Plastic has infiltrated our lives (old news). The majority of it is in packaging but there are many daily items that we take for granted, too. For instance, bags, cutlery, straws, phone chargers and decor all contain plastic to some degree. But there are a lot of items that you probably use every day that never in your wildest dreams would you think were made of plastic. For Plastic-Free July, here are some of the most surprising things that contain plastics…
1. Your beloved exfoliant is probably chock full of microplastic
Many face washes and exfoliators that we use have plastic micro-beads in them. It’s the micro-beads that serve as the exfoliants for our skin. They’re also really difficult to sift out from the water system once they flow down the sinks. Thus, they contribute to the ever-increasing amount of microplastics that are popping up in things like our salt. What a scary thought.
An alternative is to use homemade natural exfoliators. You can use sugar or coffee grounds as a physical exfoliant or use citrus juices as a chemical exfoliant. Even a warm washcloth can help slough off the dead skin. If you are looking for a product, we’ve had great results with Vega Organics, Happy Earth Farm or Alcheme Skincare.
2. And your whitening toothpaste, too
Likewise, many kinds of whitening toothpaste are also full of the same microplastic beads. These beads polish your teeth to give you a whiter smile. Other than polluting the oceans, you may also be swallowing them while brushing your teeth. Although the effects are not yet fully known, you wouldn’t eat plastic if you had the choice, right?
To combat this, you can always make your own zero-waste toothpaste. A simple one includes using baking powder and vinegar. There are also brands that do all-natural ones. You can even find tooth cleaning powders made from activated charcoal, baking powder and other natural exfoliants.
3. Bacteria isn’t the only thing your kitchen sponge has to worry about
Sponges baffle so many people. They don’t seem like plastic, yet they are. Most sponges are made up of two types of plastic. The spongier (yellow) side is polyester, while the rougher (green) side is polyurethane. Regardless, both cannot be recycled in many facilities and therefore creates waste. And if burned, this kind of trash then creates air pollution and contributes to climate change.
Fortunately, you can use sponges that are made from cellulose and wood pulp. There are also biodegradable loofahs that are made from the loofah plant (duh!). At GITNB, we’re huge fans of the ones made by sqwishful. These sponges have the best material, shape and compactness, but best of all they’re biodegradable.
4. Plastic has even snuck into your clothing
Generally, people think of cotton or wool when shopping for clothes. However, did you know that the majority of clothes also contain plastic? Nylon, polyester and spandex are all forms of plastics. Research has shown that washing clothes with polyester results in the fibres entering the waterways, thus causing microplastic pollution. Also, clothes that have mixed materials are mostly not recyclable. Sounds like we’re definitely in need of a fashion revolution.
Our best advice here is to cherish your clothes. This is because throwing them away means they stay in landfills or are burnt, neither of which are good choices. If you want to find out more about a healthy fashion ecosystem, read some tips of swapping for inspiration. But if you are buying something new, make sure to look for pure and organic blends that do not contain plastics.
5. And the fish you eat didn’t just swim with plastic…
A lot of the seafood we consume contains plastic — both large plastics, like bags and nets, and microplastics. Sure, the meme above pokes fun of the current situation surrounding ocean plastics. But it also reveals the direness of plastic pollution. The fact that our oceans contain so much microplastic that it’s meme-worthy is kind of ridiculous.
What to do about it? Well, while we’d love to tell you to cut seafood out from your diet, we won’t. But as with everything, moderation is key. Make conscious choices is all, and to help you do that just remember that there could be adverse effects of consuming plastics. Reducing your intake means reducing plastic pollution and cleaner oceans – it’s a good start. There are campaigns like Sea Blue Sunday recently held in Malaysia and PLASTIKOPHOBIA in Singapore that promotes the zero-waste and plastic-free lifestyle. We recommending supporting these kinds of events to help generate awareness and spread the good word of good people doing good things.
6. It’s even in the salt you eat
We hope you’ve seen our campaign called Plastic Salt. If not, let us tell you more (and you can watch it above). There are loads of microplastics in the ocean and a lot of our salt comes from the ocean. So, it is no wonder that microplastic ends up in our salts. Many of the particles are so small or translucent that you probably can’t tell them apart from salt. Experts even say that we unknowingly eat 5g of microplastics per week.
This is really tough to combat. You can pick salts that are made from various methods, but they tend to be really pricey. Also, it is probably not something that people would splurge on either. What can we do then? We need to cut it off from the source, like beach cleanups, going zero waste and reducing plastics.
7. Believe it or not, it’s also been found in tea bags
Another item on the list that really shocked us was tea bags (almost everyone at GITNB drinks tea). However, a lot of tea bags are actually part paper and part plastic. This is to make the bags more durable, disintegrate slower in hot water, seal the tea bags and keep leaves in the tea bag.
You can opt for tea bags that use thin cloths like organic cotton and are biodegradable. However, these tea bags are pricier than their plastic-laden counterparts. So, whether is it from Waitrose or Unpackt, we recommend buying tea leaves in bulk. Just get a tea strainer or infuser, pop in the tea leaves and soak them in hot water.
8. Also in our super convenient aluminium cans….
Ok, metal cans. What about them? By right, aluminium drinking cans are recyclable. At least, most of them. There is actually a plastic lining on the inside of the cans so that the metal (normally aluminium) won’t corrode due to the acids in the drink (like carbonic acid in fizzy drinks and certain preservatives).
While the aluminium parts are recyclable, the plastic portions normally are not. So, if you can choose alternatives like glass bottles, this is a step in the right direction. But we totally we do understand how limiting that can be so if you do drink from an aluminium can, be sure to recycle it. That’s the most appropriate disposal of these cans.
9. And here we thought Tetra Pak and paper cups were a safe bet
Like metal cans, Tetra Pak and paper cups are also lined with plastic, but for a different reason. The plastic lining keeps the cardboard or paper portion of the packaging sturdy. If not, the liquids would soften the paper and the packaging loses shape (not to mention spill coffee everywhere).
Currently, there are very few recycling plants globally that can separate the paper and plastic. Hence, they mostly end up in the general trash. Even the paper cannot be salvaged, hence avoiding these all together is the best option. Easy solution: if you are getting takeaway coffee, bring your own mug or tumbler. Like we always say, breaking up with single-use items is easier than you think.
10. To add to the number of reasons that cigarettes are nasty
The most common trash item found on a beach is cigarettes. A huge misconception is that cigarettes will biodegrade since they are made with paper and tobacco. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a plastic lining on cigarettes so that they don’t burn too close to the fingers.
Cigarettes do not just contribute to plastic pollution. They are also one of the top 10 air polluters in the world. Then, the air pollution generated does not just harm the lungs, but the whole body. So, our advice? Quit smoking if you can. Save your money, your health and our planet.
There have been widespread initiatives to displace plastic straws used and some companies have even started using recycled nylon in their clothes. It’s becoming easier and more convenient for everyone to contribute to making our future plastic-free. Now that you know some of the surprising places that plastic is popping up, we can be better prepared to tackle the issue of plastic pollution.