Have you ever considered clothes pegs? They are clever little things, so simple and so useful. But how sustainable are they? Clothes pegs are almost entirely made from plastic and are practically all manufactured in China. I have picked up pegs in some pretty strange places; footpaths, roads, car parks, playgrounds. But the most disturbing places I have picked them up is on beaches half buried in the sand. And I am talking about relatively isolated beaches. We even found them on Mana Island during a beach clean-up. This prompted me to start thinking about sustainable alternatives, and trying to find locally made pegs if I could.
I remember the day it occurred to me to wonder if my old broken plastic pegs could actually be recycled. I looked at the gravel under my clothesline and noticed the fragments of ancient looking plastic pegs. Some had simply been dropped and then stepped on. Some had suffered plastic fatigue and had broken mid-use leaving my clothes hanging oddly, or in a sad heap on the ground below the line. Others had served me well and probably date back to around 15 years ago, but had become pitted with age, faded, and brittle with extended exposure to the sun. As I gathered the remnants of my expired pegs I found myself wondering if they should go in the rubbish or the recycling. I turned to trusty Google and began researching, and then started firing off emails.
It turns out that while some plastic clothes pegs start out as technically recyclable plastic, extended exposure to UV damages them so that they are no longer recyclable. I discovered this interesting fact when I tracked down the manufacturer of Sunshine Pegs. I fired off my questions about how recyclable they are and they responded promptly to explain the effects of UV.
Clothes pegs are a surprisingly recent invention. The earliest references to clothes pegs date from around the early 19th century. Prior to that date washing was apparently draped over a line or hung out over bushes to dry. This might have been OK in England, but it wouldn’t work at all here in Wellington (the windiest city in the world) on what we would class as a slightly breezy day! In my grandma’s day back in the 1940’s with a young family, pegs were wooden (and no doubt made right here in New Zealand too). In fact my grandma managed to make do without plastic at all with three children during WW2 rationing. Although times have changed and life is different today, I find her example inspirational. The up-shot is that although plastic pegs are ubiquitous and convenient they are not sustainable and there are alternatives. Here are just a few that I have found.
Sunshine pegs – NZ made, but not recyclable at end of life.
These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although technically recyclable when the product is new, this isn’t the case after prolonged exposure to UV. Since pegs do most of their work outside on sunny hot days, they aren’t really a recyclable product. They are going to end up in landfill or washed down stormwater drains at the end of their lives. I have a supply of them, and they are great, but only while they are not UV damaged and consequently brittle. If you want to continue with plastic pegs, at least make sure that they are made locally.
Go Bamboo pegs – Made in China, biodegradable
These bamboo pegs were my first exploration into the world of sustainable alternatives to plastic pegs. Priced reasonably at $7 for 20 pegs and packaged in compostable boxes, these pegs were made for Wellingtons famous winds! They have an incredibly strong grip. I like them, and would happily have more of them. They don’t stain or mark clothing. However on the downside, their grip is so strong that they can be a bit fiddly to get on and off in a hurry (such as a sudden rain shower) and my Mum who has a bit of arthritis finds them nearly impossible to operate.
Go Bamboo make a lot of claims to be sustainable and to have good conditions for their factory workers, but they don’t back any of this up with accreditations such as fairtrade. This bothers me, but so far I haven’t found an alternative brand with accreditations and so until I do I will continue to use them. Basically they are asking me to trust that they are being 100% honest about what they are claiming, but an accreditation would make this a much easier decision.
Munch stainless steel pegs = Made in China
These are my newest acquisition. My darling husband spotted them and got some for me to try. Not a cheap option at $27 for a bag of 20 pegs, but I have to say so far they are worth it. They are strong, easy to operate and don’t mark clothing. They have handled some pretty mean winds and my washing has stayed firmly on the line. I have no issues with these pegs. I love them.
Although I haven’t tried them yet, I did stumble across some New Zealand made pegs made from recycled plastic. They look good, and I am keen to sample them. A google search turns up several pegs that are made in New Zealand from recycled plastic. I think this would be a good option if you remain keen on plastic pegs. Although exposure to UV means they will not be recyclable at the end of their “working life”.
I am unsure which is best actually, sustainable pegs that have to be shipped here contributing to GHG emissions, or plastic pegs made here in New Zealand but that can’t be recycled, thus contributing to landfill and the rising problem of micro-plastics and plastic pollution. It is a tough one. In the end I have opted for imported sustainable pegs so that I am no longer contributing old pegs to the plastic problem in our landfills and on our beaches. I am hopeful that they will prove durable and will outlast the plastic pegs. But as soon as someone starts making sustainable plastic free pegs right here in New Zealand, I will ditch the imports and buy New Zealand made again.
It may seem like an insignificant step to make towards a more sustainable future, but I think it is worth while. Plastic pegs are not designed to last for long. They are designed to be expendable and easily replaceable. They must contribute a fair bit of plastic over the full life of an average family. I don’t ever want one of my old pegs to end up inside an albatross chick instead of fish, and I don’t ever want my old pegs washing out to sea to end up polluting a beautiful beach somewhere. New Zealand has so many native seabirds that this is a real concern for me. If my pegs are made from wood or metal, that will never be a problem. I challenge you to make a sustainable change in your laundry to remove another source of plastic, and wherever possible choose to buy local over imports if you can. Together our consumer choices can make a difference, even if it seems insignificant. Those discarded bits of plastic don’t seem very important to us, but it matters a huge amount to the albatross chick that gets a peg instead of fish.