Dawn Woodward says: “Time’s up for our throwaway culture”
Overflowing landfills and polluted waterways remain stark evidence of the way in which we as a society see many things as disposable, replaceable or temporary. It is this attitude that has given rise to throwaway culture, which refers to the excessive production and over consumption of short-lived, single-use items.
Throwaway culture has become a recognised global crisis and many leading figures have spoken out against the issue. It is not only contributing to the depletion of our planet’s precious, finite resources, but also threatens to permanently damage the environment and is having a substantial impact on the way we deal with waste.
The UK prides itself on being a world leader in ethical and responsible waste disposal, but even we are straining under the weight of the waste we produce annually – over 200 million tonnes of it . Our recycling rates have risen steadily over the past few years, but not fast enough for Britain to meet the EU target of recycling 50% of household waste by 2020 [2,3].
The UK had previously relied on shipping much of its waste overseas to be recycled in countries such as China and Malaysia, who now reject imported waste because their own recycling plants have become overwhelmed.
All of our waste has to go somewhere, and some predict this will lead to ever greater volumes of waste dumped in landfill or incinerated, contributing to increased pollution and more environmental destruction.
Disposable instead of durable
Some manufacturers have been criticised for failing to play a greater role in reducing waste at the point of source. Instead they produce and supply cheap goods that are designed to be disposable as opposed to durable, which encourages people to use them quickly and then throw them away in favour of newer items, most notably high-street fashion retailers.
The clothing and textiles sector is currently fuelling our throwaway culture through so-called “fast fashion”, whereby items are being sold so cheap that they are regarded as single-use purchases. A survey of 2,000 respondents aged 18 to 35 found that 61% of buyers have no interest in well-made, long-lasting clothing, with many preferring cheap trend-based items that can be thrown away the following season .
This is an alarming shift. The clothes industry is already one of the world’s most significant polluters; add to that the disposal of unwanted clothing and we are witnessing unwarranted harm to the environment.
A lot of this so-called fast fashion is thrown away rather than reused or recycled, and it has been estimated that £140 million worth of clothing ends up in landfill each year, however, much of this may be incinerated in the near future in an effort to manage the sheer quantity of textile waste produced by throwaway fashion fads .
And it seems the food industry is no better. Plastic food packaging, in particular, has revolutionised the way we store and consume food, enabling a lunch-on-the-go habit that generates 10.7 billion items of packaging waste each year.
A survey of over 1,200 UK workers has revealed that an average lunch purchase includes four packaged items, with 76% of shoppers picking up a main item such as a boxed sandwich, 70% a packet of snacks, and 65% a napkin . This creates huge levels of waste that often cannot be recycled as it is produced from mixed materials or contaminated by food residue.
Drink bottles are the most popular form of single-use, plastic packaging that can be recycled, but that that depends on the consideration of the consumer. Only just over half of the 38.5 million plastic bottles used in the UK every day are recycled. The rest are disposed of in landfill, burned, or eventually find their way into our oceans, causing further damage to the environment .
Within the health and dental care industries, disposable single-use items offer several advantages over reusable products, which includes helping reduce the potential for cross infection. However, this is also contributing to the global waste crisis, putting greater pressure on dental manufacturers to consider environmentally-friendly solutions for single-use goods. Many companies are already supplying oral healthcare products that can be reused or recycled.
With mounting concerns over worldwide waste management, the need to act has never been more pressing. We can no longer afford to use the countryside or the oceans as dumping grounds for our throwaway culture without the risk of irreparably damaging the environment, which ultimately has the potential to detrimentally affect us as a society.
Conscientious consumption of natural resources is key to leaving the planet in a better state than when we inherited it, and it is important that we all take steps to follow a more responsible, environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
Dawn Woodward is the National Sales Manager for Curaden UK and a regular contributor to Dental Review. She says: “Curaprox is combatting throwaway culture by offering its CPS interdental brushes which have been designed with a reusable handle and a replaceable brush head.
“This makes CPS interdental brushes last up to five times longer than traditional alternatives available on the market, thus helping patients reduce, reuse and recycle as much of their waste as possible.” For more information go to www.curaprox.co.uk
1] Whittaker, L. and Ashton, P. (2019) Digital Revolution: transforming waste management in the UK. Gov.uk. Link: https://environmentagency.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/31/digital-revolution-transforming-waste-management-in-the-uk/. [Last accessed: 25.07.19].
5] WRAP. (2019) Clothing. Link: http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/clothing-waste-prevention. [Last accessed: 25.07.19].
6] Hubbub. (2019) Hubbub’s new #FoodSavvy Lunch Club campaign encourages a rethink of ‘lunch on the go’ routines to reduce good and packaging waste. Link: Click HERE. [Last accessed: 25.07.19].
7] Recycle Now. (2019) What to do with plastic bottles. Link: https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/plastic-bottles-0. [Last accessed: 25.07.19].
Photos by Gary Chan, John Cameron, freestocks.org, and Hermes Rivera on Unsplash