Single-Use Plastics

Goals

To provide the most commonly used single-use plastic products, apart from straws, globally. To also provide an overview of plastic consumption categories/products in the U.S. especially in specific sectors/industries that are high consumers of plastic that can be converted to go plastic-free. This information will inform a strategy to assess the business and product opportunities for a new plastic-free and 100% biodegradable straw business.

Early Findings

Understanding Single-Use Plastics

  • Single-use plastics are "goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Single-use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and serviceware."
  • Small single-use plastics like straws, bags, and cutlery are traditionally hard to recycle "because they fall into the crevices of recycling machinery and therefore are often not accepted by recycling centers."
  • Examples of single-use plastic products include: plastic forks and knives, plastic shopping bags, plastic coffee cup lids, plastic water bottles, Styrofoam and plastic take out containers, and plastic straws.

Commonly Used Single-Use Plastics, Globally

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the most common single-use plastics found in the environment, in order of magnitude, are:
  • cigarette butts
  • plastic drinking bottles
  • plastic bottle caps
  • food wrappers
  • plastic grocery bags
  • plastic lids
  • straws and stirrers
  • other types of plastic bags
  • foam take-away containers

Insights on Single-Use Plastics in the U.S.

  • According to McKinsey, approximately 37 million tons of plastic are used every year, and single-use packaging and food-service plastics represent about 16 million tons.
  • Americans consume 100 pounds per person, per year, of packaging and food-service plastics.
  • The number of plastic shopping bags used each year in the U.S. is estimated at 14 billion.
  • 2.5 million plastic bottles are discarded every hour, about 42,000 per minute, or about 695 per second, in the U.S..
  • In 2017, about 63 billion straws were used annually in the U.S. (about 170-175 million straws per day).

Proposed next steps:

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