There is currently more plastic in the world than there are human beings! In fact, right now, there is approximately 9.1 billion tons of plastic on earth (probably because Elon Musk hasn’t figured out a way of sending it to space yet) and of that, only 9% is recycled. When you think of plastic, lots of things come to mind such as: drink bottles, shopping bags and straws. However, there are countless products that contain hidden plastic. Let’s take a look at some of the most shocking ones.
1. Disposable Cups
Spoiler – I’m not referring to their plastic lids! Disposable paper cups are made up of 90–95% paper, and 5–10% plastic. The interior lining of paper cups is made of a hydrophobic plastic film (Polyethylene, in most cases) which essentially stops the cup from disintegrating in your hand. The fact that disposable cups contain plastic poses two separate threats:
- Pollution: It is estimated that 200 million disposable coffee cups are used in Ireland every year. Regardless of the fact that the paper component is biodegradable, the lining is most certainly not, which means that the lining of those 200 million cups is the equivalent of 10 million cups made entirely of plastic.
- Ingestion: Plastic begins to leach microplastics when exposed to temperatures of 50°C and above. Boiling water is 100ºC when first boiled. This means that the hot beverage you are drinking from a disposable cup is likely to be contaminated with microplastic particles. In fact, in a study published in ScienceDirect, it was discovered that after 15 minutes 25,000 micron-sized microplastic particles are released into 100 ml of hot liquid. This can be difficult to grasp but it essentially means that for an individual drinking an average of three cups of tea or coffee in a paper cup per day, they would be ingesting 75,000 tiny microplastic particles.
So, if you’re interested in eliminating those unnecessary microplastics from your digestive system, reusable coffee cups are the way to go! Not only will you be doing your body a favour, you’ll also be helping to reduce plastic waste by making the switch.
There are so many wonderful companies making reusable cups, you’re sure to find one that suits your personality (who wants a boring branded paper cup anyways!).
Click here to find your perfect reusable cup!
2. Aluminium Cans
Similar to disposable paper cups, aluminium cans are lined with a thin plastic coating. These coatings typically come in the form of an epoxy resin made with Bisphenol A (BPA) and are used to prevent the corrosion of the aluminium. Aside from the damaging environmental impact of such cans, they also pose potential health risks.
A big issue with these epoxy coatings is that the BPA can actually seep into the contents of the can and thus be ingested by humans. According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to BPA has possible health effects on brain function, the prostate gland of infants, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – basically, it’s best to avoid it if at all possible!
To reduce plastic waste and minimise your exposure to BPA, try to choose food and beverages that are packaged in glass.
3. Tea Bags
Yep I know, this is a tough one to come to terms with! I mean, the perfect cuppa is the best form of escapism from all the global chaos that surrounds us, right? Wrong, the vast majority of commercial tea bags are in fact contributing to that chaos. Most tea bags are sealed using a form of plastic known as polypropylene and the bags themselves are often woven together using fibers such as nylon. While both of these materials can be recycled, it rarely happens in the case of tea bags. This is because a lot of people throw them into their compost bins, blissfully unaware of the fact that they are not fully biodegradable.
According to research conducted by McGill University, approximately 1.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano-plastics are released into your cup while your tea bag is steeping – yikes!
The good news is that there are a handful of eco-friendly alternatives for plastic infused tea bags. Here are some:
- Infuser teapot – avoid tea bags altogether and use loose leaf tea in an infuser tea pot.
- Reusable Tea Bags/Tea Strainers – these are great if you are just making a single cup of tea.
- Biodegradable Tea Bags – some brands are already phasing plastic out of their tea bags. Lyons for example (sorry to all of you die-hard Barry’s fans!), have replaced their polypropylene sealer with polylactic acid which is a biodegradable material derived from corn starch.
4. Disposable Face Wipes
Face wipes are probably the most convenient way of removing your makeup but there’s more than one reason why we should consider ditching them for good! Firstly, they are made with chemicals that strip your skin of its natural oils and secondly they contain plastic which, I think we can all agree on, the environment could do without.
Disposable wipes are generally woven together with plastic resins such as polyester or polypropylene. The best case scenario for these wipes is that they end up in a landfill. The worst case (which is very probable) is that they are flushed down the toilet and end up in the aquatic food chain!
A very simple way of reducing single-use plastic in your home is switching to reusable face wipes/pads.
5. Sea Salt
I know, someone needs to inform Gordan Ramsay! Due to pollution in the oceans, the majority of table salt contains microplastics (another reason not to flush disposable wipes down the toilet). According to National Geographic, a whopping 90% of table salt brands worldwide contain microplastics.
The best alternative in this case is to go salt free but I know that’s not completely realistic. There are some brands that offer microplastic free salt, however, they are very hard to come by, particularly in Ireland. Oceanic is a company based in South Africa that offers microplastic free salt and pepper and the good news is that they ship to Ireland!
6. Disposable Menstrual Products
Let’s be honest, it’s not a big shocker that the packaging of disposable period products contain plastic. The real kicker is that the products themselves are made with plastic! The topsheet or core of sanitary pads is generally made from either polypropylene or polyethylene. That’s not all, the sticky adhesive on the back and wings is also made from a leak-proof polyethylene film. Tampons are no better, aside from being encased in a plastic applicator, their absorbent core often includes a thin layer of plastic and the dangling strings can be braided with either polypropylene or polyester.
Periods are enough of a pain without having to worry about the environmental impact of them. Luckily there are plenty of alternatives which means you only have to worry about managing the pain and not the plastic! Here are some alternatives:
7. Chewing Gum
Ok so when chewing gum was first invented it was made using a natural gum derived from tree sap, called chicle. But as with most things in the modern age, producers wanted a quicker, cheaper and more profitable way of making gum. So what did they do? You guessed it – they figured out how to synthesise it in a lab. The synthetic version of chicle used in most chewing gums is a plastic polymer known as polyisobutylene.
There have been some very interesting efforts made in recent years to tackle the chewing gum issue. One company named Gumdrop Ltd is producing innovative products such as wellie boots and mobile phone covers from recycled chewing gum!
Brush your teeth!…
No, I’m just kidding. There are companies that are dedicated to delivering plastic free, plant based chewing gum. Here are some of them:
8. Cigarette Butts
Cigarette filters are made of a plastic material called cellulose acetate, along with a handful of toxic chemicals (such as arsenic and lead). Cigarettes are not only bad for your health, they are hazardous for the environment. According to ScienceDirect there are approximately 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littering the globe. The plastic pollution involved is not the only concerning impact, the chemicals in cigarette butts are slowly leached into the environment over time!
If you are a smoker, ensure that you are disposing of your butts correctly. There are also plastic free filters available in some shops.
Along with its packaging, lipstick itself can contain plastic! The formula of many lipsticks includes microplastics such as Polyethylene or Polyethylene-terephthalate (PET). These are usually added either as a bulking agent or to bond the ingredients together. It’s not only lipstick that contains these plastics, a lot of eye shadows, mascaras and nail polishes also contain PET.
If you want to ditch toxic beauty products and you aren’t bothered making your own, keep an eye out for certified beauty brands. ECOCERT and DIH are good certs to look out for. If a brand carries either of these, you can rest assured that no synthetics were used in the ingredients