Feb 11, 2012 1
Jan 14, 2010 0
One-time use items. What are they? These include anything produced that we use only one time, such as coffee cups, soda cans, plastic bags, product packaging, envelopes and cardboard boxes, and plastic utensils, to name a few. Nearly all of the items we buy in stores today are sold to us in one-time use packaging. The bottle of shampoo you use is thrown away once emptied – not refilled. The shoebox is discarded once you bring it home – you don’t bring this back to the shop to be reused. Potato chips, crackers, and cereals all are packaged in plastic, sometimes with paper or cardboard outside of that – all only to be used one time. Many restaurants serve food atop paper and plastic plates, and give customers paper napkins and plastic utensils to eat with. Restaurants with take-out all use disposable or one-time use containers. All of these products are designed with the intent that they will be ‘disposed’ of after use. Today, they are ubiquitous all over the world. 75 years ago there was no such thing.
We’ve grown up accustomed to seeing these types of packaging in every store, for every purchase. Try to think of one thing you’ve bought that doesn’t have some disposable packaging with it. One thing we haven’t grown accustomed to seeing is what happens to all of this material that we call ‘disposable’ after we are through with it. Photographer Chris Jordan has some great work on the subject.
Nature does not produce a single one-time use item. Not one! Everything produced in nature is part of the life-cycle of something else. A leaf absorbs sunlight and some water during its life. It falls off when the seasons change, and lays on the forest floor. In time, it will be covered by other plant matter and organic materials, and will decompose to become the soil in which new plants can have nutrition to grow. This is true recycling, where nothing is wasted. This is true sustainability.
If something is made from a material that does not reproduce or re-grow as fast as it is consumed, or if more energy is required to produce the product than comes out during use, the process is inherently ‘unsustainable.’ And, there is no infinite way to produce synthetic materials. Plastics are generally sourced from petroleum (oil), and some is recycled. However, recycling can’t go on forever, as both the petroleum used for the material and the production of the product is finite. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to pick up the used items, move them to the processing plant, to melt and reprocess the materials and then process them again for use in another life. Another disincentive to continue this path is that each of those processes along the way are also toxic and release particles into our air that aren’t healthy.
There is also no ‘away’. Landfills aren’t some area separate from the earth. The materials we put into them don’t magically disappear – they stay here with us and they affect the natural living systems for plants and animals, including humans.
The one-time use packaging is also not the only way to go about solving the issue of carrying goods. As we have seen in America, some folks are bringing their own re-usable cloth bag to the grocery store, so they don’t need to use plastic. There’s a lot more room to go, though. Haven’t you ever thought about the fact that each of the products you are purchasing is using their own paper and plastic? Shoppers (and that means everyone who isn’t growing all of their own food) that each of the items you carry in that bag is likely individually wrapped in one-time use packaging. If you’ve bought one brand of cereal for years, did you really need to buy a new box each time you went to the store? Why not bring your own high-quality container, instead, and fill it up at the store. Just think about how much waste we wouldn’t be producing.
So what can we do about this? Minimize the amount of products you purchase that use one-time use packaging. As an example you can buy food in bulk, by bringing your own used plastic bags, tupperware containers, yogurt containers, or glass jars from salsa or tomato sauce, and fill them up, over and over again. Coops and other similar markets have large bulk food sections with wonderful options of food you can take home without disposables. These jars and high-quality containers last for a long time. Bring your own tupperware containers in your bag when you go to a restaurant – if you have take-out, you can use your own tupperware instead of their leaky ‘disposable’ styrofoam or waxed paper containers. Stop buying bottled water. Really, stop buying any bottled drink, as you can probably make a healthier drink for less money, while producing less waste, by yourself. You can read about the fact that bottled water isn’t healthier for you than most tap water here in the States, and drinking bottled water produces a lot of garbage. Furthermore, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to bottle, ship, and refrigerate all of those bottled drinks. Bring a steel water bottle with you – they are lightweight, functional, don’t leach plastic into your drinking water, and produce significantly less waste – they also function better than a ‘disposable’ plastic bottle, and are much sexier. I also choose to carry my own high-quality cloth napkin, chopsticks, and a titanium spork with me, in my bag, at all times, along with a water bottle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used them – it saves a lot of garbage, and sparks a lot of wonderful conversation. These utensils are also high quality, and perform better than the crap that would get used once, and tossed out, anyhow.
If you have ideas, or anything that I’ve not mentioned here, please comment or write me an e-mail.
If you make a small effort, you can really produce a lot less waste. Give it a try.