Single-use plastic? Here are the eco-friendly alternatives

Single-use plastic? Here are the eco-friendly alternatives

July 10, 2019

Single-use plastic? Here are the eco-friendly alternatives

Many countries and the European Union have banned disposable plastic tableware and drinking straws, a strong signal that a change of course was necessary.

Summer is here and it is finally time to go on day trips out of town and have lunch on the beach: on these occasions we tend to use disposable plates and cutlery, which are mostly single-use plastic objects. Every year in Europe alone, 25 million tons of plastic are produced, of which only 30 percent is recycled. Globally, plastic accounts for 85 percent of all waste on beaches

In an effort to tackle the problem of plastic products dumped in the environment, the European Union has issued a directive (Directive (EU) 2019/904): one of its aims is to promote circular approaches that give priority to sustainable and non-toxic reusable products and reuse systems. So here are the best alternatives for eco-friendly, low environmental impact picnics.

What is bagasse?

Bagasse is a material similar to cardboard, which is very resistant and it is used in food packaging. It is derived from sugar cane processing and may be a first solution to the problem of plastic waste. Bagasse is very common in Southeast Asian countries, India, China and South America, and has long been used as fuel in the sugar factories where it is produced. In recent years, bagasse plates and cups have also appeared on the market in Western countries: they are slightly more expensive than plastic plates (and, usually, of paper plates too), but are 100 percent biodegradable and, unlike paper dishes and cups, do not require tree felling.

How are bioplastics produced?

Bioplastics are made from wheat, potatoes, palm or pineapple leaves and cornstarch. These are biodegradable materials, which, for example, are already widely used as bags, as a replacement for plastic bags in countries where legislation requires it.

However, it is best to clarify this so as not to confuse the labels “compostable”, “biodegradable” and “bio-based". These terms are not interchangeable and we need to make sure these products are disposed of properly. For instance, most compostable plastics must be sent to an industrial composting plant and cannot be used directly as fertilizer or disposed of through domestic composting. And more importantly, not all bio-based products are necessarily biodegradable. Therefore, it is always best to carefully read the disposal instructions on labels, which are normally placed on the back of the packaging, to better safeguard the environment.

Choose reusable products

The most eco-friendly choice is still to buy reusable plates and cups, such as aluminum ones, which don't weigh much and are perfect for day trips out of town. They can be disposed of with less impact on the environment than rigid plastic or silicone tableware. Silicone is a material that is very similar to plastic as it is made from a silicon mineral powder, which is mixed with adhesives derived from renewable fossils, just like plastic.

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