The problem is single use
Plastic is an incredibly useful material; it is water resistant and lightweight, it can be used for almost anything. The problem is the way we use it. SINGLE USE is the problem. Creating something from a durable material with the intention of only using it once is a massive design flaw.
So let’s redesign this. We can redesign the system that requires single use items. By working towards a circular economy, we can aim to keep resources and materials in use for longer. This is where reuse comes in.
Reusables can work out cheaper AND better for the environment than disposable options. A good example of this is buying one water bottle that you can refill with free water rather than buying single use water bottles.
Even if your reusable coffee cup or silicon straw are destined to end up in landfill at the end of their life, they will still have replaced countless single use alternatives along with the energy to make, transport and dispose of them.
What about recycling?
While recycling does keep resources in use for longer, most materials are ‘downcycled’ and degrade through the process. This also means that once things have been through the system once, they are generally not accepted by recycling facilities again - essentially those resources get one extra loop before going to landfill.
The current global recycling system is pretty volatile. It is hard to be certain that what we think is being recycled, is actually getting recycled. It is also important to ask where that is happening and what these materials are being turned into.
Recycling gives us an easy way out - if that plastic packaging is going to be used again then we don’t have to change our behaviour. But the reality is that the recycling infrastructure we have isn’t very effective. We need to change our behaviour.
What about compostable single use items?
‘Compostable’ is an empty phase at this point in time. There are no regulations around ‘bio plastics’ or ‘commercially compostable plastics’ in New Zealand. This means that: they may contain ingredients that are not as environmentally friendly as we may want to believe; many commercial composting facilities don't actually accept them for composting; and most importantly, they are still single use. If we just switch to compostable single use items we are not fixing the problem (the system), only the symptom (the tangible output). We are still using energy and resources to make something that will be used once and disposed of.
Preventing waste from being created is the best option and the only way to a circular economy. So if you want to reduce your environmental impact, reusables will go a long way!