Alternatives to single-use plastics in UK manufacturing

With continued evidence that single-use plastics are harmful to our planet and more and more companies looking to provide alternative solutions to fulfil our everyday needs, the future of single-use plastics looks set to change drastically.

From our daily drinking habits to our beauty regimes, read on to find out what the future of single-use plastics in UK manufacturing could look like.

The plastic industry

According to The British Plastics Federation, plastics “make a positive contribution to all three pillars of sustainability” and “make an immense contribution to environmental sustainability through their energy saving potential and intrinsic recyclability and energy recovery options”.

A report published by The UK Plastics Industry highlighted that the use of plastics globally is expected to double again in the next 15 years. By setting out key collaborative actions the UK must take in order to maintain a pivotal role in the future of the plastics industry, the document has identified seven crucial actions to support future industry growth.

These are:

  • Promoting the reputation of plastics and the plastics industry
  • Improving the industry’s skills base and its educational support
  • Securing consistent and competitive supplies of feedstock
  • Accelerating the sustainability of the plastics industry and its alignment with the circular economy
  • Focusing on overseas market development and the encouragement of reshoring 
  • Enhanced industry collaboration

The UK consumes more than 5 million tonnes of plastic every year. It’s a cheap and hard-wearing material, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s so commonly used for consumables like drinks bottles and food packaging. But just 25% of this plastic is recycled. As for the other 75%, it enters the environment and is a major source of pollution, which damages the ecosystem. In many cases, plastic waste ends up in the ocean, which means aquatic life is at particular risk. 

The cost to the environment is significant, as plastic takes at least 400 years to degrade. Our generation must strive to reduce the consumption of plastic and increase awareness of recycling plastic products. 

But as well as ensuring the use of recyclable plastics, we can also transition away from single-use plastics by utilising innovative alternatives.

What are some of the alternatives?

Plastic-free straws

Responsible for both polluting the ocean and harming various species of wildlife, single-use plastic straws are not biodegradable. This means they can end up entering our food chain too.

These days, there are many alternatives for drinking straws available, some of which can be recycled and others which can easily be reused. The most popular materials are:

  • Paper
  • Stainless steel
  • Glass
  • Bamboo
  • Papaya leaf stems
  • Pasta – yes, that’s right. Some companies are using pasta straws. Made simply of wheat and water, they are as simple as they are effective. 

Take a look at these three businesses hoping to implement a real change in the way we consume our favourite beverages:

Jungle Straws Both reusable and biodegradable, this eco-conscious company specialise in the creation of Bamboo straws. Using the entire bamboo stalk, this means zero waste. They also have mixed diameters due to the naturally varying thickness of the plant which means no drinks are out of the questions.

EcostrawzManufactured from 304-grade food-safe stainless steel, this eco-friendly company produce “super stylish, BPA-free and non-toxic alternatives to disposable plastic drinking straws”. At the forefront of plastic-free alternatives, Ecostrawz has “supplied hundreds of thousands of eco-friendly drinking straws around the world in an effort to combat the damage that disposable plastic drinking straws are having on wildlife and our environment”.

StroodlesDescribing themselves as “a movement for conscious consumerism”, Stroodles specialise in “jazzing up your drink game” with their simple pasta straws. Flavourless, easily cut to size and lasting for over an hour, you can throw them on your compost after use or boil them to make your favourite pasta dish.

Alternative coffee cups and lids

Takeaway coffees have become a real modern-day essential. But with 2.5 billion coffee cups resigned to the UK’s landfill sites each year, and most takeaway cups unable to be recycled due to their plastic lining, they’re not very environmentally friendly. 

What’s the solution? From reusable coffee cups to a change in the way the products are manufactured, there are various alternatives to be considered.

Take a look at Single Use Alternatives. A company founded by two brothers “who are passionate about enjoying the outdoors and caring for the environment”, Single Use Alternatives offer a range of alternative, eco-friendly products. From coffee cups and lids to food containers and tableware, they are helping to move consumers away from single-use plastic.

Plastic-free & reusable cotton buds

With a whopping 1.5 billion cotton buds produced every day and a plastic swab that ends up in the depths of the UK oceans, these seemingly innocent everyday items can be very harmful to marine life.

But as with many other items in our bathroom cabinets, they can be substituted for plastic-free alternatives. From reusable silicon swabs to bamboo cotton buds and fluid ear washes and even reusable silicon swabs, there are several companies serving up pioneering, plastic-free change in the beauty industry.

One such company with a real focus on changing the way in which we clean our ears (amongst other beauty regimes) is ecoLiving. As a distributor for high-quality sustainable products, this ethical company also produces their own range of zero waste, plastic-free, and vegan products from their UK brand ecoLiving. As a carbon-neutral company, they also plant trees through Eden Reforestation Projects.

These items are just the start. There are other environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products, either already on the market or in the pipeline. But for all its flaws, plastic is incredibly versatile. It’s used to manufacture many different products and there is no one-size-fits-all alternative – so it’s not possible to stop using it altogether. However, scientists are working on the innovation and development of bioplastics – a new generation of plastics, created to meet the needs of manufacturers, whilst benefiting the environment. Bioplastics are still a work in progress, but it is hoped they can eventually be produced sustainably and be both recyclable and biodegradable.