only is this plainly gross but it wreaks havoc on marine life as well.

Plastic end ups breaking down over time into tiny little fragments called microplastic. What happens with these microplastics is that marine life eat them….and then who ends up eating some marine life? Yeah we do gross huh!

In addition lots of marine life, like turtles end up entangled in items like plastic bags, fishing nets, plastic can rings etc. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 sea turtles are entangled each year by derelict fishing gear washing ashore in northern Australia alone[1]. Can you imagine how big that number is once we go beyond Australia and consider things like plastic bags, straws and beer packaging.

The Big 4

As far as single use plastic items go, there are 4 major pieces that cause the most environmental damage:

  • Plastic Bags
  • Plastic Straws
  • Takeaway Coffee Cups
  • Plastic water bottles

It’s estimated that Australians throw away 4 billion plastic bags each year with around 150 million of these ending up in our waterways and oceans. Only 3% of plastic bags end up being recycled each year[1].

2.47 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year, none of which can be recycled, the reason for this is just that they are too small to go through the recycling process and simply fall through the cracks in the machines thus ending up in landfill[2]. Straws are actually one of the most found items during beach clean ups and can be very damaging to marine life.

1.3 billion water bottles each year are simply thrown away. This in particular I find most horrifying as plastic bottle recycling is reasonably widespread and easy to do. Plastic water bottles take around 450 years to break down and Australians spend a whopping 385 million each year on something we can get for free – from the tap.

Over 1 billion takeaway coffee cups are thrown away each year and the only part of the cup that can go in the recycling is the lid. I’m guessing not many people actually separate out the two parts and that most just end up in landfill.

 

Single use products – for parents and families

As we are a parenting site I can’t go past mentioning some of the biggest single use items for families on the market that contribute to landfill

Disposable Nappies

Goes without saying really, over 3.75 million end up in landfill each year throughout Australia and New Zealand[1]. Disposable nappies take approximately 500 years (or longer) to break down and considering many people don’t empty the contents into the toilet they are pretty much bio hazardous waste which could potentially end up contaminating ground water[2].

 

Disposable Wipes

Whether for nappy changes or wiping faces and hands wet wipes have become insanely popular, I hate to think how many are thrown away each year – I couldn’t actually find the figures but considering you have to you multiple wipes each time the numbers are probably truly staggering. It’s estimated wet wipes take 100 years to break down and they wreak havoc with sewer systems and waterways when flushed. Not only do they create fatbergs which block waste water systems costing millions of public money to fix but if they make their way to the ocean often they get mistaken for jellyfish and eaten by turtles – who then die.

Yoghurt and Baby Food Pouches

Considering the number of children across the country it isn’t a big stretch of the imagination to think about how many yoghurt pouches end up in being consumed for snacks and lunches each day, add in the number of babies who may be munching their way through some Heinz Organic food and we are easily looking at thousands upon thousands of throw away packing every single day.

Disposable Breast Pads

I’m not even able to get a statistic on how many are sold each year but I’m guessing Australian Mums went through thousands of throw away breast pads last year. Similar to sanitary products these will take hundreds of years to break down.

What can we do?

Well I’m a big believer in not only that every little bit helps but small things add up over time. Initiatives like plastic free July are great in that by participating we essentially start considering our consumer choices and become much more aware of the actions we take and the decisions we make.

Start small if you need to, choose one thing you feel comfortable with and swap it over for a reusable alternative. You’d be surprised how easy and natural it becomes. Then once you have managed that consider other areas and items that you could make changes to. Once you start with change you will quickly notice how aware you become of other areas with alternative choices and options.

Reach out and ask for help! If something doesn’t make sense or you just can’t seem to get it down pat ask others – friends, colleagues, facebook groups. You’ll be surprised how many passionate people there are willing to take the time and share their knowledge.

And the best thing – Not only in going reusable earth friendly but it’s also budget friendly. That’s a double bonus in my book.

Reusable Alternatives:

Facebook Groups for help and advice:

  1. War on Waste Au
  2. All things reusable Australia and New Zealand
  3. MCN Reviews Uncensored
  4. Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under
  5. Ecotree Baby Boutique Green Parenting Community

 

References

[1] Nappies – http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/You-and-Your-Home/Live-sustainably/Single-use-items/Nappies

[2] Disposable nappies – are they stinking up our planet – http://www.australianscience.com.au/environmental-science/disposable-nappies-are-they-stinking-up-our-planet/

[3] Plastic Bags – http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/You-and-Your-Home/Live-sustainably/Single-use-items/Plastic-bags

[4 Straws – http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/You-and-Your-Home/Live-sustainably/Single-use-items/Straws

[5] Plastic and how it affects our oceans – http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-02-27/plastic-and-plastic-waste-explained/8301316