Plastic-free Me: Definition of single use plastics

Last night the Snail of Happiness said the following within her comment on my blog;

‘…I’m interested in what is going to constitute ‘single use’ for you. For example, I wouldn’t have immediately thought of a disposable razor as single use because you do use it several times before you bin it – not good, but perhaps not as bad as some of the other examples in your day. And then, what about something intended by the manufacturer to be single use, but which you extend the use of; for example, we have some 5l plastic water bottles that are 7 years old and are now used everyday to store rainwater for flushing the toilet…’

Ahhhh, good point! Such is my enthusiasm to get prepared for Plastic Free July 2014 that I have overlooked documenting a decent definition of ‘single use plastic’.

Now, I think I know what I mean by the term, but I decided to hop over to the Plastic Free July website to remind myself what is written there:

“Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then sent to landfill.

Ok, so this definition seems to be less strict than the one that existed in my head. It seems that I’d be allowed to use my disposable razor, but where does my shampoo bottle fit in? I use it several times before I send it to landfill but it only has one shot at fulfilling its purpose (i.e. holding a portion of shampoo).

It appears that there might be a hierarchy of single use plastics…

Because I have now come round to the understanding that plastic in all forms is ‘bad’ for the environment and because I have almost eight full months to prepare for Plastic Free July I am going to go for a very slightly more challenging description of singe use plastic than perhaps I need to.

So….for the purposes of this blog I will be defining single use plastics as:

Plastics that are used once and then thrown away or those that fulfil a very short term purpose – for example, to house a product that is used up, and then disposed of.

Make sense?

I have gathered some examples of each:

Use once then throw away

photo (243)

(bananas, kids rice cakes, bottled water, scones, tester paint, oatcakes)

Short term use

photo (242)

(margarine, shampoo, hand cream, cleaning fluid, kids bubbles, eyeshadow, deodorant, notebook)

As time goes by and this blog grows, my description may evolve and if that is the case I will of course update it. I am very interested in your thoughts on this matter.

To address the issue of The Snail of Happiness’ water bottle which was meant to be thrown away but was then reused for years, I think that according to my description it would graduate out of the ‘single use’ category. What do you reckon?

Of course, if plastic is terrible for the environment and our health, then my deliberations over a definition for single use plastics are a waste of time. I should instead simply be looking at ways of avoiding them altogether! However, that is just too much for me to contemplate now (or ever?) so I will stick with Plastic Free July alone at the moment.

As a related point, I think an attractive element of the Plastic Free July movement is that it encourages participants to think about plastics in the environment and take small manageable steps towards finding alternatives. There is even a ‘Plastic Free July – lite’ option:

If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids).

I love that those interested in this challenge, who can’t contemplate the full package, can consider the Top 4 or even make up their own definition. What a positive approach to such a serious issue.


6 thoughts on “Plastic-free Me: Definition of single use plastics

  1. I do know people who try to avoid all plastics, but it’s very hard. As for me… if I have plastic items already I will continue to use them… throwing them out is just a waste of a resource. However, I think I need to do some more research on the potential health issues because I am prepared to make changes if there are problems there. Yesterday I discovered that there are concerns over Teflon, so I might be thinking about my frying pan soon too!
    Oh, and I love the ‘lite’ option!

  2. Now this is an interesting post! How do you quantify single use. Even plastic bags which seems the definitive single use plastic, are used more than once in our house (not that we have many now the carrier bag tax is in force).

    I am interested in your definition. Especially when it comes to plastics that you use more than once but for only one “portion” if you will like shampoo, washing up liquid etc. I have now changed to shampoo bars but I do buy a big catering size bottle of w-u-l and decant into a smaller bottle which is by the sink. This doesn’t eliminate the plastic but does reduce the amount I buy and subsequently throw away.

    It’s a tough one. Good luck x

  3. When I participated in plastic free July this year my definition was any plastic that wasn’t recyclable. So for example some pasta from the supermarket comes in plastic packaging which isn’t recyclable and some is, I would buy the pasta that had recyclable packaging even if it was more expensive. Best though was to go to a Bin Inn store with my own containers and get pasta from there. Where possible I tried to avoid plastic all together but some things where it seemed the only option was to get it with plastic packaging I would buy it only if it was recyclable. Some things I just couldn’t find not wrapped in single use plastic such as Tofu and cheese so I just had to go without them for the month. .

    • Thanks, that is helpful. I’ll need to explore options for buying in ‘bins’ and bringing my own containers etc. Will be giving up supermarkets over lent so I’m hoping to research some shops that might help reduce my plastic while that’s going on.

  4. I prefer to think of the challenge as “disposable” plastic, rather than single use. The first year I took part in Plastic Free July that was what it was about, and we talked about refills for shampoo to avoid the bottles etc etc. This year to make it more appealing and easy to understand they defined it as single-use. I think, though, once you start and learn more about the issues you make your own migration from single use, to disposable, and then onto how you can replace longer lasting items with plastic-free alternatives. Let’s face it, we can try and kid ourselves but all plastic is ultimately destined for landfill.

    • Exactly, I don’t want to waste too much time on my definition when ultimately it’s all terrible!
      Many thanks for your lovely mention of my blog in your latest post. Very flattered, plus it’s given my traffic a wee boost.

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