If you're the type who goes out to eat frequently, you may have noticed a trend that is now spreading in restaurants and fast food chains: no more plastic straws.
You read that right – No more. Plastic. Straws.
It seems that the world right now is going full steam ahead with the zero-waste movement, specifically banning single-use plastics. You can see independent and retail shops online selling alternative items like metal straws, reclaimed wood dishes, cloth grocery bags, and the like. In governments around the world, legislators are introducing laws to ban single-use plastics. The European Commission, for instance, has banned plastic cutlery along with balloon and cotton swab sticks. Plastic containers, on the other hand, are to be on a reduced-use system. In our little corner of the world, House Bill 4840 or the Plastic Regulation Act has been approved by the House of Representatives seven years ago. This has resulted in non-biodegradable plastic bags being phased out in the Philippines within three years after the bill’s approval. However, Senate Bill 2759 or the Total Plastic Ban Act of 2011 is in pending status up to this day.
Ditching plastics seems to be the trend now, isn’t it?
Plastic use regulation has been around as long as there had been plastics. As early as in the 1970s, the plastic production industry has offered disposal solutions to discarded plastic products. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the unofficial symbol of the zero-waste movement, was discovered in 1985. In response to this, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) has put Annex V in effect as a protocol to ban all manner of plastic disposal into the seas.
Plastics and us
There are seven kinds of plastic in use for different industries and each differs in its capability to be recycled. In 1988, the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) has developed a coding system to classify whether they are recyclable or not. If you have a plastic product with you, look for a recycling symbol with a number in it. This is your plastic product’s SPI code. Check it with the following table to see if your product is recyclable or not.
Difficult to Recycle
1 – Polyethylene Terepthalate (PET): Beverage bottles, medicine jars, clothing
3 – Polyvinyl Chloride (v): PVC pipes and tiles, synthetic leather products
5 – Polypropylene (PP): Bottle caps, margarine containers, lunch boxes, drinking straws, chip bags
6 – Polystyrene (PS): Disposable coffee cups, food boxes, cutlery, packing foam
2 – High-density Polyethylene (HDPE): Plastic containers
4 – Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE): Sandwich and grocery bags, cling wrap film
7 (OTHER): Polycarbonate (baby bottles, compact discs, medical storage containers) and polylactide
Adapted from the Rydale District Council’s “Different Types of Plastic and their Classification”
Plastic products under fire in the zero-waste movement, which are single-use plastics like drinking straws and disposable cutlery, fall under the ranges of plastic products which are not commonly recycled. These usually go through three other types of disposal. The first is the most common, which is landfilling. This type usually takes up a lot of space and can contribute to land pollution and other related distresses if not managed properly, like the Payatas Tragedy of 2000: a collapse of a garbage landfill—mostly of plastic products—that killed hundreds of people living around the area.
Another type of disposal for non-recyclable plastics is incineration. All kinds of plastics can be disposed of in this manner, but the resulting byproduct could be environmentally disastrous. Burning PVC plastics, for example, can emit a highly toxic chemical called dioxin.
The last type of plastic disposal is biodegradation, which is decomposition through natural means although this does not apply to all kinds of plastic products. Biodegradation in plastics also does not occur rapidly. According to the American Chemical Society, one piece of biodegradable plastic may take decades to break down. If you pile together a hundred biodegradable plastic products produced within the last five years, at what year do you think the last piece will fully biodegrade?
These realities we experience contribute to the longstanding issue of the zero-waste movement. There may be plastic products that will outlast us on earth, and it is up to us to not contribute to their growing number. But how can we do it?
Ditch that plastic!
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones,” says this wise old man named Confucius. You don’t have to set up a nationwide cleanup drive to contribute to the ongoing movement, though if you have the means to do so, go for it! Start small by opting for reusable utensils such as drinking straws and cutlery, and doing your grocery shopping using non-plastic alternatives such as cloth or canvas bags. Always have your own beverage bottle on the ready as well. Make sure to sustain the usability of these products by doing their necessary cleanup or maintenance work.
When it comes to your beauty regimen, why not use products with eco-friendly packaging? Did you know that shampoo and conditioner bars exist in the market? They do! Traditional packaging for such products usually come in plastic bottles, which can add to the growing number of plastic waste. Shampoo bars and similar products, aside from coming in sustainable and eco-friendly packaging, are very much convenient to use. How many of us have then relied on plastic shampoo sachets during travels and dealt with the drips and leaks once the packaging has been opened? We can forget all of that with these shampoo bars, which dry up after use as a soap bar would. No mess, less hassle.
While we are very much on the bandwagon to support the zero-waste movement by parting with plastics, we have to take into consideration those who may rely on plastic products as an aid to their limited living capacity, like disabled individuals. According to their advocates, the ongoing straw ban has left a number of disabled people without a means to consume food and drinks. As we are pushing for alternative equipment to replace plastic products, we must be inclusive of all who can benefit from them.
Cleaning up the environment is about making sure that every living thing gets to thrive safely and healthily, and not just a select few.