Ending the plastic crisis starts with you.
It’s a plastic apocalypse.
I’m not saying it’s your fault that we’re drowning in plastic. I’m not saying you stood on the beach dramatically tossing plastic into the ocean, or you told the turtles that shopping bags taste like delicious jellyfish, or even that you had any choice when the waiter put a straw in your drink without asking if you wanted it.
However, there’s no denying it, the plastic apocalypse is upon us. Global plastic production has erupted from less than 2 million tonnes per year in the 1950s, to a whopping 335 million tonnes per year in 2016, and it’s estimated to increase again by threefold before 2050. So, if we want to make it to the end of the movie where everyone lives happily ever after, and our grandchildren can walk the earth without Hazmat suits and gas masks, you’ve got a couple of things to do.
Does Plastic Free July count?
Plastic Free July is an awesome initiative, born in Western Australia and now a global movement and not-for-profit, with over 150 countries participating in the month-long event. Plastic Free July asks you to attempt one month without plastic – either all plastic, all single-use, or the (notorious) BIG 4 (straws, plastic bags, coffee cups and water bottles) – and see if you live to tell the tale.
Plastic Free July is a good start. And as individuals, even in August, December and April, we’re on the right track; we’re refusing straws, switching to reusable cups, drink bottles and bags, and sharing posts on Facebook to show we care. But – let’s acknowledge the giant, inflatable, plastic elephant in the room – it kiiiiiind of feels like we’re not really making a difference. In fact, it feels like, despite our best efforts, the problem is getting worse.
Is it actually getting worse?
Yes. So much yes.
The UK government released a report in March this year, stating that the total weight of plastic debris in our oceans was set to treble from 50 million tonnes to 150 million tonnes in the next 7 years.
At a recent workshop hosted by Common Seas, 30 participants, made up of scientists and doctors, came to unanimous agreement that we are now likely touching, inhaling or ingesting plastic every waking minute of the day. And we are yet to see the full effects of this exposure to human health.
The dreaded stuff is in the synthetic fabrics of our clothes and bedding, leaching micro-fibres into the air we breathe and down the drain with every wash cycle. It’s in our bottled water – a recent study finding an average of 325 plastic particles in every litre of water sold – twice as much as found in tap water. It’s even in our honey, salt, sugar and seafood – with scientists at Ghent University in Belgium averaging that seafood-eaters are ingesting around 6400 plastic particles per year.
Plastic is the new smoking. We’ve gone mad for it but we’re only beginning to truly uncover its dangers. According to the Earth Day Network, the chemicals used in plastic products, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), have been linked to cases of weight gain, hormone disruption, reproductive issues and various forms of cancer. But don’t go reaching for those “BPA free” alternatives too quickly; when BPA is removed, it must be replaced with something else, and the replacement is often a chemical that is far less regulated with potentially greater health risks.
It’s not all bad.
By refusing plastics in your daily life, you, and millions of individuals just like you, have driven positive change in businesses and even governments. Major supermarkets recently banned the bag and pledged to reduce unnecessary packaging on fresh fruit and veg; Coles has committed to diverting 90% of its waste (including plastic) from landfill by 2022; and since introducing the REDcycle soft plastics recovery program in 2011, have collected more than 300 million pieces of flexible plastic for recycling in Australia. Comparably, Woolworths are going to stop selling plastic straws by the end of this year, saving 134 million straws annually, and IKEA has committed to cutting all single-use plastic products in the next 2 years.
Similarly, at a government level, state-wide bans have been implemented on lightweight, single-use shopping bags – due to be active in all states and territories by 2019 (except NSW – *face palm*); and they’ve tackled another culprit from the BIG 4 plastics, through the growing introduction of container deposit schemes across Australia (such as Return and Earn in NSW, Cash for Containers in SA and NT, and Containers for Change coming soon to QLD). Under these schemes, through collection point operators such as Envirobank, the public can return eligible empty drink bottles for recycling and receive 10c refunds. Both locally and overseas, these container refund schemes have demonstrated the power to reduce litter by as much as 40% and make a marked difference by way of resource recovery.
The only way forward.
There is a way out of this mess, but it’s not as simple as “Bam! and the plastic’s gone”. Change needs to be made at every rung in the ladder: from consumers, to businesses, manufacturers and finally governments. But since we can’t simply rock up to Mr Government’s house and give him our 2 cents on the matter, the most effective opportunity we have to end the plastic crisis is in our own home; changing our own behaviours and educating our friends and family so they can make changes too.
As you and those around you refuse more plastics, businesses have no choice but to adapt to meet consumer expectations. And when businesses change, manufacturers must follow, before finally, government’s legislate to support these shifts, holding companies accountable for unsustainable practices and incentivising those who are actively reducing and preventing waste.
Now it’s up to you.
No more questioning whether you’re making a difference. Or putting the plastic crisis in the “too hard basket”.
Change rests on YOUR shoulders. Yes you, with the lovely, influential shoulders.
Keep up the momentum. Make these 3 easy swaps to instantly cut your plastic consumption and start making ripples, which will soon turn into waves.
- Toilet paper – which sounds better: toilet rolls made from trees and packaged in plastic OR rolls made from recycled paper and packaged in cardboard that can go straight in your yellow bin? – I’d say number 2. Who Gives A Crap even deliver right to your door.
- Toothbrushes – 4.7 billion toothbrushes are sent to landfill every year. Switch to a bamboo brush. The handle is fully biodegradable – however unfortunately the bristles are still only made from synthetic fibres, so need to be disposed of separately.
- Makeup wipes – yeah they have plastic in ’em and they’re used for approximately 5 seconds each. Besides, the best way to get that fresh-face feeling is a classic mix of water, natural face wash and a reusable cleansing sponge. Ta-da!
Now, keep up the good work, Captain Planet.