A good article in the West today by Freo resident Rebecca Prince-Ruiz on plastic and the planet. Might be time to reintroduce our local law on banning single use plastic bags 🙂
Grabbing a takeaway coffee on the way to work when dropping off kids or after a workout has become a habit for many West Australians.
The aroma of freshly roasted beans can transport us to another place and prepare us for a busy day.
But after those few moments of bliss, we simply throw the cup away.
Have you ever wondered where “away” is? It’s estimated Australians use one billion disposable coffee cups each year. Besides plastic lids, paper cups are often lined with plastic film.
Little is recycled, most is landfilled and, like many other disposable plastic items, can end up as litter. Either way, what’s not priced into our daily cup is the cost of them remaining on our planet for decades.
Since its invention just over a century ago, plastic has become part of our daily life and is increasingly used for disposable items. Every day we use bags, water bottles, straws and food packaging for a few minutes before discarding them. Almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists on earth.
And our consumption is increasing — in the first 10 years of this century more plastic was produced than in the entire last century.
Having the “recycling symbol” on plastic packaging doesn’t mean that it will be recycled. The number simply identifies what type of plastic the item is made from. Recycling rates depend on where the item is disposed, local waste management facilities and other factors. Australia last year achieved an overall plastics recycling rate of 20 per cent (with WA lagging other mainland States). Even if this was higher, recycling will never be the whole answer. Sometimes it’s cheaper to use virgin plastics rather than recycled plastic.
Plastic pollution in our oceans is an issue of global concern, impacting our environment, our economy and our health. Plastic entangles and is ingested by wildlife as small as plankton to as large as whales.
A recent CSIRO study found plastics will have the greatest impact on wildlife in the Southern Ocean, with scientists recording up to 200 pieces of plastic in the gut of a single seabird.
The Australian Senate this year completed an inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution and recommended it be placed on the Council of Australian Governments’ agenda for urgent consideration.
There is no denying the source of the problem — the majority of plastic has been in someone’s hands and those same hands hold the solutions.
At a personal level, there are a few steps we can all take to reduce our “plastic footprint”. Remembering reusable bags, water bottles and coffee cups and refusing plastic such as straws and buying in bulk can greatly reduce unnecessary packaging and is better for your health, too.
As consumers, we can boycott personal care products containing plastic microbeads such as facewash and toothpaste (avoid polyethylene).
Each item can contain hundreds of thousands of plastic beads too small to be captured by wastewater treatment systems that end up in the ocean for ever, a perfect size to enter the food chain. Ultimately, to address the scale of the problem, solutions need to go beyond the personal. Local governments are leading the way.
The Town of Cottesloe recently voted to ban smoking on beaches because cigarette butts, which are made of plastic, are the most commonly found litter item in beach clean-ups worldwide.
The Senate inquiry contains recommendations for the introduction of legislation for States and Territories as well as nationally. Banning the use of single-use lightweight plastic bags results in increased use of reusables and a decrease in plastic bag litter.
Container deposit schemes exist in the NT, SA and will soon be introduced in NSW and have been shown to increase recycling rates and decrease littering. During the Senate inquiry, the CSIRO reported South Australia’s scheme as “very successful, reducing the number of beverage containers, the dominant plastic item in the environment, by a factor of three”.
Often the cost of introducing these measures is cited as a barrier. However, the cost of plastic pollution itself is rarely accounted for and is borne by clean-up efforts of volunteers, local governments and the environment. What price are we prepared to pay?
Take the first step — sign up for the Plastic Free July challenge at plasticfreejuly.org and refuse single-use plastic. Be part of the solution to plastic pollution.
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz is acting sustainability manager, Western Metropolitan Regional Council.