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11/15/2018 | 1 MINUTE READ

'Single-Use' Named 2018 Word of the Year

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The solution to the negative perception? Sustainable innovation.

Single-use plastics continue to find themselves in the spotlight—in both positive and negative ways. As a result, Collins Dictionary selected ‘single-use’ as its Word of the Year. The group says that its records show a four-fold increase in usage of this word since 2013, with news stories and the likes of the BBC’s Blue Planet II raising public awareness of this environmental issue.

For word nerds (like me), Collins describes the history:

Single first appears in the 14th-century, primarily used to describe an unmarried person, deriving from the Old French ‘sengle’, meaning alone or unadorned. This itself comes from the more forgiving Latin ‘singulus’; one, individual or separate. It began to appear as a combining form in the late 14th-century, forming part of many words such as single-handed and, later on, single-use.

Use is somewhat older, first noted in the 1200s, and also deriving from Old French ‘user’ meaning to employ, make use of, or consume. Naturally, single and use came together to describe disposable items, made to be used one time and one time only.

When the news came out, some groups cheered as they believe this recognition showed that single-use should be reduced or even eliminated. As I reported earlier this year, there’s a big movement to ban plastic straws, following the footsteps of plastic bag bans in some cities.

There’s no question more needs to be done on the recycling end—no one wants single-use plastics on the roadways, beaches and entering the ocean. And companies and groups are working to reduce the issues. For instance, the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment includes companies representing 20% of all plastic packaging produced globally. Part of the initiative is to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025.

Recycled plastics will become a bigger player in packaging and other industries where applicable. Car makers are increasing the adoption of plastics to improve mileage and the middle class continues to use packaged foods.

Single-use doesn’t have to be a dirty word but if the perceived status quo remains, the negative spotlight will as well.

But here’s the key: we’re already seeing impressive innovation from developing ocean-bound plastics supply chains to creating a new upcycling plastics economy to turning PET bottles into recycled fiber.

As you can see, the solution is sustainable innovation. It’s already happening and will continue to grow.  

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