Single-Use Plastics

Overview of Single-Use Plastics and their effect on the Earth:

Also known as disposable plastics, single-use plastics are plastic items that are thrown away or recycled after a single use. These items are used in many of the products we purchase today and include water/beverage bottles, plastic eating utensils, plastic bags (grocery bags/resealable storage bags), drinking straws, and loads of different food packages.

In total, over 300 millions tons of plastic is manufactured each year, with roughly half of the materials actually being disposable. Due to the make up of petroleum based plastics, it’s often difficult to recycle them without having to add more material in order to successfully do so. There are also limited amounts of items that can be produced with recycled plastics, causing a fall in demand.

Even though plastics do breakdown over time, they do not biodegrade into a natural substance. After hundreds of years in some cases, the plastic will degrade into small bits of the remaining product, releasing harmful chemicals at the same time. These chemicals, which are the additives that were used to make the product, can then find their way into our food and water supplies.

Even now, researchers are finding evidence of these chemicals in our bodies, and have linked them to a number of diseases including birth defects, cancer, a decrease in immune system functioning, and many others.

With only half of the plastic we produce being recyclable, we only actually manage to recycle over slightly 10% of it. This means of the 300 millions tons produced, we are only returning 30 millions tons back to use, with the rest destined for water or landfill.

Single-Use Plastics Quick Facts:

  • American’s purchase nearly 100,000 plastic bottles each minute, but only approximately 23% of them make it to a recycling center. This means roughly 38 millions bottles each year are either thrown away or improperly disposed of.
  • American’s also throw away 100,000,000,000 (yes, 100 billion) plastic bags each year, and in total only about 1% of bags used are returned to be recycled.
  • Over 500 billion disposable cups are consumed worldwide in a single year. In the United states alone, over 20 billion Styrofoam cups are disposed of, but since they do not have the ability to breakdown completely, many from our time will still be present in landfills hundreds of years from now.
  • The largest culprit behind increasing plastic production is packaging. Plastic packaging already makes up 42% of all plastic products produced, and makes up over half of the plastic items that are thrown away.