The big impact of small plastics

Ryan Boyd
The big impact of small plastics

Today is World Environment Day, so what better time to take a look at some of the plastics we use almost every day and see if there’s an alternative that’s better for the environment.

#worldenvironmentday #beatplasticpollution 


Coffee cups

New Zealanders love our coffee, there’s no secret there. However that also means a lot of takeaway coffee cups. 295 million a year in fact.

Alternative options

There are two easy ways to get around this. The first is to bring your own coffee mug or cup, which some places will give you a discount for.

The other is choose to get your coffee from places that stock biodegradable coffee cups, such as Ecoware,  which are made from corn-starch or bamboo. The catch with this is that they will need to be placed in the ‘compostable’ bin to ensure they are commercially composted – they won’t degrade in your home compost.



Of all the plastics on this list, easiest to get rid of is the humble straw.

Most straws are only used once and then thrown away where they will take 200 years to break down, and with Kiwis using 541 million of them a year, it definitely adds up.

Alternative options

The best part? You don’t need an alternative. Simply cut out the middleman and drink directly from the glass.


Plastic bags

We go through about 1.29 billion plastic bags a year in New Zealand alone, and each one takes about 100 years to break down. Hopefully those numbers are going to be coming down in the near future.

Pak n Save doesn’t give them out free, and Countdown has already begun their phasing out process. It won’t be long until the rest of the big chains follow suit.

Alternative options

Simple, bring your own reusable bags. They are strong, last a long time, and can be used for many other purposes as well.

You can make them, buy them at all supermarkets, and Countdown’s bags  are currently only $1 each, with the bonus that they will replace them for free when they wear out.


Plastic wrap

When you have half an avocado left over or prepare some sandwiches for your kids’ lunches, you want to keep it fresh, and plastic wrap does a great job of just that.

Unfortunately it’s single use, takes thousands of years to biodegrade and in the meantime often ends up in trees and the ocean. Maybe time to look at other options?

Alternative options

Reusable food wraps such as beeswax wraps can be bought online from companies such as Lily Bee Wrap. Theydo the same job as plastic wrap, but can be washed and used again. You could also make your own. Another option is to use a bento-style lunchbox and do away with the need for sandwich wrap entirely. Check out Lunchbox Queen for options.



Sure toothbrushes are small, but they are something that everyone owns and replaces regularly (or at least you should).

If every Kiwi does what they are meant to and use a new toothbrush each season, that’s almost 20 million toothbrushes a year. While the reality is likely less than that, there’s still many kilos of plastic being discarded each year.

Alternative options

Bamboo toothbrushes are becoming increasingly popular, and although they are currently more expensive than plastic ones, the cost is still reasonably low and may come down as uptake increases.

New Zealand bamboo toothbrush companies include Toothcrush which delivers a new bamboo toothbrush to your house each month for $5 (and offer a first month free trial) and DoGooder which donates a toothbrush to a child without one for each toothbrush purchase.



As any new parent quickly discovers, babies need new nappies constantly. Sometimes even before you finish fastening the previous one.

Single use nappies are, like most plastics, not biodegradable, and as you go through them constantly, you’ll be popping out to the supermarket all the time to buy them in bulk.

Alternative options

Reusable nappies will have a higher upfront cost (about $30 each), but if you buy a few you will save yourself, and the environment plenty in the long run.