Australia’s Plastic Bag Problem: Facts & Understanding It
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May 20, 2021
Reading Time: 6 Minutes
While we’ve been keeping ourselves safe from the pandemic crisis, we’ve also been complacent in consuming plastic products. However, as the restrictions ease and we return to normalcy, the realisation sets in that we should reconsider our consumption habits.
These habits have persisted throughout the crisis, and we should think about long-term alternatives to avoid unnecessary plastic use. We live in a plastic-filled society that is spreading, both in Australia and around the world.
According to the Australian plastics recycling survey for 2018-19, 3.5 million tonnes of plastics were consumed in Australia alone. That’s why we must find sustainable and efficient ways to manage our mountains of plastic waste.
As a result, both consumers and producers agree on the need to reduce our reliance on plastic. And it is because of this eagerness that the federal government has taken the initiative, the National Plastics Summit of 2020.
National Plastics Summit of 2020
The National Plastics Summit, hosted by Minister Sussan Ley, aims to showcase and identify new solutions to the plastic waste problem. One of the main goals during the summit is to mobilise the government’s National Waste Policy Action Plan even further.
The National Waste Policy prohibited the export of waste such as plastic, paper, glass, and tyres. By prohibiting the exportation of these wastes, the government will be able to expand the Australian recycling industry. Furthermore, this will aid in the growth and development of markets for recycled products.
This policy is already in effect, having begun in the second half of 2020. But, one of the most significant action plans is to reduce the total waste generated by every average Australian by 10% by 2030.
Nonetheless, despite our enthusiasm in addressing this issue, we are left wondering why plastic is our most serious and difficult problem today. Read on, to find out why.
Why Plastic Bags Are a Problem?
The truth is that plastic is all around us, and it doesn’t go away easily. Plastic comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and textures—and we use it and consume them every day.
Our plastic waste problem is caused by more than just plastic bags. And when it comes to waste, we are masters at producing it. In fact, most of us buy and consume far more than we need, and this is where our plastic problem begins.
Aside from that, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, and other retailers account as contributors to plastic waste. If we truly want to keep our lands, oceans, and communities healthy, we must make a concerted effort in reducing our reliance on plastics.
We need to fully commit from our government, businesses down to every household to make a dent in our national plastic waste problem. That’s because no matter how strongly we advocate for the 5 Rs—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle—if we’re not committed, the problem will persist.
So, open your eyes and mind to the presence of plastics in our daily lives. And, to begin, try to make a difference by making a conscious effort in what you consume. Let us know what are the facts about the plastics we consume to help our cause.
How Many Plastic Bags Does Australia Use Annually?
The goal is to document plastic consumption and recycling in Australia during the fiscal year 2018–19. The survey recorded that Australians are estimated to use 130 kg of plastic each year. In which only about 9% of the total collection of plastic waste is recycled.
Here are the key findings of the comprehensive survey:
In Australia, 3.5 million tonnes of plastic were consumed in 2018-19
In 2018-19, 393,800 tonnes of plastics were recycled, with 72,000 tonnes going to energy recovery. This is a 23% increase over the 2017-18 recovery
The national plastics recovery rate was 11.5 percent in 2018–19
203,100 tonnes (52%) of the 393,800 tonnes of plastics collected for reprocessing were reprocessed in Australia
While 190,700 tonnes (48%) were exported for reprocessing
Has Australia Banned Plastic Bags?
Bag bans will not solve the problem of plastic pollution, but we must start somewhere. As a result, 5 of Australia’s 8 territories have pledged to ban single-use plastics. These five states include:
1. South Australia
The ban on single-use plastics went into effect on March 1, 2021, with the elimination of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers, and cutlery.
Polystyrene food and beverage containers, as well as oxo-degradable plastics, will be added to the ban on March 1, 2022. For more information, click the link.
The single-use plastics ban will commence on 1 September 2021. This includes banning single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers, cutlery, plates, bowls and polystyrene food & beverage containers. Click the link for more details.
3. The ACT
A ban on single-use plastic cutlery, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and beverage containers will go into effect on July 1, 2021.
Including single-use straws, fruit and vegetable barrier bags, and other biodegradable plastics on the list to be phased out on July 1, 2022. However, the state has yet to make any further announcements on the matter. Click the link to know more about the details.
4. Western Australia
By 2023, the state has committed to eliminating the following single-use plastic plates, straws, cutlery, drink stirrers, heavyweight plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, and helium balloon releases.
The state recently announced that they will ban single-use plastic straws, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, polystyrene food and drink containers, and plastic cotton bud sticks by February 2023.
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning confirmed in correspondence with AMCS that oxo-degradable plastics will also be banned. To find out more about the details, click the link.
Moreover, New South Wales have yet to reveal their plans once the public consultations on a ban on single-use plastics have concluded.
Tasmania and the Northern Territory, on the other hand, have made no commitments to prohibit the use of single-use plastics.
Can We Solve Australia’s Plastic Waste Crisis?
We are all responsible for addressing the current plastic waste crisis. Making small changes to your plastic usage as a consumer can have a big impact.
Plastic has drastically altered our way of life. Keep in mind that, in addition to the volume of plastic waste that exists today, its lifespan makes it even worse. That is why it is no surprise that the amount of plastic waste produced has increased over time.
Australia’s food and grocery manufacturers developed the country’s largest industry-led plastic recycling scheme. By 2025, the scheme hopes to collect and recycle nearly 190,000 tonnes of plastic packaging per year.
Initially, the program will focus on diverting soft plastics from landfills before expanding to support increased recycling. This is because some plastics are currently difficult to collect and/or recycle.
These are examples of soft plastics:
Frozen vegetable bags
Toilet paper wrap
In addition, we can further reduce the amount of plastic waste we consume by simply using less single-use plastic every day. Consider the following when reducing your use of plastics.
Prevent the use of plastic from its source
By doing so, simply avoid unnecessary use of single-use plastic. In addition, do not support businesses that do not reduce their plastic waste. Also, make an effort to reuse any existing plastic materials in your home.
Here are some additional solutions to prevent plastics from their source, including:
Say no to single-use plastic such as cutlery, straws, and other single-use plastics
Avoid using plastics that cannot be recycled if other options are available
Do not patronise products with excessive or unnecessary plastic packaging
Reuse your water bottles, shopping bags, cups, and always bring an eco-friendly cutlery
With a little imagination, single-use plastic items can be repurposed. If you do buy these plastic items, try to extend their life by reusing them for DIY projects.
Check your plastic packaging or label
Check your product and look for the Australian Recycling Label (ARL). It specifies what packaging can and cannot be recycled.
You can also make use of the REDcycle program as it allows us to recycle soft plastics such as shopping, bread, pasta, and confectionery bags.
Look for container deposit schemes that pay you for returning used containers. These initiatives will help in reducing and diverting a significant amount of plastic waste away from our landfills.
Be responsible by being part of the solution
The National Plastics Plan has launched an initiative that every consumer can support. Remember that plastic is not biodegradable. That is, it will outlive all other types of rubbish.
Therefore, always seek out long-term solutions to keep plastic waste from polluting our land and waterways.
Plastic Bags: The Bottom Line
Plastic waste is a global issue that must be addressed right away. In the first place, plastic is a poor choice. Throughout its manufacturing and use, plastic pollutes and is toxic to our health and the environment. Plastic is either burned or buried even after it has been recycled several times. As a result, both marine and terrestrial life will be endangered.
Plastic bag bans alone will not solve the plastic crisis. They will, however, aid in changing consumers’ and retailers’ plastic consumption habits. This will make them more open to alternatives.
As long as we continue to make a conscious effort in how we consume any type of plastic, our small improvements can make a difference.
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Sarah Baker is a Digital Content Writer for Paul's Rubbish Removal. Sarah is a huge advocate for recycling, environmental sustainability, health and well-being and has a genuine love for all sea animals. Keep up with Sarah by following Paul's Rubbish Removal blog!