Plastic production only started in the 1950’s. Yet, in little over six decades, we have produced over 8 billion metric tons. Plastic doesn’t degrade; it merely breaks down into micro-fragments, and so the majority is still in existence today – either accumulating in a landfill, littering our natural environments, or worse, polluting our oceans.
With around 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the oceans each year, scientists predict the sea will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050; unless we take action. Reducing consumption, increasing recycling, and choosing non-plastic alternatives are changes we, as consumers, can make; but equally necessary are the actions of government, manufacturers, and business, if we are to see a genuine transformation. As until those with the influence required to remove plastic from circulation speak up, it is unlikely we will ever win the war on plastic waste. A recent consensus highlighted how a growing number of Australians consider taking care of the planet a high personal priority.
Which Australian businesses are reducing their reliance on single-use plastic?
First to take a stand, Woolworths' has banned single-use plastic bags across all its stores; preempting a Queensland-wide ban in July 2018 with other states to follow suit. Australians currently discard 3.9 billion bags each year but by year end New South Wales will still permit usage. Woolworth’s will offer a reusable “Bag for Good,” donating all proceeds in the next financial year to the Junior Landcare grants program.
Woolworth’s will also stop selling plastic straws by the end of 2018, as well as reducing plastic packaging across 80 fruit and vegetable lines. The changes will amount to 134 million fewer straws sold; while building on the 140 tonnes of plastic packaging the retailer has already removed from stores over the past 12-months.
Coles will also remove plastic bags from its stores from July 1st. Consumers will be encouraged to purchase thicker, multi-use bags for 15 cents or to bring bags from home. With a fine of up to $6,300 if caught supplying single-use plastic bags, this can only be a good thing.
The CPG giant recently called on the Australian Government to do more in the war on plastic, backing up words with actions. Unilever launched a detergent bottle comprised of 25 per cent recycled material – a move which could save the equivalent of 7 million single-use plastic bags from circulation. The manufacturer has criticised policymakers, calling for “stronger coordination in how targets are delivered.” As no targets have yet been set in how much recycled material the government expects businesses to include in packaging.
The Last Straw Campaign
Hundreds of small businesses throughout Australia and beyond have joined The Last Straw campaign. The movement calls on venues country-wide to stop using plastic straws. Additionally, it challenges the public to take on plastic-free months. Participants believe they can affect sweeping habitual change. In turn, removing the bulk of single-use plastic from our lifestyles.
Brisbane City Council
BCC will become Australia’s most environmentally friendly council when it bans straws, balloons and single-use bottles from its operations. The ban extends to Council-sponsored events and prevents suppliers from selling plastic products – although the public will still be able to bring them.
The Blue Planet effect
Perhaps there is no greater a rallying cry for collective action than that of the final episode of BBC Documentary Blue Planet II. The program zeroed in on how human behaviour is having a disastrous impact on our marine ecology with plastics the crux of the issue – and asked the world to force a change. Since airing, organisations have been compelled into action with a wave of bans on single-use plastics; aptly dubbed the Blue Planet Effect.
Five tips to reduce your business’ plastic needs
Below are five quick tips to help you reduce plastic consumption in the workplace
1. Pinpoint Your Plastic Waste
Make a note of everywhere your business uses plastic; then identify if there are alternatives and make the switch.
2. Returnable Packaging Scheme
Work with suppliers who offer returnable packaging schemes to cut disposable goods, reusing and recycling.
3. Install a mini-kitchen
Food packaging contributes a significant portion of plastic waste. By offering staff the facilities to store and reheat homemade meals, it will mean fewer store-bought lunches, so less plastic to throw away.
4. Ask Suppliers and Clients to Follow Suit
Encourage others throughout your supply chain to take the same steps, spreading a message of sustainability to reduce plastic waste, together.
5. Install a Bottleless Water Cooler
Since China banned the import of foreign waste, Australia has been buckling under a build-up of landfill. A simple fact remains: there is a lack of infrastructure to deal with the volume of waste Australians produce. The Federal Government has woken up to the crisis, pledging to make packaging ‘reusable, combustible, or recyclable’ by 2025. However, as the Unilever statement suggests, firm targets are required for the pledge to have any meaningful outcome.
Other World Leaders are showing the way:
- Theresa May urged the Commonwealth to follow her proposed ban on plastic straws, earbuds and stirrers.
- Project Mainstream is a cross-industry, CEO-led initiative looking to establish a global circular economy in partnership with the World Economic Forum. A primary objective of which is to review the global packaging value chain and identify viable plastic alternatives.
Representatives of the Australian waste industry have called for similar action, asking for $150 million in funding to spur on the development of their recycling capacity. Whether the government will offer such support is yet to be known.