Each year on July 3, the world recognises International Plastic Bag Free day and seeks to raise awareness about the harm plastic continues to do to the environment. The day is a global initiative that aims to eliminate single-use plastic bags around the world and has become part of the wider Break Free From Plastic movement, which fights all types of plastic pollution for a plastic-free future.
Countries around the world have, albeit slowly, introduced bans, taxation and a variety of voluntary agreements in order to minimise the widespread use of single-use plastics, which fulfil their useful life in an average of only 25 minutes. This lifespan becomes even more troubling in light of the time it takes for these bags to disintegrate (which is between 100 and 500 years), often releasing toxins as they do so and thereby harming many living organisms as well as human health.
Heartbreakingly, marine life in particular is most at risk from the throwaway culture that popularised the single-use plastic bag. Research has shown that 31% of marine mammals have ingested plastic whilst over 1000 species of sea birds have ingested plastic artefacts. Over 250 species have become entangled in plastic. Oceans are increasingly seeing “waste islands” –a build up of human waste that become massive reefs that float around, polluting our beautiful oceans and killing precious sea life. However, you would be remiss to think that this problem is only truly harmful to those that live beneath the water. Microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic that have been broken down by the elements and can range anywhere from 5 millimetres down to a tiny 100 nanometres in diameter, are being consumed by the animals that ultimately end up on our plates. This means plastic is entering the food chain at an alarming rate and entering our bodies as a result. Pollution from plastic is happening on land as well, with plastic goods such as single-use bags made from non-renewable resources such as crude oil, gas and coal –all pollutive in their own rights. And with Australia being the second highest producer of waste per person, this crisis is happening at an immediate level.
So, how can we make a difference and encourage others to do the same?
- Make a habit of bringing reusable bags with you to your weekly supermarket shop, and keep some in your car to avoid being stuck without them.
- Keep soft plastic bags OUT of your curbside recycling bin. Unfortunately, soft plastics are the number one contaminant of recycling, so make sure you are not putting your recycling into plastic bags. We suggest keeping a box by your front door that you can fill up with loose items for recycling which can then be put straight into your curbside recycling bin.
- Reduce single-use plastics on the whole. While states such as Victoria have done a good job of reducing the amounts of single-use shopping bags on the whole, there are still many different types of single-use plastics out there that people are using daily. Sandwich bags, freezer bags and cling wrap are all single-use plastics that can easily be reduced or eliminated from your home by investing in reusable tupperware and specially-designed lids for bowls and cookware to preserve leftovers.
- Bring a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go or keep one in your car. This will eliminate the need to constantly buy bottled water. It’s eco- and wallet-friendly!
- Choose to refuse. If you’re at the shopping centre and you already have a bag or two, say no to a bag with the next item you buy. Filling up the ones you have already will reduce clutter and make it all easier to carry as you shop.
How to celebrate:
– Sign up for Plastic Free July, an initiative that asks you to go without one type of single-use plastic for the month of July and hopefully, beyond.
– Take part in a local beach clean up
– Learn more: We recommend the pivotal environmental documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Although made over 14 years ago, it’s message remains as relevant as ever. There is still so much work to be done to help stop climate change.
It is up to us, for the sake of humanity and the beautiful, diverse ecosystems of animals, both above and below water, to reduce our consumption of plastic in as many ways as possible.