Is Single-Use Plastic on Its Way Out?

plastic bags

Did you know that each year Americans throw away around 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags? Less than 0.6 percent of those are recycled. And that Americans buy 28 billion disposable plastic bottles of water a year?

When we’re on the go it’s easy to forget about the real impact of our choices, especially when it comes to plastic. The ease of buying an occasional bottle of water or packing groceries in a plastic bag when you forget your reusable one might not feel like an environmentally detrimental choice, but small choices add up quickly. Fortunately, changes in the industry are slowly happening, making it easier for you to commit to kicking the single-use plastic habit.

Plastic bag bans and fees are a common topic of debate in environmental communities, and Wal-Mart is the latest business to join in the discussion. Starting January 1st, Wal-Mart will institute a pilot program at three stores in California, where no single-use plastic bags will be provided to consumers. Shoppers will instead have a choice between purchasing three different reusable bags, reasonably priced at $1, 50 cents and 15 cents. The pilot program will test how consumers will deal with stores that do not offer free bags. Not providing plastic bags could have a significant impact at large stores like Wal-Mart; the retail giant alone was responsible for handing out 27 billion plastic bags in 2007.

The anti-plastic bag movement is also spreading on regional levels. This week Delaware passed a law that will require larger stores to all offer reusable bags to their consumers. Even in Phuket, Thailand, a group of business owners recently passed an agreement to institute a small fee on plastic bags. Although it is unknown what impact policies like this will have in the long term, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, encouraging consumers to choose reusable bags whenever possible.

plastic watter bottles

The other culprit in single-use plastic waste is bottled water. In a progressive move, Canada-based Naya Spring Water announced this week that it is the first bottled water company to use 100% recycled plastic in its bottles. The company also reportedly recycles 96% of waste from its plant, including paper, cardboard and plastic.

But is buying a recycled plastic bottle water that’s still a single-use item that sustainable? It’s great to recycle materials that otherwise would have gone straight to the landfill, but supporting the purchase of single-use products inevitably leads us to consume more and waste more. In a pinch, opt for the recycled plastic bottle of water, but when possible, keep your reusable drinking vessel in tow.

Photo credits: vieux bandit, zone41

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.