The Single Use Plastic Dilemma

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

That really shouldn't be a dilemma, quite frankly.

What is single use plastic?

In short, single use plastic is exactly as the name implies. The plastic item is used once and then discarded, whether that is into the Blue Box to be recycled, or tossed in the trash... and unfortunately the latter is used more often. If we were more inclined to properly recycle, there wouldn't be nearly as much as a problem but... no, wait, there still would be.

Yeah, sorry.

We have a huge problem with what is known as "problematic single use plastic".

This is plastic that is ridiculously hard to recycle. The energy and labour to recycle it is, well, inefficient and expensive. More expensive than it was to create the item in the first place.

Which then results in the plastic item landing in the landfill instead of being recycled.

These items are at the top of the list to be banned (as they damn well should be!) and are very easily substituted by something that is recyclable or even completely and totally biodegradable (perhaps even compostable and some are even edible). The following are the most problematic and should be immediately banned:

  1. Plastic shopping bags

  2. Foamed (aka: Styrofoam) plastic containers and foam "peanuts" used in shipping.

  3. Plastic packaging, such as cellophane, moulded wrap used on products, and other similar one time use and gone items.

  4. Products we use that are single use and can't be used again, such as plastic straws and the really cheap plastic forks in dollar stores.

While we can wean ourselves off other plastics later, we need to cut the above right now.

It cannot be recycled, reused, or even re-purposed.

If we immediately stop using the four items above, a very huge part of the problem will solve itself. Most of what's left in "single use" can be recycled. Now, before others jump down my throat about how all plastic is a bad thing, please let me finish the post first.

By eliminating this truly problematic area, we just did one of the three R's, which is Reduce. Well, in this case completely eliminate but the point is valid.

Once we wean ourselves from the problem plastic addiction, we can move to the next. For now, we can move to the next class of problem.

Most of the plastics we can actually recycle... we don't.

In fact, 90% of it lands in the landfill instead of a recycling centre. This makes no sense to me because these plastics are easy to recycle. They were created to do it.

But, for some reason, we aren't.

Now, I know many of you do. Individually, yes. Many people do but just as many will choose to toss it in the trash (or, even worse, on the ground as litter) instead of recycling it. Some companies will take their blue box and not bother to send it for recycling. Everything just goes to the same location.

This is a massive part of the problem. If we aren't going to recycle it, then we're not responsible enough to have it. End of story. If you want the thing, you need to deserve the thing.

This is the second R, and that's Recycle.

It's time we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and start doing it for real this time.

The items in this category are: Everything else. If you can melt it down and shunt it through a 3D printer or into something new again, then it's probably something recyclable.

Now, the best part about these particular plastics is that you can use them more than once, even if they weren't necessarily intended for more than once. I am particularly infamous for grabbing a water bottle that is "single-use" and using the same one over, and over, and over again by refilling it (it just fits into my bag easier) with fresh water and washing it out when I get home.

Sometimes, you can use these same items for uses they perhaps weren't originally used for. If you have an abundance of water bottles (who doesn't?) and yogourt cups, there is a project you can use them for. They make great planters and some really ingenious re-purposers have used them in hydroponic (and not so hydroponic) indoor gardening to grow fresh herbs and some veggies by creating Window Farms, which then throws us from Recycle to Reuse (or Repurpose)

There are other options

But what if we could just not use plastic? It's not impossible and in some cases it's even easier and more cost-effective than immediately going for the plastic option.

A couple in India created forks, spoons, and other cutlery using edible ingredients. Seriously - imagine eating the fork after eating the meal. That's a real thing.

A simple and fast search on Amazon yields numerous other results on numerous alternatives that are safe, clean, environmentally friendly... and less expensive.

Makes you wonder why we bother with it at all.


  1. Earth Day Network Campaign

  2. Crafting a Federal Ban on Single Use Plastics

  3. Canada to Ban harmful single-use plastics and hold companies responsible for plastic waste

  4. UN Report on Single Use Plastics

  5. 10 Single Use Plastics You Can Quit Right Now

  6. UN Environment: Single Use Plastics - A Road Map for Sustainability

  7. Window Farms Project

  8. PDF on Window Farms 3.0

  9. Cutlery You Can Eat (CBC)

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