Breaking our plastic habits
Boomerang Alliance Queensland manager Toby Hutcheon visited UQ as a guest of the Sustainability Office. Here's an overview of his message.
Ninety-five per cent of all plastic packaging is used once and then thrown away. That’s a frightening statistics and the reason why we have a plastic pollution problem. The good news is that Queensland is doing something about it, but we can do a lot more.
What’s being done
On 1 July 2018, Queensland will join with South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT in banning lightweight plastic bags. Western Australia will follow. The major supermarkets will also ban lightweight plastic bags in all states. The bans will drastically reduce plastic bag litter.
In Queensland we use over 900 million plastic bags every year. Most end up in landfill but an estimated 16 million become litter. Those littered bags represent a major threat to wildlife and the environment,while those in landfill undermine resource recovery and are symbolic of our wasteful habits.
The Queensland ban will include both ‘degradable’ bags and ‘biodegradable’ bags. These are designed to either break into small pieces or decompose so slowly that they remain a problem for wildlife that either eats or gets entangled in them.
The best alternative practice to replace plastic bags is to bring your own durable, long lasting bag when shopping. The ubiquitous ‘green bag’ made from recycled plastics or the fabric bag (preferably made from recycled fabrics) are deemed good alternatives.
On 1 November 2018, Queensland will introduce a Container Refund Scheme. This will provide a 10 cent refund on all eligible drinks containers returned for recycling.
That means that all glass, aluminium, plastic or liquid paperboard containers between 150ml and three litres will attract a refund.
There are exemptions for milk, wine and spirits, large fruit juices and medicines. We use about 2.4 billion drinks containers each year, most of which end up as litter or in landfill.
In comparison in South Australia, where a return scheme has been in place for 40 years, more than 80 per cent of containers are returned for recycling. Returns are usually made through reverse vending machines or similar arrangements at shopping centres or collection depots.
These should start to appear in Queensland in a few months. Alternatively, you can choose to give your used containers to a charity group as a donation.
The Queensland Government expects that these two schemes will have a dramatic effect on the amount of litter, particularly plastic. It should also have a positive effect on our awareness and behaviour around a whole range of supposedly ‘disposable’ other plastics.
This is about all of us making a difference when we participate.
The next steps
The plastic bag ban and container refund scheme need to be seen as important first steps in eliminating and reducing excessive plastic packaging. The next steps must be about identifying other problematic plastic packaging and reducing its use where required, through re-design or using alternative materials.
These plastics are the ones used at home, away from home, in industry, business and agriculture and in the marine environment. Some are necessary, some are not.
The challenge is to identify what can be eliminated, and what could be recovered after their useful life, rather than simply wasted.
An exercise I do at home is to collect all the soft plastics I buy on products, like cling wrap, wrappers and food packaging.
It's alarming to see how much plastic that doesn’t go into the recycling bin accumulates. Collected soft plastics can be returned to collection points at most supermarkets.
Australian Governments recently agreed to ensure that all plastic packaging would be ‘reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025’. That doesn’t mean that they will be, just that they could be.
Our society needs to set a more satisfactory outcome and ensure that all plastic packaging is actually reused, composted or recycled by 2025.
For more information on the plastic bag ban, container refund scheme and plastic pollution reductions in Queensland go to https://www.des.qld.gov.au