'Single-Use' Crowned Word of the Year

©. Bowonpat Sakaew

A fantastic word describing a disastrous phenomenon gets accolades from the Collins dictionary.

You did it, "single-use," you made Collins' Word of the Year! Good job!

I feel kind of sorry for "single-use." It is much-maligned, but it's actually an important word.

The first part of the compound, "single," initially appeared in the 14th century and was primarily used to describe an unmarried person. Fair enough. By the end of the 14th century it began to be used as a prefix used in the formation of words like single-handed, according to Collins. "Use" first appeared in the 13th century, coming from the Old French "user" meaning to employ, make use of, or consume. The two came together – like peanut butter and chocolate – to describe things designed to be used one time only. It is mostly applied to plastic items, like water bottles, straws, and shopping bags.

When modern plastics entered the homo sapiens timeline in the beginning of the 20th century, they were seen as an amazing wonder. The first synthetic plastics allowed for everything from unbreakable baby bowls to military vehicle parts; they were celebrated for their versatility and durability, praised for the fact that they could last virtually forever.

But then we started making things with plastic that didn't require the "forever" part, in fact, plastic became the material of choice for making things that were disposable. The convenience of it all! No more washing silverware and plates, just use plastic ones and toss them! No more glass bottles and paper straws, no more pesky paper shopping bags. The era of disposable everything spawned and things haven't been the same since.

Plastic is one of the most enduring materials we make; it takes an estimated 500 to 1,000 years for it to degrade. Fifty percent of the plastic we produce is used once and then thrown away. And we are smothering the planet in it.

Now here is why "single-use" as a description seems important. We used to call things meant to be used one time "disposable." While that description is of course accurate, it doesn't drive it home the way that "single-use" does. Language is important and has an effect on how were perceive things. Every time we get a SINGLE-USE water bottle or SINGLE-USE plastic bag, it starts to sink in, even if only subconsciously, that the item will be used once and only once. And then it will end up eternally not-used as it pollutes the ocean or lives forever in the landfill.

Collins' records show a four-fold increase in usage of "single-use" since 2013, proving that we are not only becoming more aware of its existence, but we're talking about the scourge a lot as well.

As the word-masters at Collins note, "single-use encompasses a global movement to kick our addiction to disposable products. From plastic bags, bottles and straws to washable nappies, we have become more conscious of how our habits and behaviours can impact the environment."

Now that "single-use" has made word of the year, let's make it a thing of the past.