Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
Many packaging materials are only used once before being recycled or sent to landfill. However, plastic, rather than other materials, is typically attached to the term ‘single use’ in the media. In an ideal world, plastic would not be thought of in this way because it would always be recycled into another product, reducing our dependence upon virgin material.
78% of plastic packaging is recovered in the UK, 46% of that is recycled and the UK is ranked 7th in Europe. All plastics can be recycled but there are currently technical barriers to recycling some types of them on an industrial scale, although work is being done around the world to overcome these.
Why do we still need single-use plastic?
When food or other products are packaged in plastic, they are protected and in the case of fresh goods, they remain fresher for longer.
Keeping food from spoiling reduces food waste, which helps reduce the strain in the planet’s resources and keeps costs down. This is partly why pre-packaged goods are often cheaper than loose goods.
Because plastic packaging is so good at protecting and preserving fresh goods, it means we are able to eat a wide variety of fresh foods year-round rather than seasonally, expanding the range of foods we can enjoy. Plastic packaging is extremely hygienic, keeping food and other products insulated against any air-borne germs. It also prevents germs from being spread by people handling goods intended for consumption.
It is an extremely versatile material that in many cases is resealable. And helps present goods in convenient sizes, bundles or portions. As well as presenting the product in an attractive way, it helps convey key information. Such as use-by dates, allergen information and recycling information. It should also be remembered that single-use plastic such as blood bags. And syringes helps modern healthcare remain affordable for all and helps provide a safe and hygienic environment in hospitals.