Earth Month presents us with the opportunity to promote environmental awareness, which is why we want to talk about hidden plastics this month. We want to highlight the hidden plastics that you may or may not already know of. Hidden plastics are described as plastics that are not immediately visible to the eye found in objects. A few we’ll be highlighting include chewing gum, clothing, tea bags, glitter and tin/aluminum cans.
People have been chewing gum-like products since ancient times. Since the 1950s, this evolved to manufacturers started creating gum using a polymer, which is a plastic product. This is similar to what’s used for car tires.
Annually, there are approximately 374 billion sticks of gum being produced and chewed, which equates to about 100,000 tonnes of plastic.
There are plastic-free alternatives that allow you to enjoy the act of chewing gum, but it makes us wonder if more people knew this information, would they want to chew gum less?
The clothing we wear contains a large amount of hidden plastics. Synthetic fibres like polyester make up more than 60% of fibres produced in the world and 50% of fast fashion is currently made of virgin plastic. This means the fast fashion industry is responsible for new plastics entering the world despite the shift to alternatives.
On top of this, synthetic fibres, which are not biodegradable, release microplastics into the world which end up in our ecosystems, including our oceans. You’d think that the fashion industry’s reliance on synthetic fibres would mean there would be proper recycling infrastructure in place of clothing, but instead, clothing ends up in landfills or incinerated.
We hope to see more brands switch to more sustainable alternatives sooner than later.
In 2019, a study was conducted on how much plastic was being found in a single cup of tea. A cup of tea with a single tea bag could contain up to 11 billion microplastic particles which was more than what’s been found in other foods and beverages like honey, beer and fish.
Canadians drink about 10 billion cups of tea a year. If you’d like to avoid this hidden single-use plastic, there are alternatives like loose-leaf tea and paper tea bags.
Glitter is made from aluminum and plastic and is another hidden plastic. We’ve all experienced the mayhem of using glitter and still finding it all over the place days after clean up, so do we really need a product like this? Or better yet, are there more environmentally friendly alternatives that can replace this in art activities and celebrations?
Unlike the rest of the hidden plastics in this series which require the breaking down of plastic particles, glitter from the get-go is a microplastic. And although the volume of glitter produced annually does not compare to other single-use plastics, it should bring more awareness to microplastics.
Over 180 billion aluminum cans are produced every year and yet many people are not aware that they contain a plastic lining on the inside. How could you have known unless you’ve seen the inside of the can, right? This has been done to protect the beverage from the can and vice versa and to maintain the flavour. There’s been a scientific concern in the past with research indicating that BPA-lined cans can be linked to health problems, and although some companies have been shifting from this, there are big players in the industry still using this.
Are you familiar with any other hidden plastics? What can we do to bring more awareness to them?