What are single-use plastics?

Plastic goods that are designed to be disposed of immediately after use.

They are often used in packaging and service ware.

Examples include bottles, plastic utensils, and bags.

Photo by Foto T on Unsplash

Environmental impact of single-use plastics

Plastic production emits greenhouse gases, which cause global warming.

Plastic is produced from oil and gas. Forests and wetlands are often cleared to drill for these materials.

91% of all plastic  isn’t recycled at all, and ends up in landfills or in the environment.

Single-use plastics are often not accepted by recycling centers. They are difficult to recycle because they fall into the cracks of recycling machinery.

Photo by Antoine GIRET on Unsplash

Health impacts of plastics on humans and wildlife

Over time, plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they eventually become " microplastics ".

Microplastics are hard to detect and exist virtually everywhere.

Humans and wildlife (especially aquatic wildlife) unintentionally consume microplastics, which can cause serious health problems.

When plastic is burned, it releases toxic fumes which become a health hazard for residents, leading to everything from  skin rashes to cancer .

Photo by Shane Nixon on Unsplash

Where are you using single-use plastics?

Each of us making small changes to our habits can add up to a larger impact.

Start by noticing when and where you're using plastics and throwing them away right after.

Is there a way you can replace the single-use plastic with something reusable?

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Quiz

Which of the following is one way to lessen your environmental impact?

Order take-out food more often

Keep reusable cutlery in your bag

Double bag your groceries

Buy individually packaged foods

Ways you can avoid single-use plastics

  • Use a reusable bag when shopping.

  • Use a reusable water bottle.

  • Cook more often, to reduce your use of plastic-heavy takeout containers.

  • Buy in bulk. Avoid individually packaged goods, like snack packs.

  • Rather than buying online - walk, bike, or take public transit to buy in-person.

  • Avoid plastic wrap altogether by storing leftovers in reusable containers.

  • Keep a straw and cutlery in your bag for eating on the go.

  • Ask restaurants/cafes if they have nonplastic alternatives to plastic straws, stirrers, or bags.

  • Support local plastic bans

    Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

Summary

Changing a habit is gradual, and takes practice.

Start by asking yourself, what is one way this week I can be responsible for less plastic waste? When and where am I using single-use plastics?

Asking these questions and changing your personal habits can inspire others to think about their own actions.

Breaking the single-use plastic habit is a small but important way to be more kind to the environment.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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This Byte has been authored by

TT

Tressa Thompson

Graduate Student in International Education at New York University