Sustainability| 3 min read

10 Common Items You Probably Didn't Know Contain Plastic

Today is World Environment Day, and the United Nations has chosen to focus this year on plastic pollution. Plastic is certainly a commonly used item in our day to day lives.

Today is World Environment Day, and the United Nations has chosen to focus this year on plastic pollution. Plastic is certainly a commonly used item in our day to day lives. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re using a device something derived mostly of plastic. While plastic is sturdy and great for some things, it sneaks its way into disposable, and sometimes edible things, without us knowing. Here’s 10 surprising items that you probably didn’t realize contain plastic.

Canned foods

You would likely expect tin and aluminum cans to be just that, but plastic manages to sneak its way in. Many food-containing cans have a plastic coating on the inside that contains an endocrine-disruptor called bisphenol A, or BPA for short. BPA is well known to cause a myriad of health issues.

While many manufacturers have begun phasing out BPA-lined cans, many of them still come with a plastic lining. This plastic can be avoided by purchasing fresh produce and meat instead of canned foods.

Tea bags

Tea bags seem like a ridiculous place to find plastic, but indeed, many of them do contain small amounts. While the bags themselves are paper, many of them are heat sealed using polyethylene, which is a type of plastic.

Not only does this mean that you’re steeping plastic in your favorite kettle when you make tea, but that the teabags cannot actually be composted.

Purchasing bulk, loose-leaf tea and a diffuser is the quickest and easiest way to avoid this plastic.

Produce stickers

Purchasing a piece of fruit or a vegetable from your local grocer shouldn’t need to involve plastic at all, but unfortunately it does. It’s easy to forget all about them, but produce stickers are made of plastic. Fortunately, retailers are investigating alternatives to plastic produce stickers.

The best way to avoid these stickers in the meantime is to shop at local, organic farmers markets. Most of the farmers do not sticker their produce.

“Biodegradable” plastic

Choosing biodegradable plastics is better than non-biodegradable plastic, but it’s still plastic. Polylactic Acid, which is a polymer derived of corn, is fully fossil fuel-free, but it still presents some environmental problems.

Just because a plastic is biodegradable doesn’t mean that it can be composted in your backyard compost heap. These plastics need to be broken down at large, commercial composters where heat is maintained at artificially high levels.

Bioplastics are better, but they’re still worth avoiding when possible. Bringing your own shopping bags and containers to your local bulk grocery store will help you avoid these types of plastics.


In the past 5 years, microplastic beads in cosmetics have been largely phased out. These tiny pieces of plastic were finding their ways into our waterways and oceans, which created huge problems for the natural environment.

But microbeads aren’t the only types of harmful microplastics. Glitter, which can be found in the arts and crafts aisle of stores around the world, is also a microplastic that has the same negative impact as microbeads.

Glitter is a type of plastic that can’t be recycled, but many glitter manufacturers are working on producing more environmentally friendly glitter that can biodegrade. Until then, it might be best to leave the glitter off of your next big art project.

Glass jars

Glass jars are great for canning your own food and storing various things at home, but even plastic manages to sneak its way into them. The lids of your glass jars usually contain a thin layer of a plastic called plastisol.

There are few good solutions to avoiding plastic in your glass jar lids. Fortunately, some local recycling plants are able to remove the plastic from the lids and recycle it.

Drink cans

It certainly is subtle, but every aluminum drink can is lined with a plastic resin to prevent the liquid from rusting the can it’s contained in. Like canned foods, the resin in your drink can also likely contains BPA. In fact, up to 80% of drink cans contain BPA.

Plastic is nearly unavoidable in pre-packaged beverages. It’s best to fill a growler or drink from the tap if you’re trying to avoid plastics.

Paper cups

Paper cups have been viewed for years as an excellent alternative to plastic, but many of them actually contain small amounts of plastic. Like food and beverage cans, paper cups are typically lined with a plastic film that helps prevent corrosion.

The solution to this one is easy: bring your own mug to the coffee shop instead of using one of their paper cups.

Chewing gum

This one comes as a shock to most. You wouldn’t expect chewing gum, of all things, to contain plastic, but most gum does. Gum manufacturers don’t typically disclose their ingredients, not just to hide the fact that they’re plastic, but because many “gum bases” are protected trade secrets.

Even so, most gum bases contain polyethylene, the same plastic that makes plastic bottles and shopping bags. Some also contain polyisobutylene, which is the rubber used to make the inner tubes of tires.

Paper milk cartons

Similar to cans and paper cups, most paper milk cartons are lined with polyethylene. Alternatives are difficult to find, but some local dairies will deliver milk in glass bottles, and some grocers do still carry glass bottled milk.


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