Plastic makes our lives so convenient and easy but comes with some very negative drawbacks. There are a bunch of things that you might use daily that you had no idea had plastic in them. Today we are going to talk about 10 items you might not know had plastic in them.
- Chewing Gum:
The reason chewing gum is chewy is largely due to plastic and rubber. Most of the time, when you read the ingredients list on most major gum packages you won’t find a specific term describing a plastic or rubber. Gum manufacturers use language like “gum base” to describe these materials. One of the major raw materials in chewing gum is Solid Poly Vinyl Acetate (SPVA). SPVA is a rubbery synthetic polymer that is best known as wood glue, white glue, PVA glue, or chewing gum base. This polymer is a type of thermoplastic and we chew that plastic in every stick of gum we put in our mouth.
Murray, G. T. (1997), Handbook of materials selection for engineering applications, CRC Press, p. 242, ISBN 978-0-8247-9910-6.
Amann, Manfred; Minge, Oliver (2012). “Biodegradability of Poly(vinyl acetate) and Related Polymers”. Advances in Polymer Science. 245: 137–172. doi:10.1007/12-2011-153.
- Nail Polish:
Nail polish comes in hundreds of shades and finishes. The color of our nails flows with the trends. If we take a look at what is in nail polish we see a story much different than the latest fashion trend. The odor that seeps out of the bottle comes from the concoction of alcohol, solvents, resins, and plastics that allow the polish to stick to the nail, hold color, and avoid chipping. Nail polish is a plastic coating on our nails and when it chips, you guessed it, tiny bits of plastic spread everywhere! In order to get this plastic coating off our nails, we have to use a strong solvent when it is irritating to not only our eyes but our lungs too.
- Paper Cups:
With an effort by many to reduce single-use plastic consumption, lots of companies are using paper products such as paper cups for both hot and iced drinks. While these paper items are designed as single-use, they generally can be recycled. There is one catch. Most cups are lined with a very thin plastic coating that keeps the cup from degrading quickly while it has a liquid in it. The main problem with this is that the lining is not easily separated from the paper and it is very hard to find a recycling facility that can handle this type of work. Next time you get coffee on the go remember that even if you put your cup in the recycling bin, chances are it will get thrown away anyway.
Glitter seems to be an integral part of any festival loving, Christmas decorating, sparkly covered human. While it seems intuitive, some people are not aware that glitter is made from plastic sheets that are cut into tiny pieces and used in hundreds of different products and cosmetics. Glitter pieces spread everywhere and when washed down the drain or into waterways this plastic becomes microplastics. Microplastics measure less than five millimeters in length. That is one tiny piece of plastic! These plastics are found in every one of the world’s oceans in the whole length of the water column. All forms of marine life eat these plastics where they collect in the digestive tracts and kill the animal. Not only that but when fish eat plastic and we eat fish, we are effectively eating plastic!
- Period Products:
Most menstrual products on the market today include plastics in them. It’s thought that one pack of pads is equal to 4 plastic bags and the pad itself can be made of up to 90% plastic. That is a lot of plastic friends. Tampons are no stranger to plastic. The cotton insert as well as the string contains plastics not to mention the plastic applicator which is made of polyethylene and polypropylene. In the UK, period products are not considered a medical device and are not sterilized as such. This means that all that plastic packaging is a waste.
Most uterus havers know not to flush pads and tampons down the toilet as this causes blockages. If they do not cause a blockage, pads and tampons end up in the ocean and can wash up onshore. The Marine Conservation Society suggests that for every 328 feet of beach, 4 pads, panty-liners, backing strips, and at least one tampon and applicator can be found. As the plastic associated with our periods breaks down they become secondary microplastics which we have already talked about.
Stay tuned for another blog all about periods and their products!
- Cigarette Butts:
Cigarette butts are thought of as the world’s most littered plastic item by the National Geographic Society. It is known that cigarettes can be damaging to your health for their nicotine and heavy metal content but what is not as well known is that they contain plastics too. Most of the cigarette is disintegrated when it is smoked but the filter or the butt is left in the end. It is estimated that the world smokes 6.5 trillion cigarettes each year and only one-third of these butts end up in the trash. The rest find themselves on the sidewalk or in a waterway.
The plastic that makes up a filter is called cellulose acetate. E-cigarettes are largely made of plastic which compounds the problem. If you are looking to recycle your cigarette butts you might have to find a specific company as most municipalities don’t recycle them. These plastic filters full of toxins break down into you guessed it, microplastics.
Chances are if you look at the tag on your shirt one of the main materials will be polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fabric woven from polyester fibers. These fibers are created by a chemical reaction between petroleum, coal, oxygen, and water. In short, polyester is plastic. Polyester is derived from petroleum which is a non-renewable resource and fossil fuel which has a high carbon footprint and byproducts.
Polyester is made of polyethylene terephthalate also known as PET or PETE. PET is used in plastic water bottles and any other plastic with the recycling number ‘1’. The water bottle you are drinking out of and the shirt you are wearing are made of the same thing.
- Aluminum Cans:
Most of us have collected aluminum cans at one point in our life. Some people collect hundreds at a time and take them to a recycling facility. Aluminium is an infinitely recyclable material and uses up to 95 percent less energy to recycle than to produce new aluminium. It is estimated that 75 percent of all aluminium that has been produced in all of history is still in use today.
Most aluminum beverage cans contain a polymer lining. Even though you think you are drinking out of aluminum, really you are drinking from the plastic lining. This lining is there to stop the acid in the beverage from corroding the metal which affects the durability of the can as well as the flavor of the beverage. The American Can Company first produced a can with a plastic lining called Vinylite on September 25, 1934. Companies have been using this method ever since.
This makes recycling a bit difficult as you can imagine. The plastic inside the can must be separated from the aluminium in order for both parts to be recycled. The bottom line is there is plastic in aluminum cans.
AG, interstruct. “Aluminium Recycling – Développement durable”. recycling.world-aluminium.org. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
- Tea Bags:
I love tea and drink it quite often actually. However, most tea bags are sealed with plastic. Some companies such as Clipper claim to use a “bio-plastic” which is still just that, plastic. A material known as PLA or polylactic acid is used to seal the small bags. In other cases, an oil-based material is used to heat seal the bags.
Nathalie Tugenkji and her team from McGill University conducted research and found “…that steeping a single plastic tea bag at brewing temperature [205 degrees Fahrenheit] releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage.” These plastics do not break down, cannot be composted, and are rarely recycled.
https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20190925/billions-of-microplastics-in-each-plastic-teabag#1 (Is this credible? Please tell me in the comments, friends.)
- Tetra Pak:
Tetra Paks a packing option that holds all sorts of foods and beverages. Common things that are packaged in Tetra Paks are a variety of plant based milks, soups, dairy products, juices, and even water. What most people don’t know is these types of packages contain different layers of plastic and aluminum as well as paper. Because of this, Tetra Pak is difficult to recycle. Each layer needs to be separated from the others in order to be recycled.
Most people think Tetra Pak is a better option than plastic because of its paper appearance. The problem is that Tetra Pak requires specialized recycling facilities which are not readily available. If Tetra Pak cannot be correctly recycled it is often sent to the landfill.
Environment and Recycling Archived 15 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine Tetralaval.com, retrieved 1 December 2011
There are so many things we use daily that contain plastic. If we are not careful with how we use and recycle them, these products are sent to landfills. Each of us can play our part to be diligent about the kind of products we buy to reduce the amount of plastic we produce and introduce into our world.