A Plastic Free Australia
Words by Jessica Bell, on behalf of Balu Blue Foundation
The pressure to reduce and ban single-use plastics has been growing for some time. Campaigns such as Plastic Free July, #BanTheBag and the ABC’s War on Waste have grown awareness and gathered widespread support from the Australian public. Single-use items such as plastic straws, water bottles, disposable cups and plastic bags are being targeted to be phased out and replaced with reusable, environmentally friendly options. For too long these single-use plastics, a convenience, have become so ingrained in our world and throwaway culture that often people don’t think twice about the impacts of them.
How far have we come as a nation, and how far do we have to go?
Unfortunately, the statistics are frightening. At a glance:
· The amount of waste increasing in Australia by nearly 8% a year
· Australians use over 3.92 billion plastic bags a year (10 million a day), yet the average time that a plastic bag is used for is just 12 minutes!
· If not properly disposed of, plastic kills up to 1 million sea birds, countless fish and 100,000 sea mammals each year. Over 44 per cent of all seabirds have ingested or become entangled in plastic, with the CSIRO predicting that this figure will reach 99% by 2050.
· Along the Australian coastline, the density of plastic ranges from a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometer to more than 40,000 pieces per square kilometer
As a nation we need to seriously re-examine the way in which we consume and dispose. In the past few months, we have seen a number of big companies spring to action. Grocery chains Coles, Woolworths, and NSW-based Harris Farm announced that they would ban single-use plastics from 2018 – a huge example of big business leading change.
More recently, the Hobart City Council has announced that it is set to phase out single-use, petroleum-based plastic food containers and utensils used by takeaway stores by 2020, in what is being called a nation-leading move. The council is working towards a target of zero waste to landfill by 2030. This is supported by several initiatives including the home collection of organic waste once a fortnight. Similarly, Byron Shire in NSW is aiming to become Australia’s first zero emissions and plastic free community over the next ten years.
It’s exciting to see progress being made, but there is still plenty to be done by us all as individuals. Rather than feeling guilty for our wasteful habits, we should feel empowered to make a difference on a personal level and in our communities.
How can you create change in your day-to-day life?
There are a number of small changes you can make in your everyday life that will help make a big difference. Some great ideas are:
1. Bring a refillable water bottle or coffee cup with you
Water has to be pumped out of the ground, packaged, transported and chilled before it gets to us. This creates over 60,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year in Australia alone. Furthermore, we bin 2.7 million disposable coffee cups a day – nearly 1 billion a year! Get yourself a reusable cup and water bottle and BYO everywhere you go.
2. Use environmentally friendly shopping bags
Keep reusable bags with you or in your car for any unexpected purchases. Buy fruits and vegetables unwrapped, or use mesh bags for your produce.
Throw a can of Coke in a non-recycling bin and the can will spend the next 200 years decomposing in landfill. Recycle it and you save enough energy to power a TV for three years – the decision is easy!
4. Don’t accept straws or plastic cutlery
If you are going back home or to work to eat your takeaway, use the cutlery there. In most cases, a straw is unnecessary – if it is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw.
5. Buy in bulk
Purchase food like cereal, pasta and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container to save unnecessary packaging.
How can you create change in your community?
1. Build a local movement
Before you get your local council behind your cause to ban single-use plastics, get your friends and local community on board with the idea. You could host a screening of an informative documentary such as ‘A Plastic Ocean’, or simply share your ideas on your social media networks.
2. Write to friends and local businesses you support
Contact your favourite restaurants, cafes, and local businesses and encourage them to make environmentally friendly choices. Some great suggestions are offering a discount for customers who bring a reusable coffee cup, reducing the use of plastic straws and cutlery, or considering non-plastic packaging options such as cloth or canvas bags.
3. Contact Your Local Representatives
Write to or call your city council members or state representatives to voice your support for a plastic-free community and encourage other like-minded members of your community to do the same. You can start a petition (or join an existing one) to rally support, and share contact info for your local representatives on your city governments website for others to do the same.
Most importantly, let change begin with you. We don’t need to wait for the law to change to determine what is right. It can seem overwhelming as plastic is everywhere but every small change will make a difference. Let us, our friends, our family, our workplace, do the best we can to reduce the use of plastic in our lives, and change will follow!
Let us know how you reduce plastic in your life – send us an email at [email protected]