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The convenience of single-use items comes at a huge environmental cost…
For a long time we have been taught about the 3 R's, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – but now there's another R in the mix - REFUSE!
Our lives are full of stuff we don't need, and each thing has an environmental cost. Single-use items in particular have a huge environmental impact, firstly because as the name suggests, they are made to use only once, which means after their short lifespan, if not recycled, they generally end up in the trash.
Most of us use single-use items due to convenience. If we were to curb these habits of convenience we could reduce our consumption and waste. Here are 8 single-use items to refuse...
1. Plastic Water bottles
Did you know? 40% of all bottled water in the world, is actually just bottled tap water! Australians have been estimated to spend $385 million each year on bottled water, even though we have some of the world's best quality and very inexpensive tap water. If you're still buying bottled water, then it's time to get with the program. There's a substantial amount of CO2 pollution from making plastic bottles (from oil), filling them and transporting them around the country, not to mention most discarded bottles end up in landfill, where they do not break down for hundreds of years. Here's a few tips to avoid buying bottled water:
- Install a tap filter at home or buy a filtering jug
- Get yourself a refillable water bottle and carry it with you whenever you can, especially if you are with children who are likely to get thirsty
- Ask for tap water in restaurants instead of bottled water, and especially avoid imported bottled water
2. Single-serve coffee pods
Next to plastic bottles, single-serve coffee capsules are high up on the list of single-use items to purge from your life. The rise in the popularity of capsule style machines has seen our usage of capsules both at home and at work increase exponentially. It is currently estimated that Australians consume between 2.5 and 3 million capsules per day, which is equal to filling an Olympic sized swimming pool with used capsules every 14 days.
Where does this waste go? Unfortunately, generally into landfill! Most coffee pods are not recyclable, and even the ones that are, need to be dismantled before they can be recycled (not so convenient anymore huh?). The more sustainable option is to stick to brewing coffee yourself. It's a lot less money and a whole lot less waste.
3. Paper coffee cups
Paper coffee cups are like the equally evil sibling of single-use coffee capsules. How many of us buy a takeaway coffee on the way to work every day? even if you only buy one takeaway coffee a week, thats still 52 disposable cups gone to waste over a year. There's no excuse these days not to carry a reusable coffee mug with you whenever you buy takeaway coffee. They're not expensive, and may even save you money as many eco-conscious cafes now offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable mugs.
4. Boxes of tea bags
It wouldn't seem like tea bags were very harmful to our environment, but they're actually pretty wasteful if you stop to think about it, well in the single-use bag form that is. Buying boxes of tea bags generates a lot of cardboard and plastic waste, while the staple and string must be removed before putting the single-use tea bag into the compost (if they're compostable at all). It's much more environmentally friendly to obtain loose leaf tea that comes in a single paper bag or refillable tin
5. Disposable utensils
Most commonly in the form of single-use plastics, disposable utensils are just so unnecessary in every shape and form. You can now buy biodegradable, wooden and other types of compostable utensils which are obviously a better choice than plastic ones, however, in most cases (unless its a big party or event) you don't need to be using disposables at all!
Keep a fork, knife and spoon from home wherever you need it, for example the office, your hand bag…or invest in an inexpensive reusable set of cutlery. Remember to ask your favourite restaurants not to include a disposable set with your take-out!
6. Plastic bags
Like comedian Tim Minchin said: we need to "do something drastic to rid the world of plastic!". When it comes to plastic bags, we already have so many alternative options to accepting single-use plastic bags when shopping. They're called canvas bags! reusable bags! good old cardboard boxes for heavens sake. About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute. They might be convenient, but they take more than 1,000 years to disintegrate and remain toxic even after they're decomposed.
The solution… Refuse plastic bags! Use a durable, foldable and inexpensive reusable bag that can be carried around in your car, pocket, or purse.
7. Produce bags
Produce bags from the supermarket are another single-use item that need to go. Although many people reuse their produce bags once at home, at some point they're going to end up in the trash. Better not to use them at all. You don't actually need produce bags, however, I know many of us don't like to just throw our apples, grapes, and carrots straight into the shopping trolley.
There are various reusable produce bags for sale out there, some that even allow you to wash your produce inside the bag. Some supermarkets also have boxes (most do if you ask for one) which you can put your produce straight into and wash carefully once at home.
8. Menstrual products
How can we green that time of the month? 1 Million Women's Holly Royce investigated this potentially delicate subject not too long ago. Around 20 billion tampons and pads are being dumped into landfill each year. The polyethylene plastic in pads can take hundreds of years to decompose. In fact, conventional pads can contain the equivalent of about four plastic bags! There are more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as:
- Investing in reusable pads. Two great brands in Australia to check out are Pleasure Puss and Moon Pads
- The Menstrual Cup. Don't be afraid, it's really not that bad! The Menstrual cup is the unsurpassed ultimate product for greening that time of the month. You just insert, go about your businesses, remove, wash, repeat. Some websites and brands to check out include: Mooncup, The Keeper and the Diva Cup