Overuse of Disposables

Water Bottles

  • People in the US buy 29 billion water bottles annually. That means that every second, 1,000 people open a bottle of water in the U.S.
  • For every six water bottles purchased, one is recycled. The other five bottles take 1,000 years to decompose in landfills where 60 million water bottles are buried daily.
  • It takes 3X the amount of water the bottle holds to produce the bottle itself.
  • If you were to fill your bottle about 1/4 full, that would be the amount of oil used to make the bottle.
  • Each week, it takes 40,000 18-wheeler trucks on our roads just to deliver the water bottles to stores.
  • One Gallon Approximate Cost: Gas: $3, Water in Bottles (16-20 ozs): $1.50-$12, Tap Water: $0.004
  • Best approach? Carry a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go that you fill from tap water or worst case, gallon+ sized water jugs. Most people have at least a shelf full of reusable bottles received for free at many activities and events.

Disposable Gloves for Food Service and as PPE

  • Since the pandemic began, disposable gloves have become among the most littered items in parking lots and on roadways.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using gloves only when caring for someone who is sick from COVID, and there is growing evidence that gloves used in the food service industry cause rather than prevent food contamination due to improper usage and/or poor glove quality.
  • Back in 2015, Oregon discontinued the use of disposable gloves in food service operations. But have other states followed suit?
  • What is the rationale for glove use in a food service establishment? The answer: to prevent bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. That’s it. Bare hands may harbor bacteria, therefore the glove works as a barrier between the bacteria and the ready-to-eat food. That is, unless the food worker transfers bacteria to the gloves while putting them on!
  • Overuse of disposable plastic gloves does not make food safer. It negatively impacts the bottom line, wasting thousands of dollars on unnecessary disposable gloves. It negatively impacts the environment by adding plastic into our landfills and on our roads.
  • Best approach? Wash your hands thoroughly including underneath your fingernails. If you wear gloves, you still need to wash your hands thoroughly. Otherwise, in the process of putting them on, any bacteria on your hands is transferred to the gloves. Ideally, skip the extra step, cost and waste of the gloves.

Plastic Bags

  • Before the start of the coronavirus outbreak, cities and states were making some progress on banning plastic bags, shifting from singe-use plastic to paper products and encouraging shoppers to bring reusable bags.
  • But health concerns over Covid-19 reversed that progress. Some cities rolled back the bans on plastic bags and retailers began needlessly prohibiting customers from using reusable bags. Our family was stopped repeatedly. Fortunately, that prohibition has lifted.
  • Best approach? This is a really easy one. If you purchase only one or two items, just carry them in your hands. But be prepared by carrying reusable bags for when you need them.

Disposable Masks – The Latest Litter

  • Disposable masks often contain plastics that enter the environment once they are thrown away. Whether they are thrown out as litter or whether they are put in the garbage, they will deteriorate over time and degrade into microplastics. These are the same microplastics currently choking our rivers, streams and oceans.
  • Another issue with disposable masks is that the elastic used to hold the mask on one’s face can easily get tangled around an animal’s feet, legs, head or body according to an article by the Sierra Club
  • Best approach? Use, wash and reuse cloth masks. Our family has. We each have two cloth masks, no more. They can be purchased everywhere with cool designs or made at home from fabric scraps and adjustable ear straps made from thin pieces of t-shirt scraps.
  • If you do use disposable masks, before discarding responsibly (in the trash not in recycling), cut the elastic to prevent it from causing harm to wildlife if it does inadvertently end up as litter on the ground or in a waterway.

Food Packaging (Worst of All Are Take-out and To Go)

  • A study in the San Francisco Bay area found that 49% of litter was from fast food. In that area, the five biggest were McDonald’s, Burger King, 7-Eleven, Starbucks and Wendy’s.
  • The problem is especially apparent in the restaurant industry and its increased reliance on food delivery services. Many restaurants, even those that were curbing plastic waste prior to the pandemic, are not limiting the amount of plastic involved in takeout orders.
  • Takeout food is often wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil, then placed into paper, plastic or Styrofoam containers, put into paper bags, and finally into plastic grocery bags. These bags may contain plastic cutlery, napkins and straws, menus, and sauce packets as well.
  • When the pandemic hit, reusable mugs were no longer welcomed at coffee shops like Starbucks and Dunkin’.
  • Most packaging is designed as single-use, and is typically thrown away rather than reused or recycled. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food and food packaging materials make up almost half of all municipal solid waste.
  • The trouble with food packaging begins at its creation. Each form of packaging uses a lot of resources like energy, water, chemicals, petroleum, minerals, wood and fibers to produce. Its manufacture often generates air emissions including greenhouse gases, heavy metals and particulates, as well as wastewater and/or sludge containing toxic contaminants.
  • The surge in single-use plastic is a major blow to the fight against plastic pollution, which is projected to increase by 40% in the next decade, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund.
  • Best approach? Buy items at the grocery store in bulk or just with an eye toward less packaging. Skip the single serve items that are costlier on a per ounce basis and are mostly just packaging. Prepare food and beverages (including coffee….a really easy one) at home that is healthier and less expensive. Then consume it from and store it in reusable containers. Recycle plastic bag packaging in bins exclusively for this purpose at places like Target and Food Lion. Skip the take out or to go food but when you just don’t resist, or at least say “no thank you” to all the added paper or plastic bags, cutlery, napkins, menus, and condiments beyond what you really need.