A recent public focus about 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 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.

Coffee Cups

Problem:

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 landfill 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.

Alternatives:
Benefit Use Disposal Price (340ml/12oz)
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.

Plastic cutlery

Problem:

Small single use items that like straws 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.

Alternatives:
Benefit Use Disposal Price (340ml/12oz)
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

Plastic Bags

Problem:

Single use items, over 1 trillion produced worldwide annually, can only be recycled in specific commercial streams (not household) 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.

Alternatives:
Benefit Use Disposal Price
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 office and households it is useful to have a central storage of reusable bags that people can easily access before heading somewhere that they will require a bag.

Plastic Straws

Problem:

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.

Alternatives:
Benefit Use Disposal Price
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

Plastic Cups

Problem:

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.

Alternatives:
Benefit Use Disposal Price
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

Conclusion

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 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 a business by encouraging staff to reuse items, it will mean less 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