SWRC Blog: It’s not just the plastic

SWRC Blog: It’s not just the plastic
The world is pretty upset with disposable plastic items these days. They’re filling up oceans, hanging around in landfills and littering landscapes; and yes, we need to reduce these things. Creating disposable products from plastics is a waste of resources and of potential. Plastic is capable of so much more.

But the issue is bigger than just plastics. It’s about single-use items in general. So, in addition to straws, bags, and cutlery, we need to consider items not made from plastic that are also designed for single use, like coffee cups, compostable containers, glass juice bottles. All still disposable, just not plastic.

Instead of asking the question “is this made of plastic?” we should be asking “is this made to be used only once?” If the answer is yes, then the question to ask is the reduction one. Can we do without this item? For me, if there is a straw in my drink, I use it, but if there isn’t, I don’t miss it. I can do without a straw – a paper one is no better in a landfill than a plastic one. Changing the material does not change the heart of the problem. Not making the straw in the first place is the best choice. Another example: one retailer instructed its staff to always ask “do you need a bag with that?” and reduced its bag use by over 60 percent. We don’t ask the “do I need it?” question enough.

If the answer is yes, I do need it, the question becomes “is there a reusable alternative?”. The good news is that, for nearly every single-use item you can think of, there is a reusable option – coffee cups, straws, shopping bags, handkerchiefs, cleaning cloths … you name it, there’s a reusable option out there somewhere. Keeping things in circulation is the key.

[If we kept track of all the single-use items we avoided by choosing reusables, it could be pretty powerful. By rough calculation, my 25 year use of reusable shopping bags has avoided 14,000 single use bags, and that’s just one household. There is tremendous potential in reduction and reuse.]

So yes, let’s get rid of disposable plastics. But let’s also work on getting rid of our disposable culture and move to a more circular, sustainable one.