Why target avoidable single-use plastic?
As with most things in life, this issue isn’t an easy one. The answer is not as simple as plastic = bad. If plastic products are made to last and are reused again and again, and then recycled at the end of their usefulness, they can be a sustainable option. Some single-use “disposable” plastic items are less avoidable – for example single-use plastics used in medical testing and discarded safely to avoid contamination and potentially serious impacts on human health.
The problem is in our now prolific use of avoidable single-use plastic items. This means things like plastic drinking straws, plastic drinks stirrers, and disposable coffee cups and lids. These are all examples of items that (if made of plastic) are used on average for around 20 minutes, but can take over 400 years to degrade.
Plastic doesn’t breakdown at a chemical level (i.e. it doesn’t biodegrade or compost), it simply degrades. This means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process that can take hundreds of years. This process releases CO2, increasing our carbon footprint, and leaches chemicals that can be dangerous to wildlife, soil, eco-systems, and human health. The tiny pieces of plastic that result from a plastic product degrading, termed micro-plastics, also get into ecosystems, wildlife, and even our bodies. The long terms impact of micro-plastics on human health are currently unknown, but there are serious concerns about the consequences.