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Single Use

Climate Impact:

What you can do

Try to avoid single use products in your day to day life. 

Reduce, re-use, recycle - in that order. Consider the lifespan of the things you're buying and try to avoid single use products and packaging.

Who's doing it?

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Climate impact

Making an effort to reject single use products is estimated to reduce our individual emissions by 65 kgCO2 a year (see below for calculations).

It's difficult to quantify the climate impact of our over reliance on single use products. Plastic pollution is a huge environmental crisis, but it should be considered a separate, albeit connected, issue to the climate crisis. Plastic, particularly recycled plastic, can play an important part of our future when used in the right way and often has lower life-cycle emissions than non-plastic alternatives.  It is the over consumption of single use manufactured items - be they plastic, cardboard, wood, metal or paper - that needs to be addressed in the fight against climate change.


Additional benefits
  • Protect land and marine life from plastic pollution

  • Reduce micro-plastic pollution

  • Save money on disposable goods like coffee cups and water bottles

  • Reduce deforestation

  • Availability of alternatives in certain shops

  • Initial cost of alternative food and drink containers


  • Use Litterless for a state by state guide to zero waste grocery shopping (USA)

  • Get your reusable water bottles and coffee cups from Chilly's

  • Buy a reusable coffee cup and water bottle


  • Choose food shops that offer refillable container options


  • Consider the packaging that comes with your shopping and where it will go


  • Buy direct from grocers


  • Say no to straws and plastic bags

Facts and further information
  • Across their lifecycle, plastics currently account for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions [1]. On the current course, this could rise to 17% of the global carbon budget by 2050 [1].


  • 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels [2]

  • Around 16% of global plastic waste is recycled, 60% goes to landfill [3]

  • A plastic product can have a lower impact on the climate than a non-plastic alternative. The key is not necessarily to reject plastic altogether, but to reject single-use items, which are often made from plastic as it's cheap and light.

  • Recycling - Whilst recycling is a significant improvement on sending waste materials to landfill, it's far from perfect. A significant amount of energy is required to reprocesses recycled goods, sending more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Simply recycling single use products is not the answer - we need to reduce consumption and recycle anything that's left.

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Impact assessment

It is difficult to accurately quantify the impact of single use products. The best place to start is to look at packaging in food and drink, a high proportion of which is single use. It is estimated that around 2% of dietary carbon footprint is made up from the production and end-of-life disposal of packaging [4]

As average dietary emissions in the UK are around 2.1 tonnes CO2e/year [5], the emissions impact of food packaging can be estimated as 42kg Co2e. 

We have assumed a high proportion (75%) of this packaging is single use and avoidable, an annual emissions saving of 32 kgCO2e. 

It is further assumed that we consume a similar amount of avoidable single use goods each year that are not associated with food and drink (ie packaging for deliveries or other purchased items). 

This suggests that avoiding single use products produces an annual emissions reduction of around 65kg Co2e.

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