Can we live without single-use plastics? And are there good-enough alternatives?
We are so used to the convenience that single-use plastics give us that we barely pay attention to how much they serve our daily lives. We take them for granted, call them technological advancement, and accept them as part of our standard of living. It is okay to go for a walk and buy ourselves a cup of coffee from the bakery down the street. But what happens with the single-use plastics when we are done with them? Well, they end up in the trash of course. We might secretly hope they are to be recycled, but truth is, they rarely are. Same goes for straws, plastic ware, stirrers, plates, Styrofoam containers, cotton buds, cigarette butts, sticks for balloons. Those are only the first 10 most common single-use plastic items found on European beaches.
The good thing is they have sustainable alternatives such as bamboo straws, paper cups, plates, containers and cutlery. This is one of the reasons that the European Union has resolved to ban the use of single-use plastics on its territory starting July 2021. The law, called Single-Use Plastics Directive, aims to prevent, and reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, in particular the aquatic environment, and on human health. It says:
In the European Union, 80% to 85% of marine litter, measured as beach litter counts, is plastic, with single-use plastic items representing 50% and fishing-related items representing 27% of the total. […] Single-use plastic products and fishing gear containing plastic are therefore a particularly serious problem in the context of marine litter, pose a severe risk to marine ecosystems, to biodiversity and to human health. (from the DIRECTIVE (EU) 2019/904 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL)
Have you ever wondered how much time it takes for plastics to decompose?
From a couple of dozen to hundreds of years, maybe even millions, we are not sure yet. Here are the degrade periods of some single-use plastic products we have been using on a daily basis.
Plastic bags – 20 years
Takeaway coffee cups – 30 years
Plastic straws – 200 years
6 pack plastic rings – 400 years
Plastic bottles – 450 years
Styrofoam – from 500 to a million years (https://www.ecofriendlyhabits.com/styrofoam-facts/)
What makes plastic so difficult to decompose?
Plastic is made of processed petroleum and is unrecognized by the organisms that normally break down organic matter.
Sunlight can degrade it, but it does not reach the plastics stored in containers or deposited underground.
We certainly need to think about more sustainable alternatives, because plastics is polluting our land, our water supply and food.
In the next few weeks, we will give you sustainable alternatives to the single-use plastics that the EU has set to ban on its territory.