I hate silly single use plastics (SUPs) and if you’re here, I’m goanna bet that you do too.
However, I do really think there are times when SUPs are actually very much A-OK. Might be a little controversial, so feel free to comment if you disagree with me.
A few members of my family work in the NHS. There are obscene amounts of SUP in hospitals that aren’t needed such as the packaging that single use scissors come in. Yes, there are single use stainless steel scissors. These are made, packaged in plastic, used for one patient, and thrown away. Gah!
But, there are dressings, medical valves and stitching that technically fall into the single use category (even if a medical heart valve could be used for the majority of someone’s life) as they have one purpose before being discarded.
So, I’m not saying that hospitals shouldn’t have an audit of all this crazy waste they produce or look for better alternatives to the plastics they use for some of these single use items,- but there totally are some things that I personally believe they can have a hall pass on- after all, some of these SUP’s are literally life saving.
To prevent food waste
Each week, I collect a bag full of foods from the Real Junk Food Project Brum that are either too ugly for supermarkets, not selling well or past their sell by dates (not use by dates). Supermarkets like to sell packaged items with an 18 month shelf life when customers buy the items.
I used to feel like a hypocrite for getting this food. I felt like I was writing a blog all about reducing single use plastics, and there I was, secretly eating packaged foods.
What a stupid self depreciating way to view this scenario. This food LITERALLY GOES TO WASTE if social enterprises like The Real Junk Food Project Brum don’t intervene. Food which is left to rot in landfill sites releases methane and is a top cause of climate change. I’m not an anti single use plastic blogger, I am a zero waste one. And whilst this means I often get myself into these ethical pickles, sometimes I just have to read all the facts I can and go for what I personally deem to be the best option. And in this case, it’s eating the damn food.
There are certain times when I believe SUP can be used in emergencies. Take domestic food emergencies or disaster relief for examples. Often the food and drinks which are given to survivors of terrible tragedies need long shelf lives so that they can be easily transported in bulk.
I’m aware that many of these natural tragedies (cyclones, tsunamis etc) can be linked back to human intervention, but that’s not to say that I think the people who end up being effected by these horrors should be denied aid as we’re all trying to avoid SUP. We need to tackle this kind of issue from a higher level.
Labs need certain amounts of SUP such as gloves and pipettes to avoid cross contaminations- this is how we have had so many magnificent medical discoveries over the last few hundred years. It also means we can avoid animal testing in cosmetics, which unsurprisingly, I am very much against.
As with most of the previous points, I’m not simply saying that we should continue with business as usual in these areas - people should reduce their reliance on SUP when possible and entrepreneurs worldwide can be hustling away to come up with alternatives which are just as excellent but don’t take 450 years to degrade into smaller parts like plastic does.
If you just simply CAN’T
Limited budget? Limited time? Lots of dependants? No access to zero waste shops, a garden to grow foods or food storage space? Less able bodied than me?
If you can’t go 100% zero waste because of lack of resources or due to health reasons - then don’t. I remember a while back now reading a thread on a Zero Waste Facebook group I’m part of that really stuck with me. The lady posting was discussing how her depression made it virtually impossible to be zero waste when she wasn’t mentally well. One commenter very eloquently reminded her (like, she really wrote a great response, I am not doing her credit here) about how she should put herself first whenever she needed to, because the zero waste community is such a tiny one, that we really can’t afford to lose a family member.
We’re all part of the same planet, which we are collectively trying to save, so the way I see it is that if other zero wasters need to make some landfill waste - I’ll take one for the team and reduce waste a little more in an area I can.
I’ve banged on about it a fair bit through out this article, but just to summarise, as my year 6 literacy lessons taught me to do so, I do think we should reduce our reliance on SUP where we can and invest in better alternatives BUT there are some legitimate reasons why SUPs may currently be the best option.