The Purpose of Single-Use Plastics

Many plastic products are purposely designed to be used only once. No matter the product, proper disposal is key to making sure no plastics end up where they shouldn’t.


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Consumers and businesses throughout the world benefit from a variety of single-use plastics. Our industry works to increase the acceptance of all plastic products at all recycling facilities across the country and continues to innovate to make it easier to recycle them.

Consumers benefit from the advantages in cost, convenience and energy efficiency that single-use items provide. But using items like plastic shopping bags, bottles, utensils and straws requires users to commit to disposing of them properly—whether that means recycling them or, at the very least, ensuring they make their way into a proper waste receptacle.

Many of these items were introduced for specific reasons. Disposable plastic utensils, for example, became popular with Americans in the 1960s. They were used at home and in restaurants to cut labor costs and the energy required to clean traditional silverware. They also cut down on the spread of diseases.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, plastic bags were introduced to address concerns about how many trees were being cut down in order to produce paper bags, which were more common at the time. Ever since then, the process of making these products has gotten more efficient.

Today, many other plastic items are designed to be used just once, delivering benefits beyond convenience and cost savings and ultimately supporting public health. For example, single-use plastic products that prevent the spread of infection are crucial in the medical industry. Instruments such as syringes, applicators, drug tests, bandages and wraps are often made to be disposable. Furthermore, single-use plastic products have been enlisted in the fight against food waste, keeping food and water fresher for longer and reducing the potential for contamination.

Because of its safety, flexibility and cost-effectiveness, plastic is the material of choice for these types of products.

We all benefit from single-use plastic products. But by choosing to use these products, people agree to dispose of them properly. There can be challenges when it comes to disposing of some single-use products. Many of them aren’t designed to be reused, and because of their makeup, some can’t be recycled using traditional methods. This means many people toss them in the trash—contributing to waste in landfills—or don’t bother to dispose of them properly at all, littering them and ultimately sending them into the environment, where they can harm plants and wildlife.

While it’s better for single-use plastic products to end up in a landfill than to become litter, the ultimate goal is that all these products can be collected and converted into energy or recycled.

The people of this industry are creating new ways to address challenges by making it more profitable to recycle a plastic product than it is to litter or landfill it. Examples include:

It’s paramount to dispose of single-use plastics properly. Every person who selects single-use products has the obligation to make sure these items are recycled or disposed of in a trash can and kept out of the environment. The industry is working to expand our nation’s waste management infrastructure in order to increase access to recycling and to energy recovery technologies. When recycled or converted into energy, these items can continue to make a positive impact on our lives, extending their life and their value beyond a single use.

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