12 Disposable Items That You Didn't Know Contain Plastic
If someone asked you to list every plastic product in your home you would probably think it an easy task. The pile of shopping bags that you have stuffed in a drawer in the kitchen, the water bottles stored in the fridge, the containers for most of the toiletries in your bathroom – all of these would be the first things that come to mind. But not all plastic products are as easily identifiable.
There are hidden plastics in a lot of the items we use on a regular basis that, without knowing, we continue to throw in the bin and dispose of in ways that are harmful to the planet and contributing to plastic pollution.
Once we know better, we do better. Many of these items have eco-friendly alternatives or can be repurposed rather than thrown in the bin but you need to know which products are the problem in order to find the right solution.
So, here are some of those items that you probably didn’t know contain plastic…
Over 11 billion receipts are printed every year and almost all of these end up in the bin, but what is the problem with them?
These receipts are printed on a thermal paper which uses the same chemicals found in products like single-use straws - Bisphenol A (BPA) and BPS. Both of these substances react to the heat from the printer to create the numbers and letters that you see on your receipt.
BPA and BPS have been banned from other plastic products due to how harmful they are when ingested in large amounts. Not to mention, these toxic chemicals make receipts non-recyclable.
Fortunately, technology now means that we don't need a physical receipt and many shops provide the option of having the receipt sent directly to your email address rather than printed at the till.
Next time you get asked the question – go paperless.
Chewing gum may seem like a harmless method of keeping your breath minty fresh but it's actually a polymer which is a plastic made from oil. In fact, this substance is what gives the gum its chewiness and it’s quite similar to the stuff used in car tyres.
Luckily, there are now plastic-free alternatives available in most shops so look out for those next time you go to grab a pack of gum.
Not such a surprise for many but those cups used for your coffee to go are lined with plastic polyethylene to make the container waterproof and capable of holding a liquid.
Due to the difficulty of recycling these items, less than 1% actually make it which means that over 2 billion coffee cups end up in a landfill every year.
The solution: reusable coffee cups are readily available and can be taken to any coffee shop to refill any time you need your caffeine-fix.
Maybe this isn't as regularly used an item as the others on this list but its overall yearly consumption is huge. Glitter can be found in make-up, arts and crafts kits and in most Christmas decorations which contributes to the millions of tons of micro-plastics found embedded in the sea floor every year.
Traditional glitter is made from polyester PET film which is coated with aluminium and then covered with another thin plastic layer. Though there are efforts being made to phase this out and replace it with a biodegradable alternative there is still work to be done so, until then, ditch the unnecessary glitter.
Polypropylene is a non-recyclable and non-biodegradable sealing plastic used to keep tea bags from falling apart.
It's still popular amongst many of the big-name brands but, thankfully, a lot of companies are now starting to use biodegradable or compostable alternatives. In fact, Tea Pigs was one of the first tea companies to receive the plastic-free trust mark.
However, you need to proceed with caution in this area. When shopping for tea, be wary of claims of 'plastic-free' that are not supported by substantial evidence as it has been noted that many tea brands are using green-washing tactics to market themselves as being more eco-friendly than they truly are.
Clothes are a huge part of the plastic pollution problem with 60% of the material used in clothing worldwide being a form of plastic, such as polyester and nylon.
These microfibres end up in the ocean when clothes are put in the washing machine and in landfills when clothes are thrown in the bin.
There are so many ways to reduce this problem. Not only can you shop more considerately by buying less and more sustainably by going to thrift shops, but your clothing can be repurposed, resold, donated or recycled when you are done with it. This will massively reduce the amount of perfectly good clothing that ends up going to waste.
Although smoking is on the decline, 16% of adults in England do still smoke which means hundreds of millions of cigarettes are being consumed every month.
Of course, this is a major health issue due to the harm that smoking itself does but it is also damaging our environment.
Cigarette filters are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate and with cigarette butts often ending up in bins or littered on streets, this plastic product ends up in our oceans.
It is easy to say the solution is to stop smoking but this isn't so simple for many people. A more realistic option is to use the eco-friendly, biodegradable alternatives on the market of which there are now many.
It's easy to assume that soft drink cans are made solely out of aluminium but this is not completely true. All cans are lined with a plastic resin to stop the drink inside corroding the aluminium. In fact, a brilliant article by Wired reported that without that shield, a can of Coke would corrode in three days!
Fortunately, this doesn't make it impossible or difficult to recycle your aluminium cans but it doesn't hurt to know what's really inside that can next time you crack one open so that you may consider drinking a few less.
Those seemingly harmless squares of tissue that we use to wipe our hands, remove make-up and clean surfaces aren't so innocent after all. 90% of wet wipes contain some sort of plastic and, considering that they are the third most littered item on UK beaches and regularly flushed down the toilet, they are massively contributing to the plastic pollution problem.
There are eco-friendly solutions out there but it's important to be aware that just because it’s labelled 'flushable' it doesn't also mean that it's biodegradable.
Shopping more carefully and paying close attention to labelling is the first step in combating this issue. Oh, and stop flushing them down the toilet!
The fact that menstrual products contain plastic probably isn't a huge surprise, but the sheer amount of plastic being used might be.
Menstrual pads contain up to 90% plastic whilst tampons up to 6% and with the average menstruating person using over 11,000 pads and tampons over their lifetime, this equates to a huge amount of waste.
Recently, the market has seen a surge in the number of brands trying to create functional, plastic-free alternatives that are not only better for the environment, but for your body too. There are quite a few options out there so it's likely that you can find one that works for you, from organic cotton tampons with plant-based applicators and reusable organic cotton pads to, of course, the menstrual cup – all eco-friendly options that really work.
For anyone over the age of 12, stickers are probably not that commonplace in our day to day lives. The problem is more so with the stickers used for packaging the products that we consume. Those sticker labels on the produce that we buy at the supermarket are the main culprit.
Though the solution is out of our hands as we are the end buyer and these are products that we should be able to buy as much of as we need, luckily, something is being done about it. Stores are looking at eco-friendly alternatives to help tackle the issue so, fingers crossed, this makes its way into your local supermarket sometime soon.
The surprise isn't that a lot of plasters are made of plastic because this is usually labelled on the product, it's that plastic plasters are even still popular when there are so many better, eco-friendly alternatives.
There are organic cotton plasters which are far more comfortable, or biodegradable plasters made from organic bamboo fibres. They aren't hard to find nor are they much more expensive than their harmful plastic counterparts so we encourage you to go plastic-free next time you need to refill your first aid kit.