Hidden plastics – 8 items containing plastic that might surprise you

Hidden plastics – 8 items containing plastic that might surprise you

Plastic is part of our everyday life. It’s only been since the 1960s that plastic has been in wide use, yet now it’s hard to avoid. There are hidden plastics in many surprising household items.

tea bag hidden plastics
Photo by Lynda Sanchez on Unsplash

As a material, plastic makes many things in modern life convenient and easier. And in some settings, like in medical use, plastic has become invaluable.

But, despite billions of tonnes of plastic produced over the years, only around 10% has ever been recycled. It can be hard to recycle, and most ends up in landfill, or as litter in the environment.

Plastic has also found its way into places you might not expect, in many household items. There are hidden plastics in many common items now.

Here are 8 items that contain hidden plastics, and ideas for how to replace them.

1. Clothing

All synthetic fibre clothing such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and microfibers, are made from plastic. These fabrics are great for stretch and easy drying, but the problem is that when we wash them, micro plastics get into the water. These end up in waterways, oceans, and the animals in the water.

Solutions to this include limiting how much synthetic fibre clothing you buy, and reducing how often you wash them (if possible, not so easy with items like activewear that need washing after most uses).

You can also wash in lower water levels in your washing machine, as this reduces how much microplastics are shed from clothing. And there are washing machine microplastic filters available too.

Buying clothing made from natural fibres such as cotton or wool is another alternative.

2. Tea bags

It’s hard to believe that there is plastic in tea bags, but most are heat-sealed and/or coated in plastic to stop the bag disintegrating in boiling water. This plastic won’t break down in your compost bin though, instead leaving micro-plastics through it.

An alternative is to switch to loose leaf tea, either in a tea pot of using an individual cup tea strainer.

3. Disposable coffee cups

Takeaway coffee cups are lined with plastic over the paper, which makes them very hard to recycle.

An alternative is to use a reusable coffee cup. Some cafes are part of a cup lending scheme run by Again Again, where you borrow a cup for your hot drink, and return it next time.

Compostable / biodegradable cups are available, but these need to be composted in commercial composting facilities. Backyard compost bins do not have the right conditions to make these cups break down.

4. Wipes

Wipes are a handy invention, especially when you have young children. But, there are made from wood fibre and polyester, so are not biodegrable. Worse, they are often flushed down the toilet, where they can cause blockages in the wastewater system.

An alternative is using reusable clothes such as flannels or cut up towels, which you can wash and use over and over again.

5. Chewing Gum

This product used to be made from tree sap (gum), but now most manufacturers make it from plastic and rubber.

You can find natural chewing gum, which is biodegradable, or if you are looking for a fresh mouth feel, you could use mints as an alternative.

6. Glitter

Glitter is so pretty, I know! But it is made of plastic, and can easily pollute waterways and environment.

There are ‘eco-glitter’ products available, but similar to biodegradable coffee cups, it needs specific conditions to properly decompose.

If you can’t live without glitter, and you use it for crafts, you could cut up leaves, petals or paper into confetti, to give colourful effects to your projects.

7. Balloons

Another fun product, balloons are made of plastic. They can pollute the environment when they are let off in mass balloon releases. There are latex balloons, but need commercial composting (there is a theme here).

Alternatives for balloons include paper or fabric flags or bunting. And for balloon releases to mark an important occasion, you could use bubbles or light candles instead.

8. Produce Stickers

The little stickers on fruit and veges are made of plastic, not paper. So they can’t be composted (which I found out when we emptied one of our compost bins and found hundreds of stickers still intact).

This one is hard to avoid on loose fruit and veges, but growers are looking into alternatives including paper stickers and laser markings on the peels.

If you can grow some of your own produce, or buy some from markets, you can avoid some of these little pieces of plastic.

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Final comments on hidden plastics

I hope you found this interesting, and are keen to try some switches for the hidden plastics in our lives. Comment below on the tips you found surprising or useful.

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