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The Single Use Culture

While ordering food late night, chances are, nobody is thinking about the packaging that the food is being delivered in. A single order can contain up to 5-7 units of single use plastics. Aside from the food the set up usually looks like this: Plastic takeaway containers, plastic cutlery, plastic dip containers all packed up in a single use plastic bag. So you’re done with the food in 15 minutes and everything will go into the trash. Decades later, life goes on, but what happens to these plastics? Well! They go nowhere.

The United Nations Environment Programme defines single-use plastics like your plastic fork or spoon as “items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.” These include plastic bags, bottles, straws, cups and cutlery. Relatively inexpensive to producers while fairly convenient to consumers, these plastics have become ubiquitous. If recycled however, their environmental impact is negligible.

With the existential threat of the climate crisis looming, people have decided that instead of plastics, alternative single-use items are the best way to go. Instead of plastic straws and bags, enter paper. This is not the solution though. Even single use degradable products take recourses to produce.  Mass production causes pollution. And still they are all single use. Which means all the production was just to satisfy a 10-15 minute usage and then to be disposed. While these products don’t take as long as plastics to degrade, they’re still single-use. They require raw materials and energy to produce, almost always result in greenhouse gas emissions and eventually contribute to landfills at the end of their short, single-use lives.

Some might argue that single-use plastics and products serve a purpose. In the medical field, plastics can be helpful in preventing infection, particularly in areas where sanitary conditions aren’t always guaranteed. But this makes up a sliver of the single-use plastics we’re talking about, the ones that are creating the patches of garbage floating in the ocean.

Now obviously, you aren’t going to stop ordering take-out. But if you get it, recycling the packaging should be a priority. Once we are able to do this, it will have an immediate positive effect on the environment. But these small steps in our own daily lives must be coupled with change at a higher level.

Moving forward, we must implement policy-centred solutions. Earlier in March, the European Parliament approved a single-use plastics ban on by 2021. This bold change is ideal, but at the very least, we should tax single-use plastic manufacturers at a higher rate.


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