5 Examples of Single-Use Plastic Hiding in Plain Sight

Last updated on May 23rd, 2022

We have a single-use plastic problem. This isn’t just about plastic bags and straws. I’m talking about all of the disposable plastic on the planet. There’s a limited amount of petroleum underground, and it’s being converted into plastic and then thrown away.

The weight of plastic produced every year is almost equal to the weight of all the people in the world. That’s every year, and plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so it’s not going anywhere.

We’re stuck with it.

The 3 R’s of waste management—reduce, reuse, and recycle—have been kicking around since the 1970s. Over the decades, recycling, the last of the trio, has taking the lead in our collective minds on how to deal with plastic.

However, recycling won’t fix the problem. We don’t even recycle 10% of plastic annually.

Another step in the 3 R’s, however, is to reduce unnecessary plastic waste in the first place. Shop for products enclosed in less packaging. Opt for items made from natural materials. Avoid single-use plastic.

While some disposable plastic, like plastic shopping bags and drinking straws, have garnered attention and heated discussions, others may slide right by without a second thought. Here are five example of single-use plastic hiding in plain sight.


spilled jar of glitter

It’s shiny. It’s metallic. And it’s plastic.

Most glitter is a thin sheet of plastic bonded with aluminum. And to use my house as a microcosm of the world, it never completely goes away. Glitter comes in on cards and school projects and ends up everywhere. Same thing large scale for the planet.

If you’re concerned:

  • Avoid glitter.
  • Look for eco-friendly glitter.


tea bag,, packaged tea, and loose tea

Not all teabags are manufactured with plastic, and some contain more plastic than others. A number of companies seal their teabags with food-grade plastic, rendering them non-compostable.

A few brands have entirely replaced paper teabags with plastic. These plastic teabags release tiny plastic particles while the tea brews, and in a world swamped in micro- and nano-plastic waste, there’s no need to release more plastic with each cup of tea.

If you’re concerned:

  • There’s a lot of contradictory info floating around the internet regarding which companies use plastic and which do not. Contact your favorite tea distributors to find out what materials they use in their bags.
  • Brew loose leaf tea.

Disposable Dinnerware

paper bowls of ice cream

Wait, paper’s right there in the name—paper bowls, paper plates, paper cups.

Yes, but most paper dinnerware is sealed with polyethylene. This thin coat of plastic acts as a barrier to prevent liquid from absorbing into the paper. It means the compost pile is a no-go after the meal.

If you’re concerned:

  • Use reusable tableware.
  • Look for paper dinnerware sealed with food-grade wax or that’s not sealed at all.


gum balls

From the underside of tables to sidewalks, gum is everywhere, and it’s clear that most gum doesn’t biodegrade.

Although gum producers keep their specific ingredients under wraps, they all start with gum base, and these days most gum base is some variety of plastic.

If you’re concerned:

  • Find a natural brand to chomp on.
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Look for gum recycling, or set up a program in your community.

Dryer Sheets

dryer sheets and dryer ball

Most dryer sheets are synthetic polyester coated with fatty acid fabric softeners. Dryer heat melts the fatty acids, and this lubricant leaves fabric feeling softer and neutralizes static charge.

It also makes towels less absorptive over time. And in the end, the polyester sheet must be thrown away after every load.

If you’re concerned:

  • Look for compostable dryer sheets.
  • Skip the dryer sheets all together.
  • Use wool dryer balls.

What You Can Do:

  • Track down single-use plastic hiding in your life.
  • Use products made of renewable materials.
  • Use items that compost when they’re no longer useful.
  • Avoid single use products.
  • For the love of all that’s good don’t send glittery cards to your loved ones.

What else should be on the list? Jot down your ideas in the comment section!

2 thoughts on “5 Examples of Single-Use Plastic Hiding in Plain Sight

  1. Thanks for the tips. I didn’t know about the teabags and gum! Other ideas: use bar soap instead of liquid soap for bathing and washing up; use dishwasher and laundry soap that comes in cardboard boxes (a good source: Dropps.com); if you like bubbles in your water, invest in a soda stream or similar machine instead of buying seltzer water in plastic bottles. So many ways to cut plastic, a little bit at a time.

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