Grocery shopping bags, holiday drinking cups, and bottles of our favorite drinks seem like harmless objects. However, in the large dimensions in which they are manufactured and consumed, these single-use plastics are damaging the ecosystem in an irreversible way.
The data on plastic waste are alarming and place the seas and oceans as the main affected spaces. It is already known the existence of 5 islands formed by plastic waste around the world; some exceed France and Spain in size. As a result, marine wildlife and birds are severely affected.
Limiting single-use plastics is an urgent measure that large corporations and governments must take. But in addition, it is an action that can be adopted from everyday life to collaborate with the reduction of pollution.
What are single-use plastics?
These are objects made with plastic materials, whose objective is the use only once, and then be discarded. Plastics are made through fossil fuels, such as natural gas, oil and coal, and represent an ever-increasing production. Of course, this causes the pollution of the planet to worsen, since the material is one of the most harmful to the environment.
While plastic production has existed since the nineteenth century, it is in recent decades when it had an explosion of popularity. Large companies identified that costs were reduced if, for example, they introduced plastic instead of glass for beverage bottles. This is just one example among many.
But the truth is that production increased disproportionately. Next to it, the generation of waste.
The environmental consequences of this industry are fatal and most directly impact the oceans. A study by several specialists, published in the journal Science, revealed that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually.
The numbers could worsen considerably if immediate action is not taken. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions linked to the plastic circuit are estimated to account for 15% of total emissions. All this accumulation of waste in the seas has generated unprecedented phenomena in the history of the planet.
For example, the appearance of 5 islands formed by plastic garbage. This is because such material takes centuries to degrade.
When discarded and exposed to the sun, it breaks into pieces, giving rise to microplastics that accumulate in the ocean. The best known is the large Pacific island, located in the western United States, near Hawaii. It is estimated that it has an area of 1.8 million square kilometers, so it triples the size of Spain.
How do we consume single-use plastics?
These objects are immersed in everyday practices of all kinds. So naturalized is the consumption of single-use plastics, that it is often difficult to realize.
This excessive consumption, also expanded during the last 5 decades, is linked to the proliferation of the throwaway culture. Also to fast food and take away.
According to UN data, 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while 500 billion bags are used per year. They are some of the most used objects in everyday practice. However, single-use plastics exist for multiple functions.
Glasses, cutlery and unicel
These are elements widely used in parties of all kinds. Although they avoid the task of washing, their disposal contributes to the tons of plastic waste, since it takes decades to degrade.
Both the utensils for events, such as the unicel or telgopor, are made with polystyrene. It is advisable to avoid it in food packaging and packaging, due to the hundreds of years it takes to decompose.
Bottles and caps
In addition to the huge global production of bottles, the big problem is the long period of degradation. It can reach up to almost half a century.
The plastic used for its manufacture, in general, is polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET. While caps and stoppers are made from polypropylene. The positive thing is that these are recyclable materials.
Despite being an important children’s entertainment, balloons and sticks to hold them are very harmful to the environment. The recent restrictive measures adopted by the European Union include them.
One of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastics is this. Shopping bags are produced in large quantities and can take more than 100 years to decompose.
Many countries have already taken steps to replace them; a task that also falls to individual consumers. On the other hand, there are garbage bags made of low-density polyethylene, also used in plastic wrap and freezer bags.
Other single-use plastics
- Swabs or swabs. The object used to sanitize the ear is a single-use plastic that takes 300 years to disappear.
- Straws. These drinking objects can take up to a century to disappear. In addition, they are one of the elements that most affect marine species.
- Cigarettes. Cigarette butts or filters, made with cellulose acetate, take between 1 and 10 years to degrade.
- Hygiene items. In addition to swabs, objects such as tampons and pads are also made up of single-use plastics.
- Wrappers. Snacks and candies should not only be avoided in food, but their packaging is very harmful to the environment.
Avoid single-use plastics
The magnitude of the problem requires urgent solutions from the authorities. That is why the European Union approved, in 2019, a directive to reduce the consumption of these elements. The rule, which went into effect in 2021, bans the sale of some single-use plastics, such as utensils, straws and swabs.
In addition, it requires member countries to allocate a percentage of plastics for recycling. For its part, Spain approved the Waste Law in 2022, in which the measures of the European Union are complied with.
Taxes are also created on single-use plastic packaging and waste generation. Other countries trying to get back on track include Bangladesh, where plastic bags have been banned for 20 years, and Chile.
Bags are also banned, or on their way, in New Zealand, in several countries in Africa and in some cities in the United States. The UN General Assembly committed to drawing up a legally binding agreement by the end of 2024, with the commitment of more than 175 countries.
It is designed to modify the complete cycle of plastic in the world, from its production to its form of disposal.
Individual actions to replace single-use plastics
Beyond government measures, the lower consumption of these plastics also contributes to the reduction of waste. For example, carrying cloth bags to do the shopping or acquiring reusable utensils to organize an event.
The consumption of bulk products avoids packaging. Replacing hygiene items with reusable ones is also a useful and achievable measure.
Some objects may be ear buds or toothbrush. It is preferable to choose less polluting materials, such as wood, ceramics or bamboo.
As a user of certain businesses or companies, it is important to require them to take into account the care of the environment. Either expressing messages on networks or issuing personal comments.