Single use plastics are intended for single use only. These are otherwise called as disposable plastics. Plastics are the material of choice particularly in the packaging and medical industry due to its flexibility, ease of manufacture, safety, sterile properties and cost effectiveness. Items such as grocery bags, food packaging materials, bottled water containers, straws, coffee stirrers, disposable cups and cutlery fall under single use plastics.

Main polymers used in the production of single-use plastics

  • LDPE  – Bags, trays, containers, food packaging film
  • HDPE – Milk bottles, freezer bags, shampoo bottles, ice cream containers
  • PET – Bottles for water and other drinks, dispensing containers for cleaning fluids, biscuit trays
  • PS – Cutlery, plates and cups
  • EPS – Hot drink cups, insulated food packaging, protective packaging for fragile items
  • PP – Microwave dishes, ice cream tubs, potato chip bags, bottle caps

LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), PP (Polypropylene), PS (Polystyrene), EPS (Expanded Polystyrene).

Plastics replacing the traditionally used materials:


Milk, edible oil

Toiletries (soap/shampoos)

Cement, fertilizer


Previous typical packaging material

Glass, metal

Paper, glass



Current typical packaging material

3 or 5-layer film pouches

Plastic pouches or films

PP/HDPE woven sack

Plastic Lamitube


: Milk, edible oil

Previous typical packaging material

: Glass, metal

Current typical packaging material

: 3 or 5-layer film pouches


: Toiletries (soap/shampoos)

Previous typical packaging material

: Paper, glass

Current typical packaging material

: Plastic pouches or films


: Cement, fertilizer

Previous typical packaging material

: Jute

Current typical packaging material

: PP/HDPE woven sack


: Toothpaste

Previous typical packaging material

: Metal

Current typical packaging material

: Plastic Lamitube

Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use. Much plastic may be single-use, but that does not mean it is easily disposable. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastic can take up to a thousand years to decompose. The most effective mitigation strategy is to reduce the very input of plastic material, provide alternatives, promote reusability and recycling, thus extend their lifecycle. To minimize the environmental impact of carry bags is to reuse them as many times as possible.

Some alternatives for single-use plastics which we use often:

Single Use Shopping bags and Alternatives

Even if one carries one bag from shops every day, it counts to 365 bags in a year; most of them are used only once and find its way to the waste stream. Switching over to eco-friendly alternatives such as paper bags, jute bags or cloth bags is deemed wise in the current scenario. Cloth bags are the best alternative as it can be washed, reused and is also more durable than any other alternative material.

Disposable Water bottles and Alternatives

Though plastic is recyclable, it is not being properly recycled across the world. Many of these plastic bottles reach landfills and cause significant damage to the environment. Perhaps the most easier alternative is to use plastic reusable bottles. It may not seem logical but it makes sense as the material used for making reusable plastic bottles are more durableand sturdy as compared to the ones used for disposable bottles. You may also use bottles made of stainless steel and glass as alternatives.

Disposable Paper and Plastic Coffee cups

Disposable cups are usually made from paper or plastic. The paper cups are given a thin lining of wax or plastic – mostly of polyethylene to give additional waterproofing characteristics to the paper cups. Though the coating of plastic gives barrier property enhancement to paper cups, it poses strain in recycling them. Separation of the plastic lining is difficult as it requires specialised facilities. Presently, most of the paper cups are either landfilled or incinerated.

Disposable plastic cups mostly are designed for single use only. They are usually preferred over stainless steel or glass particularly during gatherings because of its ease of handling and disposal, cutting down the labour and time of cleaning after its intended use. These disposable cups are generally thermoformed and are mostly made from Polystyrene (PS) or Polypropylene (PP).

Cups made from metals, bamboo, starch based products are good alternatives to disposable paper and plastic cups.

Drinking straws

Plastic drinking straws are the smallest part of the larger problem. They are too small and millions of them end up reaching the landfill every day. Plastic straws are one of the top ten items during any beach cleaning activity.

The best thing is to avoid the use of straws. Next is to switch over to alternatives like bamboo, paper straws or straws made out of metals.Edible straws are also available in the market now.

Produce Bags

While packing is helpful and often essential to retain the freshness of vegetables and fruits, imagine the quantum of produce bags thrown out as waste (like the cling wrap shown in the picture) as soon as the fruits and veggies reaches your bowl.

Using reusable produce bags is an option, but it is always better to choose the loose varieties. Carry reusable cotton bags with you so that you can drop the fresh veggies/fruits.

Disposable cutlery & plates

Peoples’ eating habits and choices have changed over the years. We now take food at the local eatery or at a roadside shop. The amount of waste generated out of disposable cutlery used at these outlets is quite alarming. Of course, ordering of foods online leave behind disposable cutlery and lots of packaging materials too.

The ease of availability, enormous ranges in the menu along with a promise of fast delivery and ease of placing order through a single tap on the phone, saving time and energy have made many to switch over to ordering foods online. It’s time we rethink on our choices. Carrying our own cutlery or switching over to eco-friendly alternatives like cutlery made from wood or starch. Edible cutlery is also available now in the market.


Toothbrushes we use are mostly made from plastic material. These generally are not recycled and ends up in either landfills or in the ocean and takes many years for its breakdown. As per Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global alliance fighting plastic pollution, each one of us uses 300 toothbrushes during our lifetime (4 toothbrushes per year).

To avoid plastic pollution, we can switch over to toothbrushes made out of bamboo which are eco-friendly and biodegradable.