7 Places Plastic Hides

Reusable Nation - plastic chip packet

Plastic has snuck into places it has no business being! Did you know that these seven items contain plastic?

Our plastic obsession has gone too far! Since it was invented in 1839, it has infiltrated our lives to the extent that we can't imagine living without it and half the time we don't even realise it is in the items we use and consume daily.

You may not know that the seven items below have plastic in them, making them difficult to recycle in some cases and causing the plastic to potentially enter our bodies in others!

Read on and then refuse or reduce the use of these polluting, plastic-tainted products. 

1. Teabags

I was shocked when I learnt that the teabag containing my soothing English Breakfast tea, which made everything right in the world, was lined with plastic. My immediate thoughts were, “What! Why?”.

The thought of having been ingesting plastic multiple times a day for many years (I love my tea!) made me head straight to Google. I mean plastic breaks down when heated and this plastic would be getting pretty hot when boiled water is poured over it!

Was it better or worse than I thought?

I discovered that the net part of the majority of teabags does contain plastic, namely, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is not biodegradable, to enable them to be heat sealed. I also discovered that this plastic is heat-resistant and said to be safe as its high melting point reduces the possibility of leaching.

The question of whether we do ingest any of this plastic gets quite technical though, going into glass transition temperature and whether or not a leachate is hydrophobic or hydrophilic, and there are studies supporting both sides.

Either way, these plastic-laden teabags still contribute to non-biodegradable landfill waste and there is a chance that these teabags do leach toxins into your tea while brewing.

So, I would err on the side of caution and the environment!

Thankfully, there is such a thing as a plastic-free teabag – these are stitched closed rather than sealed with plastic. So, for tea without plastic, use a brand whose teabags are stitched and plastic free or use loose leaf tea in a reusable teabag, infuser or a teapot with an infuser basket. 

You can also avoid the plastic that is found in and/or around the box that teabags are usually packaged in if you go for loose leaf tea. Some loose leaf teas sold at the supermarket come in a cardboard box only (but some come in plastic inside the cardboard box so you'll need to do your research/a shake test!) or you can buy it in bulk at bulk food stores in your own container.

2. Milk cartons or Tetra Paks and paper cups

Only 80% percent cardboard, both milk cartons and paper cups are lined with a polyethylene plastic, which makes up the other 20%, with others containing aluminium being around 74% cardboard, 22% plastic and 4% aluminium.

And, milk cartons and paper cups are not the only plastic lining culprits. There’s a good chance that if there’s something liquid inside something resembling cardboard packaging, it will be lined in plastic.

This makes them much more difficult to recycle and you can't recycle them in some cases, like takeaway coffee cups.

Avoid using paper cups by drinking from sustainable, reusable options like glass and having your own water bottle and travel cup that you can fill up with water or coffee instead.

Milk cartons and Tetra Paks are recyclable, but their waterproof plastic coating has to be separated from the cardboard underneath and strained off before each part is recycled by the appropriate recycler.

And, not all councils recycle these cartons. Check whether your local recycling program accepts them before putting them in your recycling bin.

But, of course, the plastic produced isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Rather purchase your milk in glass bottles if possible and return the bottles if returns are accepted. Or, make your own milk substitute at home (it's easier than you think!).

3. Body and face scrubs with microbeads

How good do those little microbeads make your skin feel! Ever wondered what they’re made of? You guessed it – plastic!

They’re just tiny plastic beads, which are a nightmare for nature.

After being washed down the drain, they make their way through sewage treatment plants and into rivers and canals as they’re too small to be filtered out. They end up polluting the earth’s water sources extensively and in the stomachs of wildlife mistaking them for food.

Swop these scrubs for body and face scrubs that come without these miniature earth wreckers and that come in glass or steel packaging rather than plastic packaging if at all possible.

If you need a little exfoliation, rather use a plastic free natural loofah (which grows on trees!), or a bar of soap with natural abrasion like coffee grounds. You get some super luxurious natural, wooden body brushes. Just as heavenly and good for the earth!

These microbeads can also be found in toothpastes, so double-check the ingredients of your brand’s tube.

Beat the Microbead has an epic list of all products containing microbeads, as well as those that don’t, on its site here: www.beatthemicrobead.org/product-lists. They also have an app that you can use as you shop.

4. Cosmetics

These tiny plastic particles are not only concealed in your scrubs and toothpaste, they’re also turning up uninvited in cosmetics, including mascara, eyeshadows, lipstick, face powders, and blushers.

Numerous beauty products, including those from big brands, contain plastic or polymers, which are used in makeup as binding agents or to add bulk and texture. Your lashes suddenly being three times thicker, that’s likely a layer of plastic.

The minute nature of this plastic causes exactly the same issues as above, escaping down the drain to poison our seas and sea life. This is disputed by cosmetics companies, who say that as it is in the form of a liquid or wax, and not a solid, it is not plastic and will not contribute to marine plastic litter. They are currently fighting hard to not be included in an imminent ban on microbeads.

Either way, personally, I’m pretty keen to only use products containing natural ingredients on my face. Beat the Microbead’s list also includes makeup that does and doesn’t contain plastic, or let our friends over at Sustainable Jungle guide you to gorgeous organic and natural beauty products.

5. Synthetic sponges

They don’t look like they’re made from plastic, but those conventional sponges you use to wash your dishes and around the house are made from a form of plastic that is oil-based.

So, like all plastic products, they don’t disintegrate and clog up landfills after you’re done using them for your cleaning. 

Good alternatives are material clothes or rags, 100% cellulose sponges, which are made from wood pulp, or handmade crocheted or knit sponges.

6. Foil packaging

No one wants a stale, un-crispy chip, but if you plan on going plastic free, you’re going to have to skip the snack isle!

Up to seven layers of foil and plastic are keeping your crisps crisp and these crisp packets are not recyclable.

Some foil packaging is recyclable, but not all and not in your normal recycling bin. You’ll need to check out the situation in your suburb and find a local recycling collection bin that accepts them.

While metallised plastic film or film plastic is not recyclable, foil is. What’s the difference? A scrunch test can help you figure out which your packet is: scrunch it in your hand and watch to see if it remains scrunched or springs back. If it stays scrunched, it is foil and can be recycled, but if it springs back, it is most likely metallised plastic film.

Best to cut out cheeky chip time! Instead, stock up on nuts, pretzels, and popcorn to snack on. These can be found in bulk at bulk food stores and even some supermarkets. Or, make your own chips at home in the oven if you can’t bear to leave them behind.

7. The ocean and subsequently, seafood!

The amount of plastic in the ocean is staggering. According to the A Plastic Ocean documentary, more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year.

The film’s researchers found more plastic than plankton in the centre of the Pacific Ocean gyre.

The plastic in the ocean is not always clearly visible, with minute plastic particles or free-floating microplastics hiding in its currents, which distribute these microplastics throughout our seas and oceans.

A Plastic Ocean documents how after ending up in the ocean, plastics break up into small particulates that enter the food chain, where are a strong attraction for toxins, which are stored in seafood’s fatty tissues. We then eat these toxins when consuming seafood.

Check out A Plastic Ocean’s website and watch the film for more on this and other plastic-related bombshells that will soon have you avoiding it like the plague.

Reducing your overall use of plastic and disposing of plastic properly will prevent it from ending up in our oceans and on your plate.

 

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