SO WASTED: Top 5 Disposables to Avoid
By Iris Sela Horowitz, Communications Coordinator
They create pollution during production and disposal, are made of precious resources, and are downright unnecessary. In no particular order, here are our top 5 most wasteful single-use disposable items to always avoid.
Paper Coffee Cups – They’re almost always made from trees and not recycled paper, are bleached white with chlorine (a process that releases dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet), and emit methane (a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide) when trashed and thrown in a landfill. They also do a shoddy job of keeping your drinks hot and can’t be recycled. (Compostable coffee cups exist, but they’re certainly not the norm.)
Polystyrene Foam (aka Styrofoam) To-Go Containers and Cups – Polystyrene is bad for you, the planet and the people who produce it. Its basic component, styrene, is a possible human carcinogen, a hazardous air pollutant, and can cause nervous system impairments among industry workers. Styrene can leach from containers into your food. More than 530,000 tons of polystyrene containers and packaging are trashed every year. Polystyrene can’t be recycled and never biodegrades; it only breaks down into tinier and tinier pieces, polluting the environment and harming the animals that mistake it for food.
Bottled Water – This single-use item is a poster child for unnecessary waste. Only 60 – 70% of the water used by bottling plants ends up in the final product after manufacturing and filling bottles, filtering water and cleaning the facility. But water isn’t the only resource wasted: It takes more than 17 million barrels of oil per year to produce the plastic for bottles. We’re consuming half a billion bottles of water each week, and the final kicker: Only 20% of these bottles are recycled.
Plastic and Paper Shopping Bags – Banning plastic bags is a hot topic these days (see page 5), but many don’t realize paper bags can be just as bad—or worse—for the environment during production: Paper bags use more energy and create more water pollution during production, and are frequently made from old-growth trees. Plastic bags are made from non-renewable fossil fuels, fewer are recycled, and more are used. It’s a lose-lose either way.
Plastic Utensils, Single-Use Chopsticks and Paper Napkins – An estimated 40 BILLION non-recyclable, petroleum-based plastic forks, spoons and knives are used every year in the United States alone. Single-use paper napkins and wooden chopsticks put pressure on our forests and should be avoided.
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