What are Dry Baby Wipes?
Say Goodbye to Skin Rashes: How ZERO Baby Wipes Can Help Nappy Rash
7 dangerous chemicals you probably didn't know were in Wet Wipes!
THE FOUNDING STORY: WHERE THE ZERO STORE BEGAN
Designers with respective careers in UX and product design industries, plastic waste was a theme they faced often. They were continually shocked at the magnitude of waste big business created in product manufacturing.
Having children of their own opened their eyes even more to the sheer volume of waste that comes along with raising kids. Most of it, they realised, was made from plastic - purchased for convenience, outgrown quickly, and destined to sit for 500 years in a local landfill.
Throwing themselves into the research and spending months in the R&D process, ZERO was born. To solve the biggest problem that they believed really matters to parents, the waste associated with nappies and wipes.
“Evey parent we spoke to felt some level of guilt with the sheer volume of waste created by disposable nappies & wipes and knowing they are all made with plastic.
“We knew from our research and our knowledge of product design and manufacturing that the problem was solvable. Some brands do a little good, but we knew that to make a real shift, we need to get a 100% bio-based, high quality nappy into the hands of the mainstream customer. Eco needs to move out the niche market and into every shopping trolley globally”
“In every respect, customer demand is stronger than the offerings on the supermarket shelf. We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic waste issue. We need to make the products needed for modern life with ZERO plastic - that's why we are here”
How is the vision coming to life?
“We have only recently released our first product - a dry wipe for babies, cleaning and skincare. It feels amazing to see it in peoples' homes and on shelves in stores.
“We are super proud of the quality of that product from an environmental impact perspective. Our dry wipe is an alternative to the wet wipe, and people don't always realise the plastic problem created by the wet wipes on the market today. 85% of all wet wipes are made from some form of plastic, and they are all wrapped in plastic packaging. It's a huge waste issue.
“On an emotional level, it's the stories I hear from our customers that make all the hard work worthwhile. When mums tell us that they won’t use anything else now because their babies skin is irritated using other wipes, we knew we were onto something! And that's just our first product! The nappy is going to blow people's minds!”
What's next for the brand and when can customers expect the ZERO nappy?
We have a wet wipe coming that is a world first - 100% plastic free wipe and packaging. That will come out before the nappy but our big goal is manufacturing the ZERO plastic free disposable nappy. We are really hoping to manufacture that product here in Australia and we will be channeling all revenue from the wipes product into standing up an Australian based manufacturing facility here in Sydney. That's the plan, and every sale of our wipes gets us closer.
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Our commitment to people and planet
Our commitment to people and planet is embedded into our business model and our everyday decision making.
STARTING FROM ZERO
We scrutinize every stage of our product life cycle so that, while solving global problems, we don’t create more. By formalising our ESG approach and communicating it to our customers and investors We’re setting the standard now for the company of the future.
THE FUTURE OF FMCG & MANUFACTURING
Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity currently faces and we will continue to meet this crisis at more disastrous levels for generations to come unless we make immediate, radical alterations to the ways we produce and consume.
We believe delay is the new denial in the race to protect our planet, and we’re not alone. Customers are more aware of the environmental impact of their purchases than ever – and they, too, are demanding a revolution.
Lasting, impactful change must be made from the ground up, and we are incentivised by the current urgency to establish world-class green manufacturing practices, shaking up the Fast Moving Consumer Goods market everywhere from design to materials and methods of distribution.
The ZERO brand is setting the new standard for manufacturing, striving for utmost operational excellence in this era of unprecedented change.
THE NORTH STAR FOR THE ZERO BRAND CAN BE SAID IN A FEW WORDS: What, Why, How?
Our why: Zero impact childhoods. To radically reduce a child’s environmental footprint.
Our what: We create intuitive, design-led children’s products that solve global environmental problems.
Our How: We engineer children’s products to eliminate plastic waste and reduce environmental impact at every stage.
Here is the code of conduct we live by:
- Be rigorous in material selection at the beginning of the process
- Take ownership for the whole product life cycle
- Create materials and products with the aim that all return to dirt at end-of-life
- Where possible, meaningfully repurpose existing industry bio-waste in our products to circumvent landfill
- Don’t waste time – maximise each minute.
- Our resources are limited. We use lean operating processes that keep the business focused on the most important things that will achieve maximum impact
- Measure and report on the impact we have on the environment and our community
- Be accountable even when no-one is looking
- Prioritise the wellbeing of our community, as it has a flow-on effect for the planet
- Design the future – thinking ahead with a goal in mind in everything we do
- Commit to open source transparency with our customers
Here’s what we believe.
We believe if nothing changes, nothing changes.
While we believe in the power of big ideas and meaningful dialogue, we’ve also got to start turning strategy into real world action.
ZERO is rewriting the script – solving the single-use plastics problem for parents with products that make it possible to raise a child with zero impact.
We believe in doing the right thing even when it’s hard.
Knowing the right thing is easy, living it out is the hard part. We promise to keep it real and face the facts. To always tell the truth, to hold ourselves accountable, own up to our mistakes and use them as opportunities to make ourselves better for you. To bring you climate solutions, not more problems.
We believe the plastics problem is real and solvable.
We’ve made it our mission to help solve the plastics problem. By harnessing renewable energy sources, the best emerging tech and innovative manufacturing techniques, we’re leading a radical shift towards a plastic-free future.
We believe a better future starts now.
The easiest way to build a brighter future? Start investing in it now. We’ve got ambitious visions of a plastic-free world – one our kids, and their kids, can be proud of – and it starts now.
OUR IMPACT PILLARS: 2025 GOALS
Because we’re a new company, we have an opportunity to Start from Zero. Launching with a clean slate enables us to reinvent and innovate at each stage to minimise our impact.
Underpinning each pillar is our transparency policy. Good, bad or ugly, we’re committed to understanding the true impact our company has on people and planet:
(Target Activities by EOY 2025 are published internally for all goals and reviewed annually.)
Deforestation is one of the biggest environmental threats to our planet. By veering away from materials and suppliers that practice deforestation methods, we’re doing our part to ensure that it’s not continuing on our watch. Speaking of materials, our products are 100% plant-based (packaging included), meaning we minimise greenhouse gas emissions in both production and in decomposition.
Eventually, we’ll manufacture (and, in the longer term, vertically farm) true circular material for all products, with soil as the final state.
The ZERO brands product development process will ‘design out’ non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and non-compostable landfill waste – ultimately delivering all materials to compost.
We’ll circumvent bio-waste from existing plant-based agricultural industries (with minimal or no environmental impact) to maximise the use of existing resources, rather than sourcing from new.
We don’t have time to waste. We’ve made a conscious effort to foster a culture that prioritises deep thinking and strategy to enable us to align teams, make better decisions, set clear goals, and execute right the first time.
03: Energy & Emissions
It’s simple: We’re for renewable energy.
We’ll utilise renewable energy for all production, and generate renewables for on-site use. We aim to be a closed system so all resources are reused, and our material selection aids in this endeavour. For example, the PLA we use breaks down to water and C02, which we plan to capture and re-use in our factory.
We’ll collaborate with global thought leaders to make data-based decisions on material emissions and partner with freight suppliers who use electric capabilities, or are transitioning to electric. And by manufacturing in the company of consumption, we’re removing sea and air freight energy and emissions impacts.
04: Water & Chemicals
Clean water is one of the world’s most precious – and endangered – resources. It’s preservation is imperative. We will minimise and reduce water use throughout material and product development, as well as on-site through water capture and efficiency planning. We'll start also harnessing natural disinfectants across the board that won’t impact water run-off quality and utilise plant-based materials grown organically, along with low water usage crops. We’re also setting up a lab to test aeroponically grown raw materials, with a long-term view to ensure we reduce our agricultural footprint.
05: Human Impact
We are accountable for the impact we have on the environment and our community.
And that community consists of our team and investors, our customers, their families and carers and the wider community who aren’t our customers. By developing products that minimise landfill waste, carbon emissions and deforestation, we’re hoping to have a positive impact on more than just our customers.
We have high standards at ZERO and we hire exceptional people who have a genuine interested in making this company a success. We are also continually assessing the genuine ambition and alignment of our investors to a net zero future. Our team are passionate, genuinely interested in circumventing our environmental crisis and climate change. We believe in the diversity of people, culture and ideas in order to solve these challenges.
6: Traceability & accountability
As a company we strive to behave ethically and responsibly from end-to-end.
We’re creating a robust reporting infrastructure using Global Reporting Initiatives to monitor our performance and ensure accountability for our continuous improvement.
We’re also engage independent, third-party assessors to undertake life cycle assessments on our products – from the raw materials to our customer’s hands, for validation and authentication.
In the near term, we will continue to engage external providers to monitor our suppliers for management, ethics, integrity and employee wellbeing. And in the long term, we’ll employ vertical manufacturing for material true traceability.
OUR 5 STEP CIRCULAR PROCESS FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
01: Set Goals
Create benchmarks and set goals using OKRs, including broad and aspirational goals with "sub-goals" to be achieved in shorter time frames.
02: Develop Roadmap
Develop roadmap and framework across whole business with action plans to achieving future state.
03: Monitor and Action
Monitor goals, KPIs and action plans, and analyse gaps to achieving our future state, and either maintain, improve or optimise. Consider what our goal drivers are when deciding when and how to communicate goals externally.
Communicate ESG strategy to stakeholders while demonstrating alignment to business objectives. Highlight ESG policies and programs already in place. Share company-specific ESG goals and metrics. Evaluate progress and engagements in key areas.
05: Review and Assess
Set up an internal team to identify and evaluate risks, opportunities and performance. Assess financial and brand impacts alongside environmental and social.
To be both sustainable and affordable, we need to think big. A sustainable business model works at a small scale, but most consumers are priced out of the equation. So in order to make a massproduced product with a real shot at zero-carbon impact, we need to apply innovation at every stage of the game – from supply chain, to manufacturing, right down to the way we run our organisation.
We score total net impact against these four phases:
- Material source
- Freight & Distribution
- End of Life
When we say ZERO we mean it.
THE ZERO BRAND PROMISE:
Our brand stands for ZERO.
The hard facts are that even with greater awareness of the harm created by plastic, industry is creating more single-use plastic globally every year.
We can’t recycle our way out of this mess.
We can’t clean the mess from the oceans.
We need to stop making single use plastic products completely.
The world needs ZERO and when we say ZERO we mean it.
The zero brand promise:
1 / ZERO B*S*
We value radical transparency. No B** S**T here.
We promise to share what's in our products and to share what we know about their impact. We will share this information even if we get it wrong. We haven't yet, but we might, and we will own it. We also make a promise to call out the issues as we see them. To make a noise, to rattle the cage, and to keep going until we are no longer the outliers until all product companies take the climate crisis as seriously as we do.
2 / ZERO WASTE.
our products are made from and return to nature.
We promise to make products that are superior to the ones they are replacing in terms of waste and impact. Like for like, ours will create less waste. Our north star is ZERO plastic, but we also look at the lifecycle of each product to understand wher teh material is from through to how it degrades. The goal is to use only bio-based materials that compost at the end of life. All our products are industrially compostable, not all will be home compostable but we are working on it. From day one you will know that even if your ZERO product ends up in landfill, the degraded product will not create microplastics.
3 / ZERO PLASTIC.
We replace plastic with bio based materials.
Traditional plastics made from fossil fuels don't break down for hundreds of years, as they do, they create to microplastics that can harm our oceans and marine life.
ZERO products are a better alternative, as they are made from a mix of natural plant-based fibers like sustainably sourced wood pulp or hemp, and innovative bioplastics that are biodegradable and made from renewable sources.
Most of the bioplastics used in our packaging are starch-based and don't contain petroleum or fossil fuels. We may use a small amount of PBAT (a petroleum-derived material) in our experimentation, but we won't release a product with PBAT unless we clearly disclose it on the packaging and product info.
We are open to using a low blend of PBAT, but only in combination with biobased materials, not to replace the biodegradability of traditional plastic. We consider the overall impact of our products, including the NET carbon impact of bioplastics made from food waste, and strive to continuously improve our products.
4 / ZERO HARM.
We make our products to end the creation of microplastics.
We make our products to do no harm to humans or the planet.
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Clean Beauty: Switch out the plastic in your self care routine.
ZERO PLASTIC WIPES - Better for your skin, better for the planet.
Our wipes come dry because it's better for the environment. No plastic wrapping, no chemicals added, and the reduced weight means less impact in transit.
But they are also better for your skin.
If your looking for a way to reduce your plastic consumption, and take care of your skin, here are some ideas to get you started.
Our FAVE ways to use ZERO wipes wet.
The ZERO wipe superpowers come out when wet. Add water and you have the ultimate water wipe. No sticky residue, no irritation on skin from fragrances or additives. And, they are super soft!
#1 - With micellar water to wipe away your makeup without irritation. The fibres of our wipes grip makeup like nothing else you’ve tried.
#2 - Use warm water to cleanse off oil-based cleansing balms, face masks or activate a treatment with steam.
#3 - Toner or liquid treatment like AHA - cotton pads can be abrasive, but not these babies.
PLUS - Rinse & repeat for a more sustainable wipe - Yep, that’s right, our wipes are designed for you to wet, rinse and repeat.
Our FAVE ways to use ZERO wipes as is.
Our wipes come dry and you can use them in much the same way you use a cotton pad only they are softer, a better shape for navigating your beautiful face, and - let us say it one more time, they didn’t come wrapped in plastic.
#1 - Use with micellar water to cleanse skin of makeup or skincare treatments.
#2 - To correct makeup - great for edges of a red lip, or an OTT smokey eye.
WHY WOOD PULP?
When designing our dry wipes, we experimented with and researched extensively the most environmentally friendly and best-functioning fiber. Our result; is wood pulp.
Compostable, biodegradable, and made from 100% Natural Material. Whilst the same can be said about Cotton and Bamboo wipes; we have found that Wood Pulp is the natural material that has the smallest environmental impact across its whole lifecycle. With wipes being needed day-to-day and often only having single use; we believe choosing a fiber with the lowest environmental footprint from start to finish is the most ethical mode of production.
What is Wood Pulp?
Wood pulp spun lace non-woven is made from trees, taken from well-managed natural forests. Wood pulp is a renewable source of biomass produced from the kraft pulping process. The wood is broken down into its cellulose fibers for it to be transformed into our tissue. Because the wood pulp is a cellulose-based fiber it is incredibly absorbent. Don't be alarmed by the fact it is made from wood; this 60gsm wipe we have created is softer than cashmere in our opinion! Our wood pulp has superior strength compared to cotton wipes and can be used for baby's bottoms to tough stains on kitchen counters.
How is it better than other wipes?
The most common kind of baby wipes on the market currently contain some form of Polypropylene or made of Polyester. A staggering 90% of wet wipes contain polyester fiber! (Zhang et al., 2021) As a biobased product, wood pulp is reporting a “60% lower environmental impact compared to polypropylene” (Echeverria, 2021). Whilst we know polypropylene wipes are more cost advantageous, we know that producing wood pulp is not only bettering the environment but offers a better performance as a wipe! Choosing wood pulp over polypropylene wipes has endless benefits. The production of wood pulp wipes requires LESS fossil fuel depletion, LESS ozone depletion, LESS toxicity for the human health of those involved in the production, and the list goes on!
Lifecycle of Wood Pulp?
One thing we require of any product of the Zero Store is its ability to be compostable and 100% biodegradable. Synthetic wet wipes are a huge contributor to waste, especially in sewer systems, and we believe that there is no excuse for wipes ending up in a landfill. Any wipe made with synthetic fibers or chemicals will end up in a landfill as they are unable to biodegrade. Once you have finished using our wipe; either dry or wet, they can be composted at home or industrially. The wipe will be broken down in about 45 days. Our bio-based wipe not only outperforms the plastic-based wipe in lower resource consumption it reduces the contribution of plastics and microplastics in our environment.
Echeverria, D. V. (2021). Process-Based Modeling Framework for the Life-Cycle Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability Dimensions of Cellulose-Based Material. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Yun, T., Cheng, P., Qian, F., Cheng, Y., Lu, J., Lv, Y., & Wang, H. (2020). Balancing the decomposable behavior and wet tensile mechanical property of cellulose-based wet wipe substrates by the aqueous adhesive. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 164, 1898–1907. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2020.08.082
Zhang, Y., Wen, Z., Lin, W., Hu, Y., Kosajan, V., & Zhang, T. (2021). Life-Cycle Environmental Impact Assessment and plastic pollution prevention measures of wet wipes. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 174, 105803. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2021.105803
This Article is by Meg Fisher
Zero Wipes Sustainability & Product Development Lead
Bachelor of Commerce at UNSW
Bachelor of Design in Textiles UNSW
MS Candidate in Sustainable Fashion at GCNYC
Everything you need to know about Zero Plastic Free Dry Wipes
Is ZERO Australian owned?
The ZERO brand is Australian owned and operated.
What does ZERO refer to?
We are so glad you asked. Zero stands for both ZERO plastic, and ZERO waste.
At ZERO, we believe the problem created by plastic is MASSIVE for both people and the planet, so we have taken a firm stand on not using ANY plastic in our products. When we select the materials used in our products, we make sure that they create ZERO harm at the end of life. This is a non-negotiable design constraint for us. We won’t make a product unless we know that when our product degrades at its end of life ZERO products won’t add harmful chemicals and microplastic to the soil.
What is a dry wipe? & How do I use it?
If you’re new to the concept of a dry wipe? Here is the low down…The super absorbent fibers of our dry wipe are thick, absorbent, and soft on skin. When you add a little water and use wet, you get all the benefits of a traditional wet wipe, but you don’t get any of the greasy residue or fragrances. When used dry, they soak up liquid like nothing else we have seen on the market and can be used instead of a kitchen cloth that is typically made from polypropylene.
Isn't a wipe just for babies?...spoiler, no way!
We have designed this wipe with babies in mind, but we have discovered that wipes are used by the whole family. Makeup removal, sticky toddler faces and so many other uses around the home, office and gym.
Why is this product more environmentally friendly?
The environmental impact of our product is far superior when compared to a wet wipe because we have removed all the plastic. Wet wipes come wrapped in plastic, but most have plastic in the wipe itself. Sneaky! Our wipe is also a lot lighter to freight so that means a lower carbon footprint. Unlike your standard wet wipe, our wipes are not single use: They are engineered so you can rinse & repeat for a more sustainable wipe. When you try them, you will see what I mean! Our ZERO wipes biodegradable within 45 days in landfill, and If you have a composting unit at home, you can drop them in the compost and watch them disappear. No more landfill, no plastic in the oceans, and no more micro plastics.
What are our 100% plastic free dry wipes made from?
Our wipes are made from 100% wood pulp. And before you ask, we thought long and hard about making a product out of wood, after all you have to cut down a tree. But, here’s our position. We made this product to replace plastic product equivalents like wet wipes and polyester dish cloths. Plastic is bad. Really bad. It's made out of crude oil and chemicals and the process of making plastic emits huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, and toxic run off to our waterways.
Read more about why we chose wood pulp, and how it stacks up: Why wood pulp?
But couldn’t you have made it out of something else?
We think we can soon, and we are experimenting with bamboo, hemp and a fermented material called PHBV - its essentially fermented sugar cane waste. Once we have a product that we know is high quality and is a net improvement on wood pulp, our customers will be the first to know.
How do I dispose of the wipes?
Our plastic-free wipes are biodegradable, and they can go in your compost.
Do the wipes have toxins and irritants?
Absolutely Not. No fragrances, or chemical residue. If your skin is sensitive, these are perfect.
What size is each wipe?
Wipe Sheet Size: 175mm X 190mm
How thick are the wipes?
They are the perfect thickness for use on skin and around the home. The weight of our wipes is measured in grams per square meter or GSM, ours are 60 GSM. To put that in context, your average tissue is around 15 GSM.
How big are the dry wipes boxes:
Pocket Pack: 10.5cm (H) x 9.5cm (L) x 2.5cm (D)
Pamper Pack: 5.5 (H) x 10 cm (L) x 18.5 (D)
Party Pack: 9.5cm (H) x 10 cm (L) x 18.5cm (D)
How many sheets come in a pack:
Pocket Pack: 5 wipes - great for school bags and handbags
Pamper Pack: 35 wipes - ideal for the makeup stand or home office.
Party Pack: 60 wipes - perfect for high frequency areas like the kitchen or bathroom.
Carbon Offsetting won’t save us (but it’s a start)
What carbon offsets are, how and why they're purchased and why they're not our golden ticket to curbing emissions growth.
Before we kick off we want to acknowledge that this is an inherently complicated topic, with strong arguments both for and against. Carbon offsets have become an increasingly popular tactic for fighting climate change. At its most basic, a business, government or individual can pay someone else to cut (or remove) a given quantity of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is known as ‘buying a carbon offset’.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
Carbon offset projects have to meet three criteria to be effective. 1. There must be additionality, meaning the project could not have happened if it wasn’t funded by carbon offsets. 2. No leakage – emissions can’t be reduced in one place if it means they’re increased somewhere else instead. 3. It must be permanent – so it won’t be reversed in the future.
All incredibly hard things to guarantee, or even police.
GOOD ON PAPER
But we all know how that story goes. Offsetting has morphed into a ‘get out of jail free card’ of sorts for big corporations looking to avoid sustainable restructuring. In some cases, the largest polluters exceeded allowed emissions in return for funding projects, such as forest preservation. As journalist Lisa Song recalls, “In case after case, I found that carbon credits hadn’t offset the amount of pollution they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with. Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO2, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.”
WHICH PROJECTS YOU SPEAK OF?
The types of carbon offset projects that corporations buy from are diverse. They range from planting trees, protecting existing forests, or renewable energy projects. Many reports on offsetting projects show that they simply don’t deliver on, well, offsetting carbon - especially when it comes to tree planting and reforestation projects.
DEAR TREES, IT’S NOT YOU. IT’S US.
Planting trees to save the earth is certainly alluring, and definitely has a place in the race against climate change. It’s our way of feeling like we are physically giving back to the planet in a way that will have long term positive impacts. However, planting rows of monoculture trees is not beneficial to ecosystems, and it can’t replace slashing carbon emissions. One newly-planted tree can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon-offset scheme promises, and needs to live for 100 years to make an impact on CO2 levels (and not get chopped down - try promising that will never happen).
The Climate Council Australia supports limited carbon offsetting for unavoidable fossil fuel use while implementing sustainable alternatives. “If you are planning to offset unavoidable fossil fuel use, our advice is to offset like-for-like. If the source of greenhouse gas emissions is burning fossil fuels, then this should be offset through projects that avoid the consumption of fossil fuels elsewhere”. In other words, an oil company burning high levels of emissions funding a project planting trees is not sufficient.
WHAT ABOUT US?
On the other end of the spectrum, individuals like you and I might choose to offset a plane flight for a small price. Can we be sure it’s doing what the airline says it’s doing? Not entirely, as research shows it’s not always possible to prove. But very few of us can live a carbon-free lifestyle, so individuals buying offsets can act as a buffer until a more sustainable way of travelling is in place.
SUMS IT UP
Carbon offset projects will never curb emission growth if fossil fuels continue to be burnt, and petrol cars continue to be bought, and our growing global population is given no option but to consume the way we are today. But it’s certainly a place to start. We’re keen to hear from you - where do you stand on carbon offsetting?
What't the deal with single-use plastics?
We use single-use plastics for mere moments, but their impacts last forever.
Ironically, the creation of plastic was hailed as the saviour of the environment - humans were no longer constrained to the limitations of the natural world. And while people met its invention with excitement and praise, this glorified view of using a plastic product just once before discarding it didn’t last long.
The first recorded analysis of plastic in our oceans in the 1960s was met with a change in environmental awareness and an increase in scientific studies. Society was slowly becoming aware of the quickly spreading waste problem.
So where does single-use stand today? There are a few main reasons as to why these plastics are damaging not only to the planet, but to humans too.
Single-use plastic is the highlight of our throw-away culture, and it accounts for a whopping 40% of all plastic produced in Australia. The anti-litter campaigns that ran in the late ’50s onwards put the onus on us, aiming to teach people to throw their trash in the bin (while diverting attention away from those producing the excess of single-use waste).
What was conveniently left out back then is that there is no ‘away’ in 'throw away' - it all still exists. And what does end up in recycling is met with an incompetent recycling system that sees less than 10% of Australia’s plastic recycled.
Plastic poses a threat to our health
In living with single-use plastics, we are exposed to dangerous chemicals. Many of the chemicals in plastics are known as endocrine disruptors, which disturb the body’s hormone systems. Plastics containing endocrine disruptors are used extensively in packaging, construction, food production and packaging, cookware, health care, children’s toys, home electronics, textiles, and cosmetics, just to name a few.
Exposure through “leaching” (the transfer of chemicals from plastic to the water or substance it contains) can occur anytime during the plastic's infinite lifetime, from manufacturing to consumer contact, recycling, to waste management and disposal.
The persistent production and purchase of single-use plastics in our society has an overwhelmingly negative impact on the climate.
Recent reports show that plastic production contributes to climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions at every point in its life cycle - from drilling for its source materials to disposal. If we continue to produce plastic unrelentingly, its greenhouse gas emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030 - which, for reference, would be equal to adding nearly 300 new coal-fired power plants - during a time when we desperately need to reduce emissions.
While we can all do our part to live plastic-free lives, in reality it comes down to putting onus on companies that profit from single use plastic. Legislation will have a role to play too.
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The Mighty Issue of Microplastics
Microplastics are rarely visible to the naked eye, but they’re all around us – in our water, our food, our oceans and the air we breathe.
Plastic fibres break up once in landfills due to their exposure from the sun and heat, and while this may sound good, this doesn’t mean they disappear -far from it. Instead, the plastic breaks up into microscopic plastic particles, spreading far and wide, littering our land, air and sea. They’re known travellers, quickly reaching vastly inaccessible locations such as Antarctica, the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest ocean trench), and the Italian Alps.
There are two types of microplastics
1. Primary microplastics
These plastics are from tiny origins, such as microbeads in facial cleansers or clothes made of synthetic fabrics. Because most wastewater treatment systems can’t capture these small plastic fragments, they can easily end up in our oceans and water supply.
2. Secondary microplastics
These plastics are formed by the breakup of larger plastics, such as food containers, toys and furniture. Over time, these items break down into smaller and smaller parts due to physical, biological and chemical forces.
How does this happen?
Unfortunately, studies have found that we are in a sea of microplastic, making consuming them daily an easy feat. Potentially the most notorious single-use plastic, the plastic bottle, is where researchers have found we drink in our most microplastics. When you purchase a plastic water bottle, you are doing so under a facade of a high-quality product, when in fact, it is riddled with microscopic plastic fragments. Not only that, plastic food containers are efficient culprits for releasing microplastics. Scientists in Ireland found that microwaving food in a plastic container released hundreds of specks of microplastics into the hot water - most shockingly, kettles and baby bottles do the same.
The University of Newcastle in Australia and WWF teamed up to calculate the average microplastics we consume every week. The study found that we are probably eating around 5 grams of plastic a week – about the weight of a credit card. It also suggested we’re ingesting around 100,000 microplastics annually, which is approximately 250 grams a year.
What we don’t know yet are the health ramifications of this - though we can take an educated guess that it isn’t good. Scientists have only just started studying the potential impacts microplastics have on our health.
What do microplastics do to the environment?
In short, we don’t know the full extent of its impacts on wildlife - but early research has shown it’s not looking good. As one would expect, plastic (no matter how small) is incredibly damaging to the natural world. Environmental scientist Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas says, “It is believed that the negative impacts of plastics increase as particle size decreases”.
We know that for plankton, fish, whales and other marine species, microplastics can look a lot like food and often don’t pass through their systems. Studies so far have found that ingestion can impact reproductive systems, stunt growth, cause tissue inflammation and liver damage, and suppress appetite ( an example of this is the sperm whale that washed up on a Scottish beach with a stomach full of plastic).
Most shockingly, recent studies found that plants suck microplastics up through their roots, travelling through the plants to the parts we eat. In Italy, the University of Catania published research that found microplastics in produce from both supermarkets and local produce sellers. Researchers took samples of carrots, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, apples, and pears, showing for the first time the presence of these tiny pieces of plastic in fruits and vegetables that we eat.
Each study tells us that microplastics are everywhere, and additional research must be done - but even now, it’s clear they do impact ecosystems from the bottom of the ocean to our food crops. And while we don’t know what the long-term health impacts will be, plastic contains harmful chemicals, and that is something we simply do not want floating around.
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