Hidden plastics are everywhere – lurking where you least expect. A lot of them end up polluting our soils, rivers and seas. Not good for us or the animals. We need to phase them out, and fast.
All these everyday items contain plastic. But how many are you aware of?
1. Chewing gum
Loads of us love chewing gum. It’s good for our teeth (we’re told) and keeps our breath minty fresh. We've been at it for thousands of years.
People used to chew on chicle – a gum made from tree sap. These days, we're more likely to be chewing on a polymer. That's a plastic made from oil that's similar to the stuff used in car tyres. Surprising, right? We're chewing on plastic that then sticks around in the environment.
Good news. Plastic-free chicle chewing gum is making a comeback. Supermarket giant Iceland has started selling the plant-based gum.
2. Tea bags
A nice cup of tea and a biscuit. What could be more comforting? Hold on. Something could be lurking in your tea bag – plastic. And it's in a lot of everyday brands.
You might wonder why on earth they’d put plastic in our tea bags. Turns out it helps to seal them so they don’t break open in the box or cup.
It's a very thin layer of plastic called polypropylene. And there's a good chance it'll end up as tiny pieces in the soil. Those plastic pieces may well then find their way into our rivers and eventually the sea.
3. Bottle caps
Quenching your thirst with a bottle of beer. That seems like a pretty safe way of avoiding plastic. Some fizzy drinks even come in glass bottles. But it's not the bottle that's the problem. It's the cap.
Bottle caps used to be made from aluminium and a cork liner. In the 1960s they swapped the cork liner for plastic. Today's standard metal bottle caps come lined with one of two types of plastic – foamed polyethylene or plastisol.
Envelopes with windows in them contain plastic. No big surprise. They're easy to spot and to avoid if you're trying to reduce plastic pollution.
But did you know that envelope seals are hiding a secret? Most self-sealing and peel-and-seal envelopes contain plastic. It comes in the form of a synthetic latex found in the glue.
Billions of envelopes are posted every year in the UK. Sending one every now and then might not feel like a big deal – but it all adds up.
5. Drinks cartons
It might not be obvious but cartons of milk, juice and other liquids are all hiding plastic. They're made from paperboard, aluminium and a type of plastic called polytethylene.
One company, Tetra Pak, claims its cartons are fully recyclable. But there's more to it than that. Each time plastic is recycled, the quality of the material gets worse.
Recycling keeps plastic in use for longer. But it can only be recycled so many times before it becomes useless. The bottom line is, recycled plastic still finds its way into the environment – just by a slower route.
6. Takeaway paper coffee cups
Hang on a minute, they’re called paper cups, not plastic.
They are made out of paper, of course. But they’re also usually made with a thin coating of a plastic called polyethylene.
It’s incredibly difficult to separate plastic lining from paper, making it a nightmare to recycle. In fact, you need specialist recycling facilities to do it, which most local authorities don't have. So the vast bulk of cups end up in landfill with other plastic pollution – leaking toxins into the environment.
7. Wet wipes
It's hard to deny that they’re super handy – especially for cleaning babies’ dirty faces (and other parts).
Yet despite looking like paper, most wet wipes are actually a form of plastic. They're usually made from polyester fibres mixed with wood fibres – and aren't dissolvable like standard toilet paper.
Lots of people don’t realise this. They end up flushing them down the toilet, causing blockages and polluting our waterways with plastics. Wet wipes make up an astounding 93% of the material causing blockages in the sewage system.