Updated: May 5, 2021
We all know that single-use plastic, or really any plastic in general, is a significant contributor to the amount of pollution that exists in the world. Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic end up in the world’s oceans, and that adds up to 8-14 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every year. The plastic that ends up in the oceans then impacts the purity of our water, the wildlife living in our oceans, and stays floating around for years to come. That being said, some of the plastic we are producing and ultimately throwing away comes in forms that most of us don’t even know about. So if you’re wondering just what else you’re throwing away — besides the packaging, containers, straws, bags, and plastic bottles among other things of course — contains plastic, this blog post will cover some of the other inconspicuous ways plastic has been incorporated into the simplest everyday items around your home.
Do any of you drink tea on a regular basis? Maybe in the morning before heading out to work or in the early evening before dinner? Well, chances are that that tea bag that you used has plastic in it. Most brands, such as Twinings, PG Tips, Yorkshire Tea, and Tetley, have said that their regular tea bags are not actually plastic-free, with most containing some form of oil-based plastic in order for them to be able to heat seal these bags and prevent the tea leaves from falling out. Most tea bags are even said to contain up to 25% plastic, which releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics every time the tea bag reaches brewing temperatures. That is a significant number of micro and nanoplastics entering your body through your tea alone, which isn’t good for your body. So what’s the alternative? Some companies, such as PG Tips and Tetley, are in the process of developing biodegradable, plant-based tea bags for use in the future, Pukka doesn’t heat seal their teabags and instead opts to fold them in a unique way before stitching them with cotton, while Clipper uses bioplastics to create their tea bags instead. But the time-tested and most effective way of removing the plastic from your teabags would be buying loose tea leaves and a tea leaf strainer instead, cutting out the use for tea bags entirely.
While it may seem obvious that sanitary products have plastic in them, from the applicators that come with tampons, to the plastic lining on the bottom of pads, along with the significant amount of plastic packaging these products come with, what you might not have known is that the absorbing portion of sanitary pads and tampons also have plastic incorporated into them. Sanitary pads have plastic incorporated into the top cotton layer in order to seal any fluids it collects within the pad, while tampons have a thick layer of plastic around the absorbing portion for the same reason. That being said, tampons are approximately 6% plastic, while sanitary pads are 90% plastic, which is equivalent to 4 plastic bags. Multiply those figures with the fact that the average person who menstruates will eventually throw away 200kg worth of menstrual products throughout their lifetime, and you’re looking at a significant amount of plastic pollution being generated by a single person. So what’s the alternative? There are several products on the market that are much more sustainable options, such as menstrual cups, reusable pads, and biodegradable sanitary products, which would all produce significantly less waste compared to your conventional sanitary pads and tampons. To learn more about those sustainable options, check out our article on “How to Incorporate Sustainability Into Your Periods”.
Containers that Hold Liquids
If you’re more of a coffee person and couldn’t relate to the section on teabags above, this section is for you. The “paper” cups that most of us use to have that morning coffee on the way to work? Those aren’t plastic-free either. In order for them to hold your coffee without leakage, the inner wall of those paper cups are typically lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic polymer, in order to keep the paper waterproof. This same logic is applicable to milk and juice cartons you buy from the supermarket, as those cartons also need to be waterproof to contain liquids. That’s pretty deceptive right? If you think about the 16 billion paper cups disposed per year, along with the 470,000 tons of milk cartons thrown away annually, that is a lot of plastic being used and disposed of in a year from products that seem to be, for the most part, created from paper materials. The worst part is that these cups and cartons are difficult to recycle due to the hybrid nature of the material, which means most of these cups and cartons end up in landfills waiting to decompose or be incinerated. So what’s the alternative? Consider bringing your own coffee mug or tumbler the next time you grab a cup of coffee in order to remove the use of paper cups entirely out of your routine, or buying alternatives to your cartoned products that are packaged in glass bottles to reduce your plastic consumption.
This might come as a shock, but chewing gum also contains plastic. Some of the basic ingredients for chewing gum are polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate, which are two types of plastic bases used to give chewing gum their stretchy and rubbery feel. This is the same material you’ll find lining your paper cups and cartons, so imagine putting those plastics in your mouth and chewing on them, not to mention what you are putting in your stomach if you accidentally swallow your gum. The worst part of this is that chewing gum companies are not required to release information on what ingredients are included in their chewing gum bases, which means consumers, like yourself, are unaware of the plastic you are consuming and ultimately disposing of only for a couple of good chews. So what’s the alternative? With this case, it may simply be better to find alternative snacks to eat, such as mints, chips, biscuits,sweets, or other plastic-free packaged snacks to appease your need to munch on something.
You probably knew that fish and other marine life that exist in our oceans have plastic in their stomachs, but maybe you don’t realize the extent of our world’s plastic problem. First of all, 1 in 3 fish that are caught for human consumption have plastic in their stomachs — typically in the form of micro or nanoplastics — which means those micro and nanoplastics end up in our stomachs as well. Researchers have also stated that 100% of baby turtles that currently exist have microplastics in their stomach, and not to mention all the instances where marine life have gotten caught in plastic waste floating in the ocean, from beer six-pack rings to nylon fishing nets and plastic bags. There is also the fact that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch exists and is growing bigger year by year, constantly ruining more and more of the world’s marine ecosystem and becoming a hazard to the wildlife living in our oceans. So what’s the alternative? Well, with this case it is not so much about finding an alternative as opposed to encouraging all of us to reduce, and if possible eliminate, our plastic consumption so that hopefully and eventually see a day where the fish in our oceans don’t have microplastics in their stomachs.
Hopefully you’ve been enlightened to just some of the ways plastic has snuck into aspects of our lives that we least expect, as well as ways you can eliminate these unexpected sources of plastic from your daily lifestyle. But, there are so many other ways plastic has been unintentionally incorporated into your life, as well as so many ways for us all to reduce our reliance on plastic. So if you want to learn more about reducing your plastic consumption, lifestyles that accomodate this, or just environmentalism and sustainability in general, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, stay tuned for more blog posts, and follow us on Instagram @wellmadewrld !