A disposable (also called disposable product) is a product designed for a single use after which it is recycled or is disposed as solid waste. The term is also sometimes used for products that may last several months (e.g. disposable air filters) to distinguish from similar products that last indefinitely (e.g. washable air filters). The word "disposables" is not to be confused with the word "consumables", which is widely used in the mechanical world. For example, welders consider welding rods, tips, nozzles, gas, etc. to be "consumables", as they last only a certain amount of time before needing to be replaced. Consumables are needed for a process to take place, such as inks for printing and welding rods for welding, while disposable products are products that can be thrown away after it becomes damaged or otherwise unuseful.
"Disposable" is an adjective meaning something not reusable but is disposed of after use. Many people now use the term as a noun or substantive, i.e. "a disposable" but in reality this is still an adjective as the noun (product, nappy, etc.) is implied. Disposable income is the amount of money left over from one's salary or pay for spending, saving or whatever, after all living costs have been taken out.
Disposable products are most often made from paper, plastic, cotton, or polystyrene foam. Products made from composite materials such as laminations are difficult to recycle and are more likely to be disposed of at the end of their use.
Examples of disposables
Kitchen and dining products
- Aluminum foil and aluminum pans
- Disposable dishware / drinkware (e.g. plates, bowls, cups)
- Plastic cutlery (e.g. spoons, knives, forks, sporks)
- Disposable table cloth
- Inexpensive tupperware products are reusable
- Cupcake wrappers, coffee filters are compostable
- Drinking straws
Packages are usually intended for a single use. The waste hierarchy call for minimization of materials. Many package forms and materials are suited to recycling although the actual recycling percentages are relatively low in many regions. Reuse and repurposing of packaging is increasing but eventually, containers will be recycled, composted, incinerated, or landfilled.
Food service industry disposables
In 2002, Taiwan began taking action to reduce the use of disposable tableware at institutions and businesses, and to reduce the use of plastic bags. Yearly, the nation of 17.7 million people was producing 59,000 tons of disposable tableware waste and 105,000 tons of waste plastic bags, and increasing measures have been taken in the years since then to reduce the amount of waste. In 2013 Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) banned outright the use of disposable tableware in the nation's 968 schools, government agencies and hospitals. The ban is expected to eliminate 2,600 metric tons of waste yearly.
In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, laws banning use of disposable food and drink containers at large-scale events have been enacted. Such a ban has been in place in Munich, Germany, since 1991, applying to all city facilities and events. This includes events of all sizes, including very large ones (Christmas market, Auer-Dult Faire, Oktoberfest and Munich City Marathon). For small events of a few hundred people, the city has arranged for a corporation offer rental of crockery and dishwasher equipment. In part through this regulation, Munich reduced the waste generated by Oktoberfest, which attracts tens of thousands of people, from 11,000 metric tons in 1990 to 550 tons in 1999.
China produces about 57 billion pairs of single-use chopsticks yearly, of which half are exported. About 45 percent are made from trees – about 3.8 million of them – mainly cotton wood, birch, and spruce, the remainder being made from bamboo. Japan uses about 24 billion pairs of these disposables per year, and globally the use is about 80 billion pairs are thrown away by about 1.4 million people. Reusable chopsticks in restaurants have a lifespan of 130 meals. In Japan, with disposable ones costing about 2 cents and reusable ones costing typically $1.17, the reusables better the $2.60 breakeven cost. Campaigns in several countries to reduce this waste are beginning to have some effect.
Medical and hygiene products
Medical and surgical device manufacturers worldwide produce a multitude of items that are intended for one use only. The primary reason is infection control; when an item is used only once it cannot transmit infectious agents to subsequent patients. Manufacturers of any type of medical device are obliged to abide by numerous standards and regulations. ISO 15223: Medical Devices and EN 980 cite that single use instruments or devices be labelled as such on their packaging with a universally recognized symbol to denote "do not re-use", "single use", or "use only once". This symbol is the numeral 2, within a circle with a 45° line through it.
Examples of single use items include:
- Hypodermic needles
- Toilet paper
- Disposable towels, paper towels
- Condoms and other contraception products
- Disposable enemas and similar products
- Cotton swabs and pads
- Medical and cleaning gloves
- Medical dust respirators (dust masks)
- Baby and adult diapers, and training pants
- Shaving razors, safety razors, waxing kits, combs, and other hair control products
- Toothbrushes, dental floss, and other oral care products
- Hospital aprons
- Disposable panties in postpartum
- Contact lenses
- Non-rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste and should only be disposed of as such.
- Disposable ink cartridges
- Disposable cameras
- Ecigarette devices, coils/ Disposable tanks/pods
Defense and law enforcement
Other consumer products
- Garbage bags
- Vacuum cleaner bags, water, air, coolant, and other filters
- Paper currency, withdrawn from circulation when worn
- Ballpoint pens, erasers, and other writing implements
- Movie sets and theater sets
- Gift wrapping paper
- Labels, stickers, and the associated release liners are single use and usually disposed after use.
- Disposable tableware
- Extended producer responsibility
- Paper napkin
- Paper recycling
- Planned obsolescence
- Plastic recycling
- Reusable shopping bag
- Waste management
- Société Bic
- How disposable chopsticks are made (video).