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Reusable Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics: Are They Really More Sustainable?

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Reusable alternatives, are they really more sustainable? In short – absolutely.

reusable alternatives
Overcast with a chance of plastic

Switching today to a reusable alternative from single-use plastics will do wonders for our remarkable, yet endangered natural environment.

In our 21st century society and economy, reusable alternatives to single-use plastics are much more sustainable than the old fashioned ‘buy and ditch’ way of living our lives.

Don’t take our word for it – according to 9R Framework, reuse is one of the top strategies enabling both circularity and sustainability.

Why use a reusable alternative to single-use plastics?

reusable alternatives to single-use plastics
For starters - they look way cooler for your Insta pics

Single-use plastic products are a typical example of linear economy thinking.

You use it once, then throw it away without thinking twice.

Most of the disposed single-use plastics end up in our landfills.

It can take anywhere between 10-1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose in landfill.

And despite efforts of several state governments to ban single-use plastics, Australia still uses on average 130 kilograms of plastic per person every year.

Even more sadly, less than 10% of it is recycled.

The other silent victim of single-use plastics are our oceans and waterways.

It’s been estimated that every year, eight million tonnes of plastic waste enter our seas. With that amount of plastic, you may as well just dump an entire garbage truck full of it into the ocean – every minute.

Switching to a reusable alternative will:

  • slow down the rate of plastics from entering landfills, oceans and waterways;

  • prevent natural wildlife from ingesting harmful toxic chemicals from which plastic is manufactured; and most importantly

  • change our ‘throwaway culture’.

Single-use plastics during COVID-19: Going around in circles

Reusable alternatives to single-use plastics
(doong nana nana, nana.. nana) Can't touch this

Unfortunately, in many places around the world (including Australia), single-use plastics are once again on the rise because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Reusable alternatives like tote bags, mugs, metal straws and so on – they were beginning to really break some ground before 2020.

But then the world went lockdown – and things started to change.

In the United States, for example, single-use plastics emerged across grocery stores that had already banned them.

Cafes and restaurants went as far as refusing the use of personal reusables. Plastic cups and plastic lids made their comeback.

Just take a look at our feature on how the Coronavirus is impacting our environment – emissions may be down, but plastic waste is up.

Observe our changing economic behaviour:

  • Grocery stores (like Coles) are delivering items in plastic bags;

  • Coffee shops like Starbucks are banning the use of reusable mugs;

  • Restaurants are forbidding customers to bring their own containers; and

  • Single-use COVID-19 (plastic) PPE is being used in record numbers – like disposable gloves and hand sanitiser.

But researches at the University of Melbourne argue that there is hope – and make a call to action.

“We can expect the environmental cause will return to the foreground when the COVID-19 crisis has passed. In the meantime, reuse what you have”.

What reusable alternatives can we use to single-use plastic?

Reusable alternatives to single-use plastics
Keys, wallet, phone, fork, spoon, knife. Check.

There are countless items we can use to boost the use of reusable alternatives, and you could even start using them today. A number of them include:

Reusable bags

Before the pandemic, these were becoming increasingly popular in Australia.

These include pretty much any kind of bag such as:

No – biodegradable plastic bags are not eco-friendly. Read our post on the biodegradable plastic bag ‘myth’ here.

Reusable nappies

Around 800 million traditional single-use nappies end up in landfill every year. Before they are potty trained, our babies contribute to plastic pollution crisis by using between 4,000 to 6000 single-use nappies.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Eco-friendly cloth nappies are an extremely effective alternative and much cheaper in the long run. Check out our blog post on why reusable nappies are making a comeback.

Reusable menstrual cups

Yes, these are a popular alternative to ordinary throwaway pads and tampons!

You would be surprised just how much plastic is in your single-use sanitary pad – some estimate they contain up to 90% plastic.

The future market predictions of menstrual cups says a whole lot about their popularity:

“The global market for menstrual cups was valued at around USD 995 million in 2016 and is expected to reach USD 1.4 billion by 2023”.

Reuse systems

Around the world we are seeing amazing new types of reuse ‘systems’ that are making it easier to reuse the products we love in everyday life.

Some of these schemes include:

  • REDcycle – this is a recycling company based in Melbourne that’s put together the REDcycle Program, a special way for consumers to recycle and get harmful single-use plastics out of landfill.

  • Recircle – a Swiss solution targeting at promoting reusable packaging in all takeaway catering business. In only two years, over 400 restaurants across Switzerland have begun to use 70,000 reusable meal boxes for take away food.

  • Recup – the reusable coffee cup originating in Germany is rapidly growing its network of participating businesses.

Reusable ‘everything’!

If you place the world reusable before any product, chances are you’ll find it.

We’ve seen alternative reusable coffee pods, reusable straws, dispensers, drink stirrers and so much more. If these products and schemes take the world by a storm, we expect to see a massive reduction in the demand for disposable and single-use plastic products.

In fact, we wrote a whole post on the green alternatives to single-use plastic pollutants, so make sure you have a look!

Are reusable alternatives better than single-use plastics? Consider These 4 Factors

Reusable alternatives
Reusable pads feel so good, too!

To understand what's better and more sustainable - single-use or reusables – you should consider all stages of a product's life cycle:

1. Manufacturing

The manufacturing process consumes resources such as energy, water, raw or processed materials.

In the case of reusables, manufacturing creates products that are going to have a long use cycle.

But on the other hand, manufacturing single-use products is a part of take-make-waste economy model.

2. Transportation and Distribution

As per a joint report by Zero Waste Europe and Reloop “transportation is usually responsible for the highest emissions in a product’s life cycle”. Both single-use and reusable products need to be shipped to their retailers and customers - in vehicles that emit fossil fuels. Sadly, some reusable alternatives might require regular transportation which impacts their overall environmental performance.

When assessing how “green” is your product you might need to know what mode of transportation is being used to deliver the product to you. Did you know that water transport is four to five times less impactful than road, while air freight has the highest emissions.

3. Use cycle

At this point of a product's lifecycle, it's clear that reusables are the winners.

Any single-use product is used only once before it's thrown away.

Take a single-use plastic bag as an example - on average it's used for only 12 minutes before it gets discarded.

On the contrary, reusables are products that are designed with circularity in mind and are intended to be used for as long as it's possible.

4. Disposal

When assessing this stage of a product’s life cycle, answer the following questions:

- Can you upcycle or recycle the product after using it?

- If not, ask yourself - what will happen to it once in landfill?

Plastic products will take centuries to break down into tiny particles called microplastics which only pollutes the environment and endanger wildlife indefinitely.

Remember that compostable and biodegradable products are not really better for the planet. According to the Reth!nk Plastic Alliance, any type of bioplastics won’t solve the problem of plastic pollution as they “rely on limited land resources and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture”.

Similarly to conventional plastic products, biodegradable products will never degrade fully once in landfill - that’s because they contain plastic, too. Once in landfill compostable products - same as food - will release methane - a greenhouse gas at least 28 times more potent than CO2.

Even if you see a claim that something decomposes within days or weeks you need to know that the process of decomposing will have a negative impact on our planet.

As Garden Collage says, it’s ‘good for your garden, bad for our landfills’.

Ready to try a new reusable alternative today?

reusable alternatives
Hoping, wishing, dreaming your bathroom gear looked this good too?

Here at TOMbag, we’re completely dedicated to reducing the waste polluting the world. Our mission is to prevent 425+ billion single-use plastic garbage bags being discarded by global households every single year.

We’ve created TOMbag - the world’s first reusable bin liner. Designed with circularity in mind, our reusable garbage bag products are made to last! Made out of post-consumer waste, we aim to send none to landfills - we offer an opportunity to upcycle TOMbags at the end of their lifecycle.

Circular economy at its best.

Ready to join us? Learn more here.

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