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Single-use plastic items including straws bottles and bags © Shutterstock / Footage.ua / WWF

Single-use plastic items including straws bottles and bags © Shutterstock / Footage.ua / WWF

10 worst single-use plastics and eco-friendly alternatives

01 Jul 2019

Keywords
  • sustainable living
  • plastic

Plastic is an incredible material, made to last forever.


So what’s the deal with single-use plastics? Around 40% of plastics consumed are single-use. While convenient, they’re discarded after just one use. The amount of time, energy and effort that goes into producing, exporting and importing these products just doesn’t add up - especially if they’re made to last forever. 


 

Where do single-use plastics go once we’ve used them? Shockingly, only 12% of plastics used in Australia ends up recycled. For years, we’ve been sending our plastic waste overseas to be processed, but now countries like China have refused to accept 99% of our rubbish. These days, our recyclable waste often ends up stockpiled in landfill, littered by the sides of roads, in our parks, nature and oceans.


Something needs to change. With your help, we’re asking our Australian leaders to start fixing this urgent waste crisis by phasing out the 10 worst single-use plastics.


Here are the 10 worst single-use plastics and some eco-friendly alternatives you can swap them for!


1. Plastic Straws

Thorny seahorse and a plastic straw in the ocean © Shutterstock / Krzysztof Bargiel / WWF

 

In Australia, 2.47 billion plastic straws end up in landfill. They’re lightweight, so once they’re dropped or discarded, plastic straws easily blow into waterways and enter our oceans. Once in our oceans, they’re extremely dangerous for our marine wildlife. There have been instances where sea turtles have had plastic straws lodged painfully in their nostrils.


Plastic free alternatives: Stainless steel straws, bamboo straws, pasta straws and rice straws (yes, they’re a thing!). For those that like the flexibility of plastic straws, there are other eco-friendly alternatives including paper straws, reusable silicone straws and compostable plant-based straws. Or best of all - and when possible, choose to go straw-free!


2. Plastic Drink Stirrers

Cocktail stirrers are a fun accessory for drinks, but most are made from plastic and only used once before the novelty of them fades and they’re thrown away. They end up in the trash, on our beaches and in our oceans.


Plastic free alternatives: Reusable glass or bamboo stirrers, or spoons! Or try a stick of celery, carrot or cucumber. Why not go herbal and try a stick of rosemary?


3. Balloon Sticks

What goes up must eventually come down. While balloons are a nice decorative item for celebrations, they’re one of the highest-risk plastic debris items for seabirds. Not only are the balloons themselves deadly, but so are the plastic sticks that often come with them.


Plastic free alternatives: Plan a planet-friendly party and skip the balloons. Opt for more eco-friendly decoration options like paper lanterns, recycled bunting, DIY bubble blowers and flowers.


4. Plastic Cotton Buds

Did you know that 1.5 billion cotton buds are produced every day, with the average person disposing of 415 a year? Sadly, many of these cotton buds end up in our oceans. Once the cotton tips dissolve, all that’s left is essentially a small, rigid plastic stick which is easily ingested by birds, fish and other marine wildlife.


Plastic free alternatives: Fluid ear washes, bamboo cotton buds, organic cotton makeup pads or a reusable silicon swab like The Last Swab. It comes in two designs - one for swabbing your ears and one for makeup. (And like my granny used to say - “Stick nothing in your ears smaller than your elbow!”).  


5 & 6. Coffee Cups & Lids

Discarded disposable coffee cups litter the streets © Elizabeth Dalziel / WWF-UK

 

Australians sure love coffee! If we lined up all the takeaway coffee cups we used in Australia each year, it would stretch around our Earth twice! Around 2.6 billion coffee cups end up in landfills each year.


It’s important to note that most takeaway coffee cups can’t be recycled as they’re made with a plastic lining.


The good news is that there are plenty of cafes that now offer discounts on your morning brew if you bring in your own reusable cup. 


Plastic free alternatives: Reusable glass Keep Cups, porcelain mugs or have your coffee dining in!


7. Plastic Cutlery

Plastic forks and cutlery in nature CC0 filmbetrachterin / pixabay

 

Eating out and getting takeaway often comes with more than just food. Plastic cutlery and plastic bags often come in the mix.


In Australia, plastic cutlery isn’t easily recycled. Recycling machines often can’t sort them due to their shape, so many end up in landfills and take centuries to degrade.


Eco-friendly alternatives: Next time you order takeaway, make a special request to say no to the additional plastic. Switch to reusable bamboo utensils, a travel cutlery set that you can take with you wherever you go or bring your own from home! Chopsticks are also a great alternative to have in your bag if you’re planning on getting takeaway.


8. Plastic Cups

500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year. That's enough to go around the Earth 1,360 times! While lightweight and convenient, foam cups (made from polystyrene) can’t be collected by most council kerbside recycling services and often end up as trash in landfills. 


Plastic free alternatives: Bring your own reusable cup or a mason jar if you’re planning a trip to your favourite juice or smoothie shop. You can also help encourage your favourite cafes and food retailers to switch to eco-friendly and compostable alternatives.


9. Plastic Containers

Disposable plastic cutlery and containers used at food markets © Elizabeth Dalziel / WWF-UK

 

Globally, over 78 million metric tonnes of plastic packaging is produced every year and it’s projected that plastic production will increase by 40% by 2030. The packaging industry is the largest converter of virgin plastics, and many of these are only used once for food packaging, shopping bags and beverage bottles.


Plastic free alternatives: Avoid pre-packaged meals. Most food outlets will happily put the food directly into your own reusable container if you ask. Some options for containers include glass containers, stainless steel lunch boxes and mason jars. You can also shop at bulk food stores and bring your own containers to fill. If you’re eating out, why not ask your favourite outlets to switch to compostable and eco-friendly alternatives?


10. Plastic Plates

Plastic plates might be cheap and handy when hosting parties or at picnics or food courts, but once they’re thrown away, they often end up as trash in landfills. Most recycling centres are unable to sort these plates due to their shape.


Plastic free alternatives: Glass or porcelain plates. Alternatively, palm leaf or bamboo pulp plates.


Help us ensure our spectacular nature doesn’t go to waste - ask our Australian politicians to start fixing this crisis by phasing out these 10 single-use plastics today! Click here to sign the petition.

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