Cardboard straws, paper bags are not the green solution you might think


OPINION: With the (justified) defamation of plastic, wood, cardboard and glass became common use.

Influencers are filling their ‘zero waste’ pantries with matching glass jars, restaurants are handing out paper straws instead of plastic straws (it takes about 15 minutes to use), and the cutlery with your Uber Eats is now made of wood instead of plastic.

At first glance, it looks wonderful. Much less single-use plastic flooding our landfills and waterways and impaling innocent wildlife.

However, very few issues are resolved by creating more things to buy.

There is a general rule to follow. Reusables are always better than disposables.

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And this, whatever the material of the disposable option.

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “You pack your bars in disposable packaging, even if they are compostable. Wouldn’t it be better to fill a bottle, then?

The problem is, there isn’t yet a real rechargeable / reusable personal care solution that is practical, reaches a large audience and has a carbon footprint as low as ours….

Refills in supermarkets are underutilized as we are used to convenience and carrying bottles to the supermarket is a pain.

Services like Loop, which provide refillable stainless steel containers filled with everything from shampoo to ice cream, have a significant carbon footprint, and it remains to be seen how long people stick with the programs. And then there’s the whole crazy idea that most of these products are up to 90% water and you’re paying for what’s already in your tap anyway.

But that’s off topic.

Brianne West is the Founder and CEO of Ethics, the world's leading zero waste beauty brand.

Provided

Brianne West is the Founder and CEO of Ethics, the world’s leading zero waste beauty brand.

If you eat out often and use disposable wooden cutlery every time, instead of going for the reusable metal options (or, superstar points, by bringing your own set), you are doing more harm than you are doing. don’t think so.

This paper straw is as bad for the environment as it is soft and difficult to suck up your Starbucks mint.

Paper and wood, of course, come from the same source: trees. Or more precisely, the pulp made from the cellulose of the woody part of trees. Trees are a renewable resource, and both wood and paper decompose happily in the environment to facilitate new growth (assuming there are no treatments or laminates).

But do you have any idea where the wood these items are made from comes from?

No. And boy, it’s hard to find out. I’ve been researching this for some time and many companies are quite reluctant to tell you where their wood comes from. So we consumers don’t know if the wood comes from a sustainably managed forest or if it is ancient rainforest falls.

Deforestation destroys habitats, disrupts ecosystems, causes erosion and loss of soil, causes desertification and, of course, contributes to climate change by removing the smart carbon capture technology that nature has so helpfully provided us with.

Paper bags are a great example of better intentions with a bad outcome. They might be compostable, but they use a lot of resources like water and energy to make them, compared to the humble plastic bag. They have to be used 43 times (43!) Before the energy required to manufacture them is equivalent to a single use of a single-use plastic bag. I’m not sure if you’ve used a paper bag before, but they’re not particularly sturdy – you’re lucky you have four uses of them.

What I’m trying to make is that just because an alternative is compostable doesn’t mean it’s better for the environment than the original you’re trying to replace. There are still a lot of resources that go into making this single-use product and then getting it to you, like water, trees, and energy (and let’s not forget that 80% of global production energy still comes from fossil fuels).

The best bag is the one you already own and reuse over and over again.

The best cutlery with your take out are the stuff in your cutlery drawer, or the cute set you keep in your bag for washing and reuse.

The best straw is one made of a material sturdy enough to use every time you go out for a drink. Steel and silicone seem to be common options, although I’ve seen bamboo as well. Or, if you don’t need it, ignore it altogether!

Because that’s the real goal of “zero waste” – to buy only the things we need and keep using them until the end of their life.

Brianne West is the Founder and CEO of Ethics, the world’s leading zero waste beauty brand.


Ethel J. Montes

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