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What is single-use plastic and why is it a problem?


Read time: 6mins


With Summer on the way, many of us are gearing up for a social season of fun with our loved ones. This means party season is here! And with that, a dramatic rise in party essentials - the main item? Single-use plastic.

You've probably heard about single-use plastic. But what is it exactly? Why is it causing a problem and what are the alternatives to single-use plastic?

Let's find out!

Single-use plastic definition

In the United States, approximately 37 million plastic tons are used annually. Of this, packaging and food-service plastics represent about 16 million tons, and these are typically “single-use.” They are called single-use plastic because they are made to be used only once.

On average, Americans consume 100 pounds per person, per year, of packaging and food-service plastics. The global scale of single-use plastic waste is devastating and is sadly on the rise after the pandemic. The responses to COVID-19 have resulted in increased use of plastic products such as masks, gloves, and certain types of packaging made from long-lasting single-use plastics, causing additional greenhouse gas and other emissions. Many countries that have placed a ban on single-use items, such as plastic straws, retracted the ban to cater to the demands during the pandemic.

Most plastic items may be "single-use" but they are also long-lasting taking up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Single-use plastic examples

Single-use plastic is pretty much everywhere. Because of how easy and convenient these items are, we encounter them every day, pretty much everywhere. They are particularly used in the restaurant industry for takeouts but also at home when organizing a party, an event, a picnic...

Think of:

  • plastic straws
  • plastic plates
  • plastic cups
  • plastic forks, knives, spoons
  • plastic to-go containers
  • plastic bags
  • ... and more!

Single-use plastic facts

The billions upon billions of items of single-use plastic waste choking our oceans, lakes, and rivers and piling up on land are more than unsightly and harmful to plants and wildlife. Plastic pollution is very real and single-use plastics are small in size but have a large and lasting impact. Plastic is found everywhere, from the deep oceans to mountain tops. Here are some recent facts that we’ve learned that may really surprise you:

  • Around 380 million metric tons of plastic are being produced yearly. 8.3 BILLION Metric Tons (9.1 BILLION US Tons) of plastic products have been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s.
  • The amount of plastic used each year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity.
  • Around 91% of plastics are not recycled.
  • Humans use around 1.2 million plastic bottles per minute.
  • Virtually every single piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists.
  • Five trillion plastic bags are produced worldwide annually.
  • It can take up to 1,000 years for a bag to disintegrate completely.
  • At least 14 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year.

So with all of this being said, it has clearly never been more important to be mindful of our plastic consumption.

Celebrate Plastic-Free July

Plastic Free July® is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Not to mention this mission was created to take targeted action to combat the effects of global warming. The idea of the campaign is to avoid single-use items for the entire month of July. This means no plastic coffee cups, straws, plates, utensils, takeout boxes, etc. The first Plastic Free July was back in 2011 and was started by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and a few people from the local Western Australian Government. It's truly incredible that a small campaign in Australia is now known around the world with millions of participants from numerous different countries. It really showcases that the actions of a few can impact the actions of many! It’s living proof that everything you do matters - we think it’s really inspiring.

Celebrating Plastic-Free July is a great way to both raise awareness of the importance of reducing our single-use plastic consumption and find alternatives to single-use plastic!

You'll be both surprised by the quantity of plastic you use daily and thrilled to find more natural, toxin-free alternatives for your needs!

Alternatives to single-use plastic

Living entirely plastic-free in today's society can be really hard. The goal is not to do it all or nothing! Wherever you start, your small actions can make a difference. Don't get discouraged by the amount of waste you're producing. Start step by step. Integrate one change at a time and you'll be positively surprised by how much waste you can avoid producing!

During your plastic-free month, take account of the plastic waste you're generating and ask yourself which alternatives you can use instead.

Here is an easy plastic-free swap you can make:

Instead of buying single-use plastic dinnerware - choose our compostable plates, bowls, and cutlery. They are also single-use, but the huge difference is that once you're done using them, you can throw them away in your compost. They'll decompose and turn into healthy fertilizers instead!

How to take part in Plastic-Free July?

The Plastic-Free July website is jam-packed and full of ideas. From how to reduce your plastic consumption at home, at work, at school, and event ideas to share with your community. The good news is that anyone can get involved. You can start out small, or really challenge yourself! We’ve collected our favorite ideas here to hopefully inspire you:

  • At work consider doing a ‘bin audit’ - are you recycling, composting, and throwing away trash correctly?
  • Switch from single-use plastic to compostable for your summer parties. We highly recommend our stylish and durable Plantry range which you can check out here
  • For teachers - consider reducing the amount of plastic waste in your classrooms by engaging in plastic-free activities. You could even consider weaving this theme into your lessons or creating a plastic-free class project. Find out more here
  • Host a sustainable plastic-free party to help spread the word and inspire others to join you. Check out our blog all about it here.

Will you choose to go plastic-free this July? If you do let us know! Tag us on Instagram so that we can cheer you on. Who knows, you may just create a brand new habit that sticks AND at the same time encourage someone else to start their plastic-free journey!

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