OpinionFlourishing Oceans04 Jun 2019

Think making a difference to ocean plastic levels isn’t our problem? Think again.

Here are Flourishing Oceans’ top tips to reduce your plastic footprint.

Zero Waste Shop in Moscow
Buying chickpeas with reusable bags. Photo Credit: Vladimir Gerdo .

It’s estimated 90 per cent of the plastic in our oceans stems from just 10 rivers in Asia and Africa.

Hearing that statistic, you might think Australia has a sparkling recycling record. Unfortunately this is not the case. Australia exports vast amounts of household plastic to our neighbours in Asia.

China, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have received thousands of tonnes of imported waste and much of it is unable to be processed properly, meaning plenty of Australian plastic is ending up in the ocean.

While governments scramble to forge a long-term solution, what can everyday Australians do to make a difference to the level of plastic in our oceans?

Reduce

Less than 10 per cent of plastic is recycled, so the first thing you can do is use less.  Plastic Free July, an initiative that started here in Perth, challenges people to refuse the most common types of single-use plastic for a month. You can sign up to be part of the 2019 event and establish better plastic consumption habits.

You can also make a considered choice to purchase products that are packaged with less plastic. It’s best to avoid single-serve items and sachets and instead buy in bulk where you can.

Who Gives a Crap uses no plastic in its packaging, delivers toilet paper in bulk to your doorstep and donates 50 per cent of its profits to building toilets for those in need.

Reuse

Remember your keep-cups and the reusable shopping bags at the back of the cupboard? Use them!  40 per cent of all plastic waste is single-use. If that plastic was converted into products that were able to be reused, it would significantly reduce the stress on our waste facilities and recycling plants.

NZ Government Consider Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags

Reusable bags used in place of single-use plastic bags. Photo Credit: Fiona Goodall/Stringer.

To avoid the ‘single-use’ mentality, consider the ‘lifespan’ of a product and increase its uses before disposal. Use empty glass containers to store nuts or grains in your pantry, and reuse plastic containers to store leftovers.

Recycle

It’s not enough to just throw things in the correct bin, you need to make sure you are recycling properly. If your rubbish is contaminated with residual food, it can’t be recycled so once you’ve used a plastic product, wash it before you throw it out.

Ensure you only put things that can be recycled in your recycling bin and if you’re unsure, do your research. Look for programs in your area that help you to recycle and use the containers at shopping centres set up for the collection of batteries, plastic bags and e-waste. 

Remember, recycling is no substitute for not using single-use plastic in the first place.

Avoidance

The best thing you can do is consider if the product can be recycled before you buy it. If the item is made up of different types of plastic or if the item mixes plastic with foil, it can’t be recycled.

The REDcycle Program is a network of rubbish receptacles located at hundreds of supermarkets across Australia. The program collects and disposes of difficult to recycle soft plastics such as:

  • Plastic shopping bags
  • Bread, rice, pasta, lolly and cereal bags
  • Biscuit packs (but not the trays)
  • Frozen food bags
  • Newspaper wrap
  • Bubble wrap
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Fruit and vegetable bags and netting
Green Plate Special: Beeswax-coated cloth makes for sustainable food wrap

A sandwich wrapped with beeswax-coated cloth, a sustainable food wrap. Photo Credit: Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald.

Cling-wrap is a type of soft plastic that cannot be thrown into your kerbside recycling bin or recycled by REDcycle. Try and use containers as alternatives, invest in beeswax wraps or make your own.

Every little bit helps

We all have a role in reducing the amount of Australian plastic that ends up in the ocean. Everyone can help by reducing, reusing, and recycling plastic properly.

As zero-waste-chef and anti-packaging advocate Anne-Marie Bonneau said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”.