Voice of Real Australia: Single-use plastic is being banned, but is it too little too late?

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Plastic takes between 20 and 500 years to decompose. Photo: CANVA.

Plastic takes between 20 and 500 years to decompose. Photo: CANVA.

It's a terrifying thought to learn that on our current trajectory by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Plastic bag jellyfish, Coca-Cola hermit crabs, blue bottle cap fish, and plastic straw seahorses all joining you on your early morning swim.

We're living in an ocean of microplastics. Tiny plastic particles are filtering into the world around us: the soil, the waterways, the ocean, the food we eat, and the air we breathe.

I'm a 90s baby and by the year 2050, I'll be in my 50s. If I do decide to have children, will they love the ocean as much as I do?

Most of the plastic we will see as we dive in and under the waves, will have only been used once and will take 20-500 years to decompose.

I'm sure you've heard some of these statistics before, but if you hang in there I want to show you why Australians are one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to our plastic footprint.

On Sunday, the NSW government announced plans to phase out single-use plastic by 2050 to prevent an estimated 2.7 billion plastic items from ending up in the environment and oceans over the next two decades.

The $356 million plan will include items such as plastic lightweight bags, straws, and cutlery.

But will this be too little too late?

If the new legislation is passed, lightweight plastic bags are expected to be phased out in the next six months, while plastic straws, cutlery, styrofoam items, cotton buds, and microbeads found in cosmetic products, are expected to be banned in the following 12 months.

Environment Minister Matt Kean on Sunday also said "green bins" for food and organic waste will be rolled out to every household across the state as part of the five-year strategy.

As the state with the largest plastic footprint, NSW aims to cut single-use plastic waste by 10 per cent per person by the year 2030.

While the announcement has been praised by The Greens and conservation groups, there are questions on why banning plastics has taken so long and at what cost to the environment and human health.

Australia ranked no. 1 for single-use plastic waste

If you think countries in Asia and America produce more plastic than here in Australia, it's time to think again.

According to a study published by The Minderoo Foundation, just twenty companies are responsible for more than 50 per cent of global single-use plastic waste.

However, in terms of countries, Australia has taken the global lead for the worst country for single-use plastic waste.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index ranked Australia as the number one country responsible for single-use plastic waste, with the average Australian producing 59 kg of single-use plastic waste in 2019.

ABS data (2020) revealed Australia generated 75.8 million tonnes of solid waste in 2018-19, 10 per cent higher than the previous two years.

From this waste, 2.5 million tonnes was from plastic with only 9 per cent being recycled.

In this year's federal budget, the government has pledged to invest $249.6 million over four years to modernise recycling infrastructure, reduce waste and recycle more.

Additionally, the announcement of a recycling plant being built in NSW was hailed as a significant step towards Australia's development of a circular economy for domestic plastics.

Despite plastic waste reduction targets in Australia, our reliance on single-use plastics continues to remain high.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, single-use plastic has significantly increased with facemasks, medical equipment, take away food containers, plastic cutlery, and disposable coffee cup lids, to ensure personal hygiene and protection.

Why should we care?

Tiny bits of broken-down plastics, called microplastics, are being found everywhere; accumulating in our bodies from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

According to this article from The Conversation these microplastics contain multiple toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors - chemicals that interfere with hormones and can cause cancer, birth defects, and reduced fertility.

Even though there is still debate on how microplastics will harm human health, exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of disease.

An Australian study carried out by the University of Newcastle in NSW has estimated that people are ingesting the equivalent of a credit card in plastic every week.(This story is available to Newcastle subscribers).

The study, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), suggests people consume about 2000 tiny pieces of plastic every week, most of it via bottled and tap water.

In my opinion humans as a species seem to be locked on autopilot; our heads in the sand, ignorant to the consequences of our actions, and absorbed by the daily grind.

As the beloved broadcaster and environmentalist Sir David Attenborough said:

"We moved from being a part of nature to being apart from nature... We live our comfortable lives in the shadow of a disaster of our own making. That disaster is being brought about by the very things that allow us to live our comfortable lives."

How can we reduce our plastic footprint?

We all can be guilty of buying that takeaway dinner after a big day of work, or forgetting to bring your grocery bags or reusable coffee cup.

However, while we wait for government action and legislations to pass, here are some ways we can all individually reduce our plastic footprint:

  • Avoid single-use plastics like plastic bags, containers, cutlery and straws
  • Remember to bring your reusable shopping bags when you go grocery shopping
  • Buy more bulk food and less packaged products
  • Buy reusable containers, coffee cups, water bottles, etc.
  • Buy wooden products over plastic, such as laundry pegs, toothbrush
  • Check your cosmetics ingredients (avoid any containing microplastics)
  • Don't use cling-wrap and buy an alternatives like the Beeswax wraps
  • If you do buy plastic, try reuse it and recycle it correctly
  • Educate yourself on recycling and raise awareness with those around you

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