Sustainability has become a trending topic over the past few years. Using metal straws and reusable water bottles has become a new “aesthetic” on social media. It is definitely impactful to see the number of people supporting eco-friendly companies and their products, but many have questioned the validity of the sustainable benefits these products advertise.
Reusable Water Bottles
The usage of reusable water bottles has surged in the past five years. In 2015, they were valued at $7.4 billion and sales are expected to increase at a 10.2 billion valuation. It’s plausible almost everyone you know owns a reusable bottle. Increasing their usage has benefited the planet. Some environmental benefits include the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the declining number of plastic bottles in landfills, and less waste filling the oceans. Plastic bottles contain BPA and antimony which causes reproductive issues, breast cancer, and asthma. Reusable bottles are also beneficial from a financial/business perspective. They save the average person $200/year and can increase a brand’s awareness and boost their business.
However, the most notable benefit of reusable bottles is the amount of plastic reduced.
Whether you have a Hydro Flask, Takeya, or another reusable bottle, chances are you have annually prevented at least 156 plastic bottles from entering landfills. But with this trend, there are many environmentalists who question the “eco-friendliness” of these bottles.
The production of a stainless steel bottle is worse than one of a plastic bottle. The production of a 10 oz. steel bottle uses 7 times as much fossil fuel, 14 times more greenhouse gases, uses hundreds more metal resources and causes additional toxic risks to people and ecosystems compared to a 1.1 oz. plastic bottle.
Reusable bottles can actually be beneficial if you get in the habit of using them. They can be harmful to the environment if you plan to take only one sip of water for the rest of your life. A Hydro Flask takes the place of 50 plastic water bottles; so in that case, yes they can be eco-friendly, depending on the regular usage.
Let’s be realistic, using a metal straw does not mean every single turtle on the planet has been saved. And unfortunately, they do not automatically protect our oceans and marine life; I wish preserving the environment could be that easy. Along with reusable water bottles, metal straws have become a hot trend in the past year. According to recent studies, about 500 million plastic straws are used and disposed of in waterways every day. High levels of judgment and discouragement about plastic straws have scared the general public away from using them.
What many do not realize is that the energy to create one metal straw is roughly equivalent to the production of 90 plastic ones. Additionally, metal straws exert carbon emissions equivalent to about 150 plastic ones. In order to counterbalance the environmental impact of creating one metal straw, it must be used over 150 times.
Similar to reusable water bottles, metal straws can be sustainable if used on a regular basis.
Reusable Shopping Bags
Personally, I love reusable shopping bags; but I often forget to bring them to the store and end up buying a plastic bag for 10¢. Reusable shopping bags come in a variety of materials; so in this case, plastic is not so damaging. However, to maintain a beneficial environmental footprint, some reusable shopping bags should be used with caution.
Thankfully, plastic bags are recyclable, but few people actually recycle them. Doing so is a difficult task because plastic bags can get stuck in recyclable plant machinery. Additionally, bags that do not get recycled become litter because they are not biodegradable. They tend to fill up landfills and endanger a number of environmental factors. Subsequently, these bags turn into microplastics that proliferate through marine life food chains and in, soil, as well as urban air.
Studies have shown that plastic bags can be less destructive to the environment; however, the effects of them becoming microplastic litter were not taken into account.
Paper bags are known to have sustainable advantages over plastic ones. The recycling process is easier and they are also biodegradable. Composting is also a common outcome of recycling paper bags.
However, the production of paper bags is resource-heavy. Paper bag manufacturing requires four times as much energy compared to the amount used to produce a plastic bag. In addition, some chemicals and fertilizers used for paper bag production cause harm to the environment.
In order to neutralize the effects of producing paper bags, the product needs to be utilized at least 43 times. However, it is evident that these bags are not durable, so the possibility of that happening is extremely low.
Other Reusable Bags
The production of reusable-cotton bags can vary depending on the type of material. To reduce its impact on climate change, a study conducted in the UK discovered that whilst producing cotton bags, they would need to be used about 131 times. However, compared to plastic bags, a cotton bag would need to be utilized at least a thousand times to neutralize both climate change and environmental effects.
On a brighter note, materials such as non-woven polypropylene are a bit more sustainable. In comparison to cotton bags, these only need to be used eleven times to break even with their harmful environmental effects.
The eco-friendliness of reusable bags can go a long way. However, the likeliness of people actually using them is low. On the other hand, the usage of reusable bags highly cuts down the amount of litter on land and in our oceans.
Sustainability: An Everyday Hobby
Overall, these products have all done their part in creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly environment. The production of just about any product will cause harmful effects to our planet and to our health. Using sustainable products has to become an everyday habit in order to further benefit the planet. In order to neutralize these damaging repercussions to creating “eco-friendly” products, we must make sustainability more than just a trending topic.
*All monetary values in USD