A recent public focus on the damaging effects that single-use items, particularly plastic, are having on the environment has meant that consumers and businesses are looking for the best available plastic alternatives to reduce their waste and overall environmental impact.
The problem with single-use items made of plastic is that in the best-case scenario, they will end up in landfill or incineration once disposed of. Unfortunately, some of the items produced will end up polluting land and waterways. If even 1 of every 1000 plastic bags is not disposed of correctly then 8.5 million of these will be littered annually in the UK.
For businesses looking at the cost of single-use vs reusable items, it is useful to consider the disposal costs. When single-use items are predominant, these costs are higher due to a larger number of items being thrown away. On the same note, when comparing the environmental benefits of reusable items, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that a far great amount of energy is usually needed to produce these compared to a single-use item. For this reason, in order to make the purchases worthwhile environmentally, the behaviour of reuse must be stressed.
2.5 billion disposable paper cups are used every year in the UK or 5000 every minute. But of this huge amount consumed only 1 in 400 are recycled with the rest end up in landfills or are incinerated.
Most cups are made using virgin paper from mature trees with a thin layer of waterproof plastic film is bonded to the paper. Because the plastic film inside the cup is not only bonded tightly to the paper but is also trapped in the seam, it is difficult to separate these for efficient recycling.
|Regular Disposable Coffee Cup||Price||Single use||Majority garbage, some companies will recycle your coffee cups as a separate waste stream but there are only 2 facilities in the UK that will recycle them||500 for £39.59
1 for 7.9p
|Compostable Coffee Cup||Made from PLA (corn based bioplastic), can be made from recycled materials, compostable and biodegradable||Single use, very similar material to regular plastic||Compost (not regular food waste bin), cannot be recycled with normal stream||500 for £58.40
1 for 11.7p
|Reusable Coffee Cup||Able to be reused, can be washed easily in dishwasher, made from renewable||Reusable a large number of times||Depending on materials used as there is a variety on the market
Glass – recycled
Plastic – recycled
Bamboo fibre – compostable
Silicon – garbage
|1 for £8.95
Reduced price for wholesale available
|Recyclable Coffee Cup (Frugal Cup)||Made from recycled cardboard, different from normal cups as inner plastic material is designed to separate during normal paper mill recycling process||Single use||Regular recycling stream||Not currently stocked in the UK|
Problem with compostable items made from PLA:
Waste companies do not like to compost them with regular food waste as they take a lot longer to decompose compared with food. Many businesses don’t have facilities for compostable items. It is easy to discard of the product in the wrong bin or have compost bins contaminated.
Small single-use items like straws that can easily end up in natural areas such as the ocean. It is much more convenient to use disposable cutlery when on the go or do not have communal cutlery with washing up facilities.
|Plastic Fork||Price||Majority single use, can be reused several times but not very durable||Garbage||100 for £1.27
1 for 1.3p
|Compostable Disposable Fork||Made from PLA (corn based bioplastic), can be made from recycled materials, compostable and biodegradable. Even better if sourced from recycled PLA material||Single use, very similar material to regular plastic||Compost (not regular food waste bin), cannot be recycled with normal stream||1000 for £41.80
1 for 4.2p
|Metal Fork||Will not break,||Unlimited number of uses, very durable. Able to be washed||Garbage||12 for £3.88
1 for 32.3p
|Bamboo Fork||Made from natural material, lightweight||Large number of uses, very durable. Able to be washed||Compost (not regular food waste bin), cannot be recycled with normal stream||250 for £89.46
1 for 35.8p
|Edible Fork||Able to be eaten with food meaning zero waste, made from natural ingredients including rice, wheat, jowar and water||Single use||Eaten with meal or disposed in regular food waste steam||Not currently stocked in the UK|
Single-use items, over 1 trillion produced worldwide annually, can only be recycled in specific commercial streams (not households) and this is not very efficient. They have an average use time of 20 minutes but are estimated to take 400-1000 years to break down.
|Plastic Bag||Price||Majority single use, can be reused several times but not very durable||Garbage, recycling only available at carrier bag collection points found at large supermarkets. Biodegradable period of 400-1000 years||1 for 5p at major retailers or free|
|Canvas Bag||Reusable, able to be washed, often made from recycled materials or sustainable sources||Large number of uses, very durable. Able to be washed||Garbage||1 for £1.50 at a major supermarket|
|Paper Bag||Can be recycled, can be made from recycled paper||Possible to be used numerous times, not completely durable especially with liquids||Widely recycled unless contaminated by food or liquid||Free|
TIP: For both offices and households it is useful to have central storage of reusable bags that people can easily access before heading somewhere that they will require a bag.
They are single-use items made from plastic, that can easily be passed through easy to end up in the ocean and ingested by animals. One of the top 10 things found during beach cleans.
|Plastic Straws||Price||Single use||Garbage||500 for £2.20
1 for 0.4p
|Paper straws||Made from paper so they are compostable and biodegradable||Single use, usable up to 4 hours of being in cup of liquid||Compost (not regular food waste bin)||100 for £3.62
1 for 3.6p
|Compostable Straws||Made from PLA (corn based bioplastic), compostable and biodegradable||Single use, very similar material to regular plastic||Compost (not regular food waste bin), 90% broken down after 6 months||500 for £5.84
1 for 5.8p
|Stainless Steel Straws||Made from stainless steel, will not break, stain or rust and easy to clean||Unlimited use, will need to be cleaned consistently in the dishwasher or using a cleaning brush||Garbage||4 for £9.00
1 for £2.25
|Glass Straws||Made from glass, no plastic or metallic taste||Unlimited use, will need to be cleaned consistently in the dishwasher using a cleaning brush||Recycling
(If broken then will need to go in garbage)
|1 for £2.25|
|Wheat straws||Made from nothing but wheat, naturally non-porous||Unlimited use, will need to be cleaned consistently in the dishwasher using a cleaning brush||Compost||Not currently stocked in the UK|
As many of the events taking place in the UK are temporary and outdoors it can be difficult to utilise cups that can be reused, especially at such events involving alcohol consumption. Music festivals, street markets and sporting events are examples where it can be difficult to avoid single use plastic cups, but problem also exists in places such as offices and restaurants. Use of disposable cups means that bins fill up faster creating strain on staff, contamination of recycling streams due to confusion and of course litter.
Thankfully many events have come up with clever solutions for the mountains of disposable cups that are created, such examples include deposit schemes successfully implemented at Glastonbury Music Festival and Northampton Saints home matches.
|Regular Disposable Plastic Cup||Price, no danger of breaking||Single use||Majority garbage, some products are made to be recylable but they often this requires strict segregation and management to avoid contamination from non-recyclable alternatives||500 for £35
1 for 7p
|Glass Pint||Most popular and quality way to enjoy cold drinks, easy to clean||Unlimited number of uses unless broken||Able to be recycled in normal mixed recycling or glass specific streams||48 for £24
1 for 50p
|Compostable Disposable Cup||Made from PLA (corn based bioplastic), compostable and biodegradable||Single use, very similar material to regular plastic||Compost (not regular food waste bin), 90% broken down after 6 months||1000 for £111.16
1 for 11.1p
|Reusable Plastic Cup||Able to be reused, can be washed easily in dishwasher, can be customised to your business or event||Reusable a large number of times||Mostly recyclable||Sales or rental quotes available from companies such as Ecocup|
|BYO Cup or Bottle Facilities||No requirement for business to provide cups||Unlimited number of uses||No waste||Free|
The issue of plastic pollution arises from a disposable culture. Generally, as a society, we are disconnected from our waste plus single-use items are easily and cheaply available. In a perfect world, all single-use items would be eliminated and all behaviour would be focused on reuse. This is not always the case it is easy to forget our reusable mug or canvas shopping bags on the day while we are in a rush, so having other options available as a backup is necessary. While there are better options than plastic in most cases, a focus should be put on having single, strong items that can be used many times.
For business by encouraging staff to reuse items, it will mean fewer products are required to be purchased and less waste will need to be collected from your site, both reducing costs.
Prices are correct at time of writing; 9/3/2018