Away with disposables… plastic and paper, that is

Key Takeaway: Get out and good riddance, traditional disposables. These environmental hazards are now so ubiquitous establishments the world over are raising awareness one way or another. The popular solution nowadays is to provide incentives for using reusable things – but what if they themselves are environmental hazards? No fretting – there’s sustainable disposables!



A blessed Monday to everyone!

We all know that Garfield hates Mondays and is perhaps the most vocal pop culture character about the so-called “Monday blues”. This is most often experienced by tired, bored, or unhappy¬†students and employees who have regular weekly routines. But I tell you, if you are living out your true higher purpose, then you will not experience the Monday blues. I’m not – and this is already considering I cannot fully say yet that I am 100% living out¬†my higher purpose!

Anyway, if you’re like me, I¬†do experience moments of downtime at work – but it’s more of because I feel physical fatigue that is easily remedied by the one thing we all love to do… eating. Growing up, I brought packed lunch to school, out of an irrational fear that the cafeteria food wouldn’t be enjoyable (I never found out), but this habit became split almost evenly with buying food in university (there are a lot of comfort-oriented fast-food and quick-service restaurants across) – which is why I didn’t get to have any savings at all!

If you’re a fan of fast food or takeaway food, you’d know that they have a¬†lot of disposables. Here in Metro Manila, McDonald’s and Yellow Cab Pizza run entirely on disposables even when you’re dining in – Jollibee, at least, provides hard plastic plates, bowls, and cups, as well as metal cutlery. I hate it, which is why I avoid dining in in either of those restaurants.

Why do I hate disposables? It’s simple: They’re environmental nuisances – and even health hazards at worst. Many disposables here are made of plastic, which 1)¬†begins to decompose only after decades (if at all!); and 2) actually has polypropylene, a by-product of petroleum. Can you imagine, a fuel-related substance, present in your food or drink? They’re potentially toxic to us; Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., of the Cancer Prevention Coalition writes that they can risk cancer, genetic damage, and reproductive toxicity. Moreover, these plastics, especially if mass-produced, contain bisphenol-A (BPA), yet another proven toxin.

Americans alone¬†use at least 500 million straws every¬†day¬†– and some environmental groups believe this an underestimate as it omits the straws attached to aforementioned Tetra Pak cartons, yet another disposable! This is enough to fill about 127 40-foot-long school buses everyday, or about 46,400 a year. As these are made of plastic, these end up, if not in landfills, in the oceans – as part of floating garbage patches of discarded plastics called gyres. The North Pacific gyre is the largest of them all, containing 3.5 million tons of trash and is twice the size of Texas. Oh, and¬†remember that plastic makes up 90% of the world’s floating waste.

See what a disposable society we live in today.

I can’t entertain the notion of disposable underwear.¬†Or even the disposable camera the past quarter-century was famous for!

This is why I am an advocate of reusable and sustainable things. Let’s start with the reusable aspect. It’s promoted all over¬†now – here in the Philippines, you get Php5.00 (not much, really, but still) off your drink if you use a tumbler (which, by the way, Starbucks sells with ever-changing designs like a¬†shoe company creates shoes). Retail stores all over the city do not use plastic bags anymore, or at least charge for their use – promoting the use of canvas or tote bags. Habi Footwear, instead of providing the usual shoe box that may not be good for anything else (and is made of paper and/or cardboard), provides a cloth bag that can be repurposed into other things, such as a beach bag, a toiletry kit, or a quick sack for running small errands.

Why is this good? Basically, you reduce the need for disposable things to be made, by providing something that lasts and is used over and over again. On a large-scale scenario, the demand for disposables is lessened – and thus the environment can be happier.

I myself bring with me all the time a pair of bamboo chopsticks, a metal cutlery set, and a metal straw taken from my Starbucks tumbler. So I almost never use disposables – almost never because whenever I order drinks, most come already served with a plastic straw, dunked.

TDA.IMG-My Chopsticks

But let’s take the discussion further.

What about things that¬†need to be discarded, or at least (from the business perspective) will be too inefficient cost- or time-wise reusable? One very ubiquitous example of the former is the toothbrush – good hygiene dictates replacing your toothbrush every 3 months. Now I’m an environmentalist, but I’m no fool: I am not about to spend my entire life on just one toothbrush. I need to respect my own health, too.

Or, what if the reusables we use, once discarded, will not decompose? What use is a broken tumbler, or even gadgets once they have outlived their useful lives?

The answer: sustainably-made disposables Рand things, in general.

I once heard a business idea of making disposable cutlery out of an indigenous plant material, which I forgot. Now¬†that’s¬†something McDonald’s and Yellow Cab should look into.¬†A social enterprise here makes toothbrushes out of bamboo – a sustainable material given that even hard plastic toothbrushes must be discarded regularly.

(Read: My feature on The Toothbrush Movement)

Our population isn’t getting any smaller. So are the things we use and consume. But the planet itself isn’t going to grow, and our already-finite resources are getting more compromised by the irresponsible way we consume, especially for the past century (or two). It’s time to change the game and look for creative solutions that will really address this most pressing and urgent problem that is environmental degradation.

The first step, which I invite everyone to do as we begin another week, is to do away with plastic and paper disposables that are harmful to the environment and even to you. Use your reusable things, and take care of them, so that they can really last and fulfil your purpose of going anti-disposable. Use responsibly-made or sustainable things if you can, like BPA-free hard plastic food containers. This crucial first step alone will already make a huge positive impact on the environment.

Have a purposeful week ahead!

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