Single-Use plastics are plastics used in packaging and products, that is used just once in its entire life. These include wrappers, bottles, plastic films, plastic sheets, containers that are used to store products until used by a final consumer. The usage of these plastics has boomed in last few decades as manufacturers have pushed plastics into products that were hitherto sold without any plastic packaging. Shopping carry bags, for instance, were not widely used till mid-80s. Similarly, packaging innovations such as small sachets picked up in the 90s. Supermarkets selling bananas, oranges and cucumbers in multiple layers of plastic packaging are just the latest culprits in contributing to the problem.
Nearly 40% of the plastic produced today in the world is used for single-use packaging. The life cycle of this plastic, from manufacturing to being discarded into waste, is less than 6-months. For comparison, plastic used in construction is used for decades before being discarded. Thus, globally, more than 40% of 500 million tons of plastic produced is discarded to waste within 6 months of production. This single-use plastic ends up in our landfills, land and water bodies. The economic and the environmental cost of recycling does not work out favorably. The collection, segregation, cleaning and then recycling of such single-use plastic ends up with a greater ecological footprint than fresh production. We cannot possibly recycle all the plastic that is being constantly produced around the world. Less than 10% of plastic produced is recycled. There is already 9 billion tons of un-recycled plastic that has collected as waste in last fifty years in the environment. We are continuously adding hundreds of millions of tons more to it every year.
The impact of this plastic waste on environment is now slowly becoming visible. Discarded plastic waste breaks down very slowly. Toys from the 60s, in mint-new conditions, have been discovered on beaches along the Atlantic & Pacific coasts. This is harmful to the marine life as animals often confuse them for food. They die from plastic ingestion. This plastic diet now affects every single large marine life form. The thinner plastics, like the wrappers, smaller bottles, plastic sheets, bags, films, disposable cutlery & glasses, break down under the action of wind, water & sunlight. But they don’t bio-degrade. They break down into smaller particles, invisible to the eyes. These particles are then ingested by living beings of all sizes. These are not digested by them and accumulates in their bodies and becomes a part of our diet too. Such micro-plastics, worryingly, are now being found in our water, air and regular food. Long-term health impacts of such plastic consumption are still not well understood, but it is expected to be a serious healthcare issue in the coming future.
The supply-created-demand nature of single-use plastic consumption in last three decades is indeed reversible. It requires minor changes in our lifestyle, where we may have to sacrifice minor convenience of use and throw products, and get a better & cleaner environment. We can reduce the amount of single-use plastic being consumed by reusing our existing plastic items. We can replace the plastic present in products by eco-friendly alternatives. We can also reduce the amount of plastic contained in each product. Finally, if this doesn’t work out, we can ensure that we recycle the existing plastic efficiently.
These changes require us to make better choices as consumers & customers. At Arani, we are curating such products, actions and materials that will help us re-use, reduce & replace the conventional plastic with eco-friendly alternatives. You can look at our resource library on Facebook for small lifestyle changes that you can immediately make. You can also check out product catalogue for products that have completely replaced or reduced their plastic content. Finally, if you are someone who is looking to reduce the plastic content of your products or services, you can reach out to us for finding out the best alternatives and their suppliers.