Image Source: Brian Yurasits
By Anna Day | @anna_day_
There isn’t a day where you wouldn’t use some form of plastic.
On average, a single Australian uses 130kg of plastic each year.
Only 12 per cent of that is recycled.
The remaining 130,000 tonnes finds its way into our clogged waterways and poisons our marine life.
The prevalence of this image has increased over time.
Documentaries like the ABC’s War on Waste, the social media efforts of advocate organisations, and the growing public concern surrounding the climate crisis, have all contributed to the loudening alarm bells around our plastic use and abuse.
At the beginning of Plastic Free July, the South Australian (SA) Government announced its plans to ban some single-use plastic items in what will be an Australian first.
The initial legislation, which is set to come into action in 2020, will cover plastic straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers, with items such as takeaway polystyrene containers and cups also up for consideration.
Spokesperson for Take 3 for The Sea Madeleine Bell said Take 3 supports the “progressive legislation”, which will limit the volume of single-use plastics that Australians consume.
Take 3 For The Sea is a non-profit organisation built on the simple initiative of removing three pieces of plastic litter from every beach, water or natural environment you pass through.
“South Australia has a proven history of progressive policy on waste and recycling,” Ms Bell said.
“Take 3 commend the South Australian State Government’s efforts to continue their direction and tackle single-use plastics.”
Ms Bell said that while cleanups are a great way to engage and make a meaningful impact, “we need to limit the amount of plastic consumed in the first place, which ultimately leaches into the environment”.
“Avoiding single-use plastics is an excellent step that businesses could take in reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean and broader environments.”
Although the State Government has flagged the legislation for redressing, a loophole of the 2009 pioneering single-use plastic bag ban legislation continues to have ramifications for plastic pollution.
Under the current legislation, retailers are allowed to give away plastic bags provided that the plastic is more than 35 microns thick.
Adelaide University student Sammie and UniSA student Evie (both 21) have casual jobs at a local fruit and veg chain in Adelaide, where reusable-classed plastic bags are given out to customers for free.
Sammie and Evie agree that the loophole is letting small businesses give away unnecessary amounts of plastic bags.
“The loop hole is ridiculous and there needs to be punishments in place for any company that distributes bags,” Sammie said.
“Plastic bags should never be used to give a business a commercial advantage.
“The amount that a single consumer produces is enormous, so think about how much a small business would produce.”
Evie is also concerned about the sheer number of plastic bags she gives out during a shift.
“I give out maybe five plastic bags every half an hour on weekdays and every 10 minutes on weekends – it’s a lot and the number is huge,” she said.
“And also most of waste is unnecessary and excessive and could be easily reduced as there are many ways that this can be done and so many alternative options.”
Alternative options include remembering your own bags or choosing natural fibre options such as paper bags or boxes.
One group that has expressed concerns over the proposed ban are people living with disabilities.
Disability advocate and activist Ruby Allegra told the ABC the alternatives to plastics “are either not suitable for hot liquids [or] they are not repositionable for people that have physical mobility restrictions”.
SA Environment Minister David Speirs also told the ABC the State Government will consult people with disabilities as part of the legislative process.
While the ban on plastics is on track in South Australian, Madeleine Bell said Take 3 For The Sea hopes for the reduction of single-use plastics and unnecessary packaging nation-wide, combined with a transition to a circular economy.
“It’s uplifting to see global action taking place to reduce single-use plastics, notably, the European Unions’ commitment to ban common single-use plastic items by 2021,” she said.
“South Australia’s leadership in reducing single-use plastic and promoting a circular economy should send a clear signal for the commonwealth to do more.”
In a statement released on 6 July, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the Greens plan to bring legislation that ban single use plastics to the Senate in the coming months.
“It’s well past time to act on this issue,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“With the extinction crisis looming, we know reducing pollution is an important step.”