Single-Use to Reusable: How Plastic-Free Materials Impact Microplastics in the Environment

In honor of Earth Month, we at the Center for Environmental Health invite you to join us as we launch a blog series of “connecting the dots” blogs and articles that offer insight into how areas of our work serve as pieces of the solutions puzzle, as our entire movement battles the harmful effects of plastic pollution and climate change that threaten our planet.

Ben Schleifer, CEH’s Food Program Coordinator, works closely with K-12 schools to help their cafeterias transition away from single-use food serviceware, and toward environmentally preferable reusables. Below, Ben offers his thoughts on how shifting from single-use plastic to reusable plastic-free materials impacts the presence of microplastics in the environment.


This year’s (2024) Earth Month’s theme is Earth vs Plastic. While many people know of the environmental degradation that plastic causes to nature and frontline communities, there is a growing awareness of the many health concerns associated with exposure to plastics, microplastics and plastics additives. Microplastic exposure has been linked to Alzheimer’s(1), cardiovascular disease(2), obesity(3), and decreased fertility(4,5) . Since nanoplastics have been found in human blood(6), we should be asking: how are humans exposed to these microscopic particles? When you look at the US food system and packaging, you will notice that there is an overreliance on single-use plastics. Not only is food wrapped in plastic, but many single-use plastic products are intended to be put directly into our mouths – like polypropylene straws and utensils. At a chemical level, some of these single-use plastics have been shown to leach antimony(7), styrene(8), and lead(9,10) during regular use. Manufactures add over 16,000 chemical additives to plastics which can leach into a variety of products(11), and many of these chemicals are both known to be hazardous and are not well regulated(12).

What do we do about this plastic problem? The ultimate goal should be to completely stop making and using harmful plastic (which is woefully underregulated), but the first step would be to focus on single-use plastic. Plastic Pollution Coalition finds that 40% of plastic manufactured is used for single-use applications(13). We need to move away from single-use and toward reuse if we want to deal with the plastic and microplastic problem. Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has been working with K-12 schools to teach elementary-aged students reuse models at an early age. This not only lessens students’ exposure to single-use plastics and microplastics, but also establishes expectation for reuse at food establishments. Moreover, CEH also helped co-develop the Green Screen Certification for both single-use and reusable items to avoid the use of known harmful chemicals and shift the market to safer chemistry. To prevent environmental health harms from plastics, individuals should: 

  1. Purchase food items with less plastic packaging.
  2. Practice reuse where you can.
  3. Ask for GreenScreen Certified products, if purchasing single-use or reusables. 
  4. Never microwave your food in plastic food containers.


  1. Alzheimer and Microplastics
  2.  Cardiovascular Disease and Microplastics
  3. Obesity and Microplastic
  4. Testosterone and Microplastic.
  5. Pregnancy and Microplastics
  6. Human Blood and Microplastics.
  7. PET and Antimony
  8. Water bottles leaching styrene.
  9. Lead leaching in plastic bread packaging (1991)
  10. Microwave plastics leaching lead.
  11. Chemicals of Concern in plastic.
  12. Additives in the manufacture of plastic.
  13. Health and Environmental Impacts of Single-use Plastic