Author: Liam Taylor
In recent times we’ve seen a number of innovative solutions to the issue of plastic waste springing up around Australia. That’s great news when considering the negative impact that poorly managed or disposed of plastic can have on our natural environment, especially oceans and waterways.
Plastics can take over 1,000 years to break down and as part of the process turn into microplastics. These small particles are increasingly found in the digestive tracts of marine animals, particularly fish and seabirds, while also potentially impacting human health. An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enters oceans globally every year, and by 2050 the cumulative weight of plastic in the ocean may exceed that of fish.
One particularly nasty culprit in terms of plastic waste is the single-use plastic bag. Australians use 7-8 billion plastic bags every year. Just 3% of that number is recycled according to Clean Up Australia around 180 million plastic bags wind up in our natural environment per year. There they pose a hazard to the health of coral reefs and wildlife including turtles, fish, dolphins, whales and coastal birds.
In a massive win for sustainability both Coles and Woolworths announced complete phase-outs of single-use plastic bags last year, which will come into action next month. That announcement, in combination with numerous state bans on plastic bags in recent years (South Australia in 2009, the NT and ACT in 2011, Tasmania in 2013 and Queensland, WA and Victoria in 2018), is a sign of Australians’ strong willingness to move away from plastic bags to protect our environment. Since then both major supermarkets have made further commitments including Woolworths pledging to stop selling plastic straws, Coles promising to replace meat and poultry packaging with recycled and renewable materials, and both committing to removing plastic packaging for various fruit and vegetable lines.
Planet Ark has supported these plastic bag phase-outs since the get-go and it’s thrilling to see the work of many passionate Australian individuals and organisations culminate in this way. On June 10 our head spokesperson Rebecca Gilling appeared on The Today Show with Woolworths Group’s Head of Sustainability Adrian Cullen to discuss the phase-out and what it means for consumers. Our CEO Paul Klymenko has also been doing the media rounds a outlets to celebrate the supermarkets' efforts and promote the uptake of the Australasian Recycling Label, an evidence based system providing consumers with easy to understand recycling information.
Other solutions to the plastic bag issue are also emerging as Australians come to terms with the need for innovative waste recovery ods. Earlier this year soft plastics from approximately 200,000 plastic bags and packaging were combined with glass from approximately 63,000 glass bottle equivalents, toner from more than 4,500 used printer cartridges and 50 tonnes of recycled asphalt to construct a Victorian road in an Australian-first trial.
Engineering firm Downer and Hume City Council partnered with resource recovery and recycling companies Close the Loop and RED Group to make the trial happen and set a new benchmark for road transport sustainability. Close the Loop supplied the printer toner through the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program, an innovative recycling program that provides Australians with a free, easy and environmentally-accredited way to recycle their used printer cartridges. The soft plastics were sourced through our good friends at REDcycle, a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastic in supermarkets around Australia.
With the second season of the ABC’s War on Waste just around the corner it’s encouraging to see so many emerging solutions to Australia’s plastic waste issue. Through dedication, innovation and lots of hard work we can find the pathway to a cleaner future!
Liam is Planet Ark's Communications Coordinator. Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia.