The buzz around plastic bags, which was amplified by the ABC’s War on Waste, reached a crescendo recently with announcements by Woolworths and Coles of their intention to ban single-use plastic bags by June 30 2018.
We’re also nearing the end of Plastic Free July, an initiative first launched back in 2011 by Perth’s Western Metropolitan Regional Council. According to its founder, council employee Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, what started as an attempt to reduce her own plastic dependence has since become a global phenomenon with one million participants.
But, what does it take to go plastic free, even for a month, and what are some of the issues to consider?
It seems a no-brainer that replacing single use bags with re-usable ones would be a simple first step. They take a lot of energy and resources to produce, and are one of the major contaminants of kerbside recycling as well as our oceans and waterways. But even paper, cotton and the woven plastic ‘green bags’ have their environmental impacts. Studies suggest that a paper bag would need to be used at least 4 times, a cotton bag 173 times, and a green bag more than 100 times to match the environmental footprint of a single use plastic bag.
It’s also a popular practice to reuse supermarket bags as bin liners. Indeed, when the ACT ‘banned the bag’ back in 2011, they reported 36% fewer bags going to landfill but sales of plastic bin liners increased. These are typically heavier duty than the supermarket bags and thus contain more plastic.
And while single-use bags are a scourge when they get into our waterways, according to Keep Australia Beautiful, they represent only 1% of our overall litter problem. So the whole plastic issue is clearly bigger than bags.
Planet Ark's Information Centre Manager Marty Middlebrook has taken the Plastic Free July challenge this year, and he has had trouble finding things that are not wrapped in plastic. “As an environmentally conscious family, we already take re-usable bags when shopping, refuse excess packaging and make an effort to choose recycled products and imperfect fruit and vegetables” says Marty. Strawberries are one of the favourites they’ve had to go without this month. "You simply can't get them without the plastic box."
Marty’s suggestions for anyone considering taking the challenge are to plan ahead and shop around: “You might find better experiences with other retailers who are embracing plastic free. It’s a great shopping experience to visit a store that actually cares about the products they are selling and listens to customers”. It’s important to remember that every bit helps, so even if we can’t banish plastic from our lives completely, we can all take some small meaningful steps.
Some other positive actions:
- Remember to take your reusable bags with you when you shop. There are now some very neat options that roll up to fit in your pocket or purse.
- Instead of using a plastic bin liner, try using some folded newspaper, and rinse your bin out when empty
- Recycle all your scrunchable soft plastics through the RedCycle scheme bins at most major supermarkets