8 of the most common single use items, why they are a problem and how to avoid them.

Drinking straws

Drinking straws.

Why are they bad? Here in Australia we use around 10 million straws a day! Most the these straws are used for just 12-15 minutes before being thrown away, and many of them end up on our beaches and in our waterways. Clean up Australia lists them as the 12th most common item found at clean-up sites (i). It is good to see that many places out there are making the switch to paper straws, but there are still a lot who haven’t so we need to send them a message by refusing the straw.

What’s the alternative? If you do like to sip your drinks through a straw, then there are plenty of alternatives such as stainless steel, or even 100% biodegradable rye grass straws, which are made from an unused part of the rye harvest. Please note, there are many people in our community who do need to use straws, such as those with medical conditions or disabilities, so be mindful of that in your conversations about single use straws.

Hot tip: They don’t clean themselves. To keep yourself and your bottle in tip top condition, be sure to give them a regular clean.

Plastic fork in water

Plastic cutlery.

Why is it bad? Most Australian recycling centres are unable to process plastic cutlery due to its size and shape, so although is has an average use time of around 15 minutes it most often ends up in landfill where it takes hundreds of years to degrade (ii).

What’s the alternative? Many takeaway stores now use compostable alternatives such as bamboo, but in case your favourite takeaway store doesn’t, put together your own reusable cutlery kit. You can make your own using cutlery from home wrapped in a cloth napkin, or you can purchase one of the many portable cutlery kits available online.

Cup lid on beach

Disposable coffee cups

Why are they bad? Each day, Australians use a staggering 2.7 million single use coffee cups (iii) and they are one of the most common litter items found on streets and public spaces. Most single use cups can’t be recycled because they have a plastic liner inside.

What’s the alternative? Buy a reusable cup and get in the habit of carrying it with you. There are plenty of funky planet friendly alternatives out there. Glass and ceramic one look super cool, but if you’re a bit rough on your belongings, you might want to opt for a more robust material, such as stainless steel. Something that might influence your decision is knowing how many times you need to reuse your cup before it becomes equally energy efficient as the production of a paper cup;

Glass = 15 uses

Plastic = 17 uses

Ceramic = 39 uses (iv)

Hot tip: They don’t clean themselves, and baristas don’t like peering into your grubby cup whilst they’re making your morning brew. To keep yourself and your cup in tip top condition, be sure to give them a regular clean.

Plastic Wrap

Cling wrap

Why is it bad? Although handy for sticking over a plate of leftovers, one problem with plastic wrap is that it….sticks around. It is a common item of street and waterway litter. Floating around in the ocean, the materials it is made from are great at attracting bacteria and metals, so when a turtle mistakes it for jellyfish, it not only eats the plastic, but also the materials stuck to it. When it is disposed of in landfill, it releases harmful dioxins into the environment (v).

What’s the alternative? There’s plenty of alternatives on the market, but our favourites are bees wax wraps, or just do like Grandma used to do – put your leftovers in a bowl and then pop a plate on top before putting it in the fridge. Hot tips: Make your own beeswax wraps How to care for your beeswax wraps

Person collecting bottle from beach

Single use water bottles.

Why are they bad? Here in Australia we spend around $500 million annually on bottled water (vi), which is staggering for a country who for the most part has perfectly drinkable water coming right out of the taps. The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas) needed to produce a litre of bottled water is hundreds of times more than it takes to produce a litre of tap water. Then add to that, the energy it takes transport bottled water to you for convenient drinking and you’re looking at a product that it is cheap for you, but very expensive for our planet. It is estimated that the amount of CO2 produced by the Australian bottled water industry is similar to the amount of C02 13,000 cars would generate in a year (vii). Plastic drink containers are in the top 10 list of items founds at beach clean-ups in Australia.

What’s the alternative? Buy a reusable water bottle and get in the habit of carrying it with you. There are plenty of funky, planet friendly alternatives out there. Glass and ceramic ones look super cool, but if you’re a bit rough on your belongings, you might want to consider a stainless-steel bottle.

Hot tip: They don’t clean themselves. To keep yourself and your bottle in tip top condition, be sure to give them a regular clean.

Plastic takeout container

Plastic takeaway containers.

Why are they a problem? Plastic take-away containers are made from polypropylene and have an average use time of under 15 minutes. In 2017-18, Australian consumers used almost 160,000 tonnes of polypropylene, with only around 12,000 tonnes being recycled.(viii)

What’s the alternative? Many shops are now using biodegradable and compostable packaging for takeaway meals, and better yet, many are letting you bring your own containers (BYOC), so seek out and support these businesses. Trashless Takeaway is a great website for finding a BYOC takeaway restaurant near you. Or how about taking some time to sit down and eat at the restaurant?

Hot tip: Don’t take in broken or grubby containers. Under food health and safety regulations you are required to provide a container that is clean, sanitised and non-porous. If the business thinks your container is unsanitary, they have the right to refuse to use it. (ix) This is as much for your health as it is for their other customers.

Fruits in plastic bags

Produce bags

Why are they bad? Australia uses around 4 billion lightweight plastic bags annually, (x) and many of these are produce bags, which because of their lightweight nature become highly mobile pieces of litter. They have similar impacts as cling wrap when they end up in the water, or in landfill.

What’s the alternative? There are heaps of lightweight mesh alternatives on the market, or you can get crafty and make your own.

Hot tip: You probably wouldn’t put your produce is a dirty old plastic bag and the same goes for your reusable mesh ones. Wash them regularly to keep them fresh and clean.

Box of cotton buds

Cotton buds

Why are they bad? These little guys are often forgotten in people's quest to go single use plastic free, which is why they’ve made it to our list. Many people flush these down the toilet where they end up passing through the fine filters in sewerage processing plants, then enter waterways and the marine environment. Once there, these already small pieces break down into smaller and smaller pieces due to UV rays, oxidisation and wave action. From here they can be ingested and end up in the food chain.

What’s the alternative? There are plenty of cotton buds available that are made using bamboo or paper instead of plastic these days. You probably won’t find them in your local supermarket, but you can purchase online.