Global Health

Seaweed straws and loose-leaf tea: 6 ways to reduce plastic waste

A bundle of pressed bottles made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic is stored at Poly Recycling AG company in Bilten, Switzerland April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC117E7148A0

In the past 65 years, plastic production has outpaced that of any other manufactured material Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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In the past 65 years, plastic production has substantially outpaced that of any other manufactured material. And while it is incredibly useful and versatile, the financial, as well as environmental, costs associated with the use, and misuse, of plastic can be huge.

Plastic is entering the food chain and harming the planet. Ninety-five percent of the economic value of plastic packaging is wasted because of low recycling and reuse rates, according to the World Economic Forum report The New Plastics Economy.

We’re still falling short when it comes to recycling plastic. Image: Science Magazine

Countries such as Canada are banning single-use plastic. And brands including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mars have pledged to reduce and reuse plastic, signing up to the World Economic Forum’s Loop Alliance – a zero-waste system that delivers products to people’s doorsteps in durable packaging that is then collected, refilled and reused.

There are other changes we can all make too. Here are six alternatives that could help cut single-plastic use plastic out of our daily lives.

1. Orange peel-inspired packaging

Orange and avocado peel is sturdy enough to keep the soft flesh fresh inside, but breaks down naturally.

TIPA, a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer, says that what it it is aiming for with packaging made of compostable polymers that has the protective properties of plastic but will not stay around in the environment after its use

2. Seaweed straws

Bioplastics firm Loliware says its seaweed straws are durable – able to withstand 18 hours of continuous use – and biodegrade at the same rate as food waste, in less than 60 days.

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“Single-use plastics should never be built to last, they should be designed to disappear,” says the company’s CEO Chelsea Fawn Briganti.

3. Loose-leaf tea, or greener bags

Souvenir teabags with depictions of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton are seen in London April 7, 2011. A British minister said on Wednesday that two billion people were expected to tune in to TV broadcasts to watch this month's royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.   REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY) - LM1E74718CS01
Is there plastic hiding in your tea? Image: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

The British get through an estimated 160 million teabags each day. But many of those bags are sealed with plastic polymers – something brands such as Yorkshire Tea are working to change.

As the Dutch campaign group Plastic Soup Foundation notes: “Until companies that sell tea guarantee that their bags are 100% plastic free, consumers will not know if their beverage contains plastic. In any case, there is always a plastic-free alternative: buy loose tea and use a tea egg or a teapot filter.”

4. Palm-leaf bowls

While a throwaway bowl might be perfect for holding jelly and ice cream at a kids’ party, the single-use plastic waste generated is not so good for the planet.

Enter the palm-leaf bowl, made from the otherwise wasted leaves of the Areca Betal Palm, which are grown in India for their nuts.

5. Reusable coffee cups

It’s estimated that in the US 50 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away each year, because they’re made of a tricky-to-recycle mix of around 95% paper and 5% plastic.

The good news? People seem to be waking up to the problem and the market for reusable coffee cups is booming.

Have you read?

6. ‘Shrimp-wrapped’

Scottish company CuanTecis is making biodegradable food wrapping using a waste material from shellfish.

It extracts the naturally occurring biopolymer chitin, found in the shells of shellfish, from fish processing waste, ferments it into a more soluble form called chitosan and mixes it with other natural substances to create a flexible anti-microbial and compostable bioplastic film.

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Related topics:
Global HealthFuture of the EnvironmentSustainable Development
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