Single-Use vs. Reusable Products - What’s the Real Deal?
The circular economy is still nascent - only 8.6% of the materials extracted from the earth are being reused.
Disposable plastic products are often considered a chemical-filled and beach-choking disaster, while reusable products are seen as versatile, eco-friendly, and lowering environmental impact. Seems pretty simple, right?
However, although it is unquestionably true that single-use products are harmful to the environment, their recyclable alternatives often have even greater initial carbon costs.
When you think of a reusable product, like a water bottle, its production actually requires a lot more material and energy than a single-use product. In order to truly compensate for the environmental impact of a reusable product, you have to make sure to reuse it enough times.
Let’s take a look at a few examples, to see how many times you need to reuse a product to offset its environmental impact:
Organic cotton totes have to be reused over 20,000 times - that’s every day for 55 years
Paper bags must be reused 8 times to offset their environmental impact due to the paper pulp used in their production process
Metal straws have to be used over 150 times to have the equivalent per-use emissions of a single-use plastic straw
Key Points to Keep In Mind to Be a Mindful Consumer
Reuse as often as possible: Reusable products are thought to be better for the environment than single-use products. However, they only have a lower environmental impact when they are reused enough times to compensate for the energy used to produce them.
Reduce, reuse, recycle are actually a hierarchy: Reduction at the source should be the first priority. Reusing products is the next step. We need to reuse products as often as possible to offset the environmental impact caused during their production process. Only if we can't reduce and reuse anymore, we should look at recycling.
Be a long-termist: A person needs to use a standard reusable bag up to 104 times to reduce the impact on the environment. However, statistics show that people use eco bags only 52 times on average. This is why it is important to be aware of the initial environmental impact during the manufacturing process and consciously reuse products as often and as long as possible.
Our recommendation is to take a look at the products you already own and make the conscious decision to use them more frequently. If you don't want to use them yourself anymore, you can always give them to friends or donate them.
The same applies to new products you buy. Conduct some quick research about the production process and its environmental footprint to inform your buying and usage decisions.