21 Surprising Products That Contain Plastic

Plastic is a fantastic invention. It is hardwearing, waterproof, cheap to manufacture, hygienic, and often recyclable to name a few.

 

 

No wonder it is used in almost every product imaginable. We know of the obvious products such as bottled waters, carrier bags, toys, and tupperware but there are so many items that you might not realise also contain some form of plastic. 

 

So here are 21 products that might surprise you to know, contain plastic!

 

1. Tea Bags 

For decade we have believed that tea bags are all natural fibre bags that are safe for composts. Turns out polypropylene plastic is woven into the fibres to give it strength to hold up in hot water as well as used as a heated sealant to fuse the bags together. Around 20-30% of a conventional tea bag is made up of plastic fibres.

 

Solution: Look for “biodegradable” tea bags. They are not yet home compostable, but can be put in with your food waste to be industrially composted.

You can also opt for “silken” tea bags, but be sure to choose “PLA” bags which are plant based and often made of corn starch as other options of silk tea bags are actually created using nylon (yep, a form of plastic). 

Want to ditch the bag completely? Look for loose leaf tea for a classic and delicious cuppa!

 

2. Chewing Gum 

Chewing gum has been around for centuries and was originally created from tree resin. Today it is produced using polyvinyl acetate, a plastic substance that does not degrade for hundreds of years. This synthetic ingredient is what gives gum its strong chewing properties.

 

Solution: More and more companies are creating natural chewing gums. Chewsy Gum is plant based, vegan, will degrade and is sugar free.

Want to scrap gum completely? Opt for more natural breath fresheners such as parsley, mint and ginger.

 

3. Coffee Cups and Paper Cups 

So convenient! When you are out and about and need a little caffeine boost, just grab a coffee to go. This convenience is not so convenient for the planet. In order to make paper cups water resistant to hold liquid, they are coated with plastic polyethylene, which is tightly bonded to the paper. Because of this, they cannot be recycled.

 

Solution: Grab a reusable cup. Thanks to the clever people at Circular and Co, they have saved single use cups from landfill and transformed this into reusable cups. They are leakproof and keep your drink hot for up to 90 minutes. Check out the gorgeous colours here.

 

4. Clothing 

Whether you wear jumpers, jeans, dresses, t-shirts, cardigans, socks, bras, undies, skirts, shirts, leggings, they will most likely contain plastic. Polyester is one of the most popular fabrics for creating clothing. It’s cheap, hardwearing, stain-resistant, wrinkle resistant and can be manufactured to make everything from hardwearing coats to super soft pyjamas. Acrylic is another plastic based material, mostly used in jumpers and cardigans as it is light weight, warm, soft and is a vegan alternative to animal fibres. Fast fashion is the main culprit for the use of plastic fabrics as people want affordable garments that they are happy to wear once and throw away. 

 

Solution: There are more and more sustainable clothing companies, creating garments from organic cotton, hemp and even recycled plastic bottles. Yes it is still a plastic garment, but it has taken a problem of plastic waste and produced a solution in the form of fashion manufacturing.  Some brand I admire for for their sustainable echoes are Broken Planet Market and Thought.

Also consider shopping second hand. If are garment is already out their, give it a second life to prolong its use and potentially save it from the dreaded landfill.

 

5. Vinyl Printing 

So maybe you have a 100% cotton t-shirt. Win! But what about the printed design? Is that plastic free too? It may just be created using plastisol inks, a very popular ink in the screen printing world. Plastisol ink is manufactured using polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It also requires the use of solvents during the screen printing process which is known to be harmful to aquatic life.

 

Solution: Avoid clothing with printed logos or designs and look for unique fabric designs instead to help you express who you are with the power of clothing!

 

6. Shoes 

Yep, even the shoes on your feet are likely to be plastic based. From the sole right up to the eyelets and laces, your entire foot is wrapped in the stuff! Due to the rise of popularity in sports and women trailblazing their way into the workforce, a demand for high performing and comfortable footwear came to be. Natural rubber soles would crack easily and were not reliable enough. Enter the creation of synthetic rubber to resolve this issue. As fashions became ever-changing, the popularity of fast fashion grew. Same as clothing, plastic shoe manufacture is quick and affordable.

 

Solution: Just like the clothing industry, sustainable footwear brands are making a stand to rid our soles of plastic. From big brands like Adidas with their Ocean sneakers made from recycled bottles to the lesser know brand Allbirds, who make adorable footwear from merino wool, eucalyptus trees and sugar cane soles. As these alternatives become more popular they become surprising more affordable too.

 

7. Wet Wipes 

In the last few years, there has been a huge focus on wet wipes.They clog sewage systems when flushed and have damaging effects on aquatic life when they reach rivers and oceans. Many brands are opting for 100% natural fibre wipes, but there are still many out their that use polypropylene as their base. A plastic base makes them cheaper to manufacture and gives them the “wet strength”, a term used when referring to products that need to be wet or absorbent, but won’t break down.

 

Solution: Try reusable wipes. There are so many options out there for natural cotton, muslin or hemp wipes that are kinder to the plant and less harmful to us. They can be machine washed and used hundreds of times! Whether you use wipes for babies, make-up removal or to freshen up after using the loo, there are some great alternatives available.

If reusable wipes are quite your thing, look for sustainable brands that produce wipes using only natural, full degradable materials, such as Cheeky Panda!

 

8. Wrapping Paper and Gift Bags

Decorative wrapping paper and bags with glitter, metallic foil and reflective elements may give a special pop to your gift, but all these elements are most likely plastic based. Your once earth friendly paper is no longer recyclable and will have to spend the rest of its days in landfill.

 

Solution: Opted for 100% recyclable paper, like the gorgous designs of Planet Wrapit!. And complete the look with paper tape to ensure it remains recyclable. Using plastic tape makes it difficult to recycle and it may not even make it that far if the paper is considered “too contaminated” with plastic.

Another option is to repurpose paper. You can use pretty much anything from packing paper that arrived in a delivery, to newspaper and even the wrap from you WGAC toilet roll!

Better yet, use fabric wraps. Grab a scarf or up cycled sari wrap to make you gift look totally unique and use the wrap again and again!

 

9. Gift Cards

If foil, glitter and reflective elements on wrapping paper are plastic based, then spoiler alert, its the same for gift cards!

 

Solution: Head to stores like Etsy where you are sure to find some beautiful handmade cards that are 100% recyclable, will come minus the usual plastic sleeve and you may even come across some plantable cards like those created by Loop Loop. The card has been made with seeds in the mix so it can be tossed into the grown and grow some beautiful flowers for your garden!

 

10. Receipts

Most receipts are printed using thermal paper which is coated in polycarbonate, a substance created using BPA. You may have seen may plastic products such as water bottles and tupperware state that they are “BPA Free”. In recent years, BPA has been identified as quite the nasty chemical that is harmful to our health. Polycarbonate is used in receipts as it adds strength and durability to them, so they are quiet essential if you ever need to return or exchange an item.

 

Solution: A lot of stores will offer your receipt to be emailed or text to you. You can always ask for this if they do not offer it straight away. Another option is to state that you do not need one. For many purchase that need a guarantee, take it. But for others such as food, how often have you even needed to return an item?

Many stores can even look up your purchase from your bank details, no receipts are becoming obsolete. So think on before you say yes to a receipt, because sadly its another piece of plastic that has no other place to go except landfill.

 

11. Fizzy Drinks Cans

Fizzy drinks contain high levels of acid from the sugar content. You will often find phosphoric acid and citric acid in the ingredients. Acid is a known corrosive not just for our teeth, but for metal too. Because of this, a protective coating of polymer plastic lines the inside of the can. Similar to receipts, BPA is also an ingredient in the lining, which we now know is quiet harmful to our health.

 

Solution: There is no real solution I can find or earth friendly alternative to drinks cans. So now you know of the plastic involved, a option could be to reduce the can drinks you consume.

 

12. Tetra Packs

They are a brilliant invention has they prolonged the life of the contents, reducing food and drink wastage. They are particularly popular with UHT milk as they can be transported for long distance and stay fresh in your home for long periods of time. Great for people with limited fridge space. They have also proven popular for the plant based milk industry such as almond and soy milk. The downside is they contain 75% paper and the other 25% is a mix of aluminium and polyethylene. This makes them difficult to recycle. Some councils will recycle, but it is not nationwide.

 

Solution: Consider a milk delivery service. Buy what you need and have it regularly delivered to your home. You will have a constant supply of milk, orange juice and even oat milk delivered to you fresh and in reusable glass bottles. Reduce the waste with reusable, support a local business and have one less grocery item to worry about running out of!

 

13. Toothpaste

Micro plastic particularly micro beads beads came under fire as a cause of plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is considered as any form of plastic that can adversely effects wildlife, habitats and ourselves. They were previouslt added in may types of cosmetics including body scrubs. They were used in toothpaste to add a level of abrasiveness to make teeth feel “cleaner”.  Many big brand toothpaste companies removed micro beads from their production, but there are other micro plastic that still remain in conventional toothpaste. Carbomer and polyvidone are two forms of micro plastic ingredients.

 

Solution: There are so many natural toothpastes available out there and more and more are popping up everywhere! Check out the plastic free fluoride and fluoride free toothpaste tabs from Eco Living.

 

15. Nail Polish

To ensure that nail polish is hardwearing and will actually stick to your nails, polymer plastics are added. This also keeps it as a liquid while contained in the bottle. And to make polish even more appealing, glitter is added for a textured sparkle look.

 

Solution: Look for alternatives that are more sustainable and less harmful to our planet and potentially our health. A great brand that is pioneering the way in plastic free, natural and vegan cosmetics is Zao. They do nail polish as well as foundations, eyeshadow and lipsticks. There packaging is bamboo where possible and they even offer refills of products, to reduce packaging waste.

 

16. Tampons 

When you think of a tampons, you think cotton. We are aware that the protective packaging and applicators (which are being removed thanks to the incredible efforts and campaigning of Ella Daish) are plastic based, but you wouldn’t imagine that there could be any other ingredients, especially when they are designed for such an intimate area of the body. To increase the absorbency of the tampon, polyester and polypropylene fibres are woven into the cotton. These elements are also added to the cotton string to give that strength too.

 

Solution: Reusable silicone cups. Made with medical grade silicone, the cups are hygienically safe to use and can be sanitised and reusable for years. My personal favourite is the Moon Cup.

 

17. Glitter

It has been mentioned in wrapping paper, gift cards and nail polish, but why is it so bad? The key ingredient is polyethylene terephthalate-PET. Glitter is by far one of the worst components that contributes to plastic pollution. Why is plastic pollution so bad? Well it gets into our water supply and is consumed by marine life. Humans eat the marine life and drink the water and you've guessed it, we are eating and drinking plastic! Even salt has ben found to have traces of plastic. We are consuming plastic everyday. 

 

Solution: Avoid glitter like the plague! Refuse to buy cosmetics, toys, paints, gifts, clothing, and any other products that sparkle! Sadly biodegradable glitter has been debunked too! Although it “degrades” meaning it will break down, it will not disintegrate completely and a green wash product!

 

18. Fireworks

So pretty! Watching fireworks being set off is a tradition of many cultures around the world from Independence Day in the USA, Bonfire Night in the UK, and Chinese New Year in China. The Wonderful World of Disney are nuts about fireworks too! But did you know they contain “plastic pods” which holds the explosives until they are ready to be released?

 

Solution: There are plastic efforts in alternative fireworks like the ones used at the British Fireworks Championships in Plymouth.

 

20. Microfibre Cloths 

I am going to admit, I LOVE MICROFIBRE CLOTHS! They are super absorbent so you can just keep on cleaning and mopping up those spills. They leave surfaces streak free and they have antibacterial properties so are super hygienic to use around the home too. And they can be wash and reusable over and over. Sounds great right? That was until I read into the material content and found out they manufactured using polyester and polyamide. A major problem with this is that they will become worn over time from use and laundering. The more they break down, the more likely micro plastics will be released and end up in our water supply. Sadly these cloths are too good to be true and will inevitably contribute to plastic pollution.

 

Solution: Go compostable with these fab compostable cleaning cloths. Made from 70% cellulose and 30% cotton that is certified according to Oeko-Tex standard 100, they are completely plastic free, sustainably manufactured and can be tossed in you home compost to return back to the land from once they came!

You can also opt of cotton cloths or cut up old cotton towels that aren't so luxurious and soft anymore to use a cloths.

 

21. Teflon Pans

Polytetrafluoroethylene or, better known by its trademark, Teflon® is a polymer based substance that coats the stainless steel pans to provide the non-stick texture.  It is reported to be low risk to our health, but how to recycle it remains unclear. The coating must be removed before it can be recycled which would need further investigation of your local council. It is recommended to replace Teflon pans once the non-stick surface begins to crack and peel away. 

 

Solution: Look for cookware that is 100% ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. They may not offer the super non-stick that Teflon does, but they are certainly easier to recycle and wont wear down as quickly. 

 

 

Resources

https://theecologist.org/2010/jan/12/behind-label-chewing-gum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyester

https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/environment-and-conservation/2019/10/your-shoes-are-made-plastic-heres-why#:~:text=Many%20components%20of%20modern%20shoes,the%20uppers%20to%20the%20eyelets.&text=Worldwide%2C%20more%20than%2024%20billion,sold%20in%20the%20U.S.%20alone.

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-2-march-april/ask-mr-green/hey-mr-green-should-receipts-be-recycled

https://www.reagent.co.uk/the-science-behind-a-soda-can/#:~:text=To%20prevent%20any%20accidents%2C%20a,an%20average%20pH%20of%202.5.

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/tetra-pak-versus-plastic-bottles-water#:~:text=Plastic%20industry%20trade%20groups%20respond,lightweight%2C%20shatterproof%2C%20and%20convenient.&text=Hard%20data%20notwithstanding%2C%20the%20new,package%20contains%20aluminum%20and%20polyethylene.