Globally, plastic bags are banned in 32 countries, 18 of which are in Africa, and it isn't in Australia, yet!!
Why? I'm not sure why, but it is clear that they cause an extreme amount of devastation on the planet. It is estimated that they kill up to 100,000 marine animals every year, and they also break down into micro plastics (like dust) and small fish and mammals eat their food ingesting micro plastics and then humans eat those animals. It is expected that around 5gm of plastic is ingested in a single week into our guts.
I don't mean to alarm you, but it does feel like the world is in a slow playback, you know where you know what is happening but the movement is so slow that you fell asleep on the couch waiting for the ending of the movie, where the hero gets the girl and they live happily ever after.
So what can we do? Well we can make better consumer choices to start with, and work back from there. I started to look around my house and workplace where plastic bags are used, can I replace them with a better alternative, one that won't outlive my great grandchildren grandchildren?
At my last job I looked around and started to work out where there could be a seriously amazing change to the use of single use plastic bags. I first asked the cleaner if he could just change the bin bags every other day, or once a week, he said NO, his job was to clean and he had to do it this way, unless someone could show him a different way that didn't cost him too much time. So I saw that as a challenge.
I did the sums, I embarked on a solo mission to stop the single use bags in our office, and the results were amazing! I did the costs up to present the accounts team, the managers, based on the information I had there was 100 bins, being lined nearly every day, take out the weekends and then an additional 10 days per year due to public holidays and Christmas holidays the bins are getting lined for 250 days per year.
Therefore : 100 bins x 250 days = 25,000 bags. The costs based on a supermarket degradable bin liner (more on this further down) – packet of 25 costs $3.10, therefore 25,000 bags cost the business $3,100 per year. I was sure the bosses would not only be impressed but would be happy to have the $3100 at the end of the year. I presented my findings and it was pretty apparent it was going to take more than me showing them how, costing it up and then getting everyone on board. I had to then find an alternative that replaced the single use evil plastic bag with a better bag, surely there had to be a better bag, and a new job!
So I started investigating, what is the difference between biodegradable, degradable, compostable bags? I wasn't prepared for what I got, let's just say it is basically smoke and mirrors. OK, we will start with the differences between the classifications and then work back from there.
Degradable plastic – Made from plastic – which is made from petroleum based product, but has an additive added to it in the manufacturing which allows the plastic to degrade quicker than traditional single use plastic bags…………………….but here is the clincher on this type of plastic – it breaks into tiny particles and ends up becoming micro plastic, and yep probably ends up in the ocean, as everything seems to.Verdict – Please do not use them! They will end up in landfill, for sure.
Bio-Degradable – Made from plant based products like corn, wheat – starch, and maybe there are some others out there that I haven’t discovered. Truth about these is that they bio-degrade only under certain circumstances, i.e ultraviolet light, heat and if they end up in landfill they create loads more methane into the atmosphere. – Please do not use them! The thing is they will end up in landfill anyway.
Compostable plastic – Made from natural products like corn starch, soy protein, cellulose and potato. They do compost completely, but there is a glitch, they need to be separated sent to a specific recycling facility and heated to the right temperature, but yes out of all of the products they seem to be the most planet friendly. But, at this point there are only around 150 facilities in Australia that do this specific kind of recycling. Therefore planting them with your fruits and vegie compost may not work either. Verdict – Use them if you know they are going to be recycled properly. If they end up in landfill they aren’t as bad as their counterparts.
It's all very challenging. I have trash, it’s unavoidable to a degree, I do my very best buying bulk where I can, making food from scratch, using reusable bags, produce bags and revamping old stuff to make it new and reusable. In short there is no 'good' plastic bag or actually for that matter no good ' plastic'. If it has to be sent to a specific recycling facility then you can be assured that most of the garbage you put into your bin at home or even out and about regardless of how sustainable it says it is, it will most probably end up in landfill and be pollution, so we have to look at the things we can do and how to make the most effective and long lasting change for us, for our family and for the nature environment.
Lessen your single use plastic bag use, then tackle the other bits of plastic that come into your home!
I have two daughters, two teens. They are super awesome, there is no doubt about it, they are conscious beautiful girls, bright and super intelligent, and I am not biased. They do however bring in their fair share of single use plastic in the home. I talk to them about making better choices when they go shopping, but it still comes through my door!!! Its a f*&king nightmare. Whilst I am busy trying my hardest to stop the plastics coming in, they are breaking their way in like vampires, being invited and never leaving! I am a realist and know that unless we move to the country, become fully self sustainable, make our clothes from scratch and cut ourselves off from the world there will inevitably be some plastic in our lives.
But give me the pipe-dream of being completely plastic free on the farm, and yes – I might just put that in my pipe and smoke it!
So whilst trying to tackle the teens, the world we live and navigating a minimal to zero waste life, a couple of months ago I embarked on removing items in my house one by one.
a) to slowly integrate this into our lives
b) to have everyone in my house on-board with my journey
c) I am sick of seeing the waste, because I give a shit!
Plastic bags are just one crusade, and I do get despondent, because everything seems to be wrapped in plastic, or in a box and then you open the box and there is plastic inside. To live without plastic seems almost completely impossible, and I can only do what I can do, right? So I have done what I can do, I have given up buying single use, plastic wrapped shampoo, conditioner, washing liquid, dish-washing liquid, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, bread, peanut butter, and dry goods like flours, sugars, grains. It’s easy, it just takes more time and yes, more money!! Crazy right, but to eliminate single use plastic and incorporate reusables the cost is about 10-50% more, depending. I am trying to make the changes where I can, and without trying to ram it down other peoples throats. It’s a slow process but it is working and our general consumption of waste is lessening each and every week.
Some years ago I had a conversation with my father in law about climate change and climate change skeptics. He is a skeptic. Whilst everyone is able to have their own opinion, even if this isn’t my opinion its good for the debate and discussion. What unfolded was this – It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you sit, whether you believe that the world is cyclical and mother nature will just take back what is rightfully hers or not. Whether or not this is just a fact regardless of the endless papers you have read from scholars who are pro or anti climate change. The simple truth is that we humans, either by perfect design or by having weapons of mass destruction, have put ourselves at the top of the food chain and therefore by default are the custodians of the planet.
Our innovation and technologies have led us to where we are right now, swimming in the sea of plastic. If you don't think you have been partisan to any of it, you are a fool or just really young. But we can turn it around, we need to talk about it, educate ourselves and make better choices, daily!
Back to my conversation with my Father in law “I do not believe in climate change, the world has been going through cycles of change for millions of years and will continue to do so, climate change is not real”, I chimed in “It is really not that important whether everyone believes in climate change or not, what is important is that we start to care about how we are living on the planet, therefore people just need to be more conscious of their choices, regardless of the climate change debate”.
So if you do give a shit, even if you don’t believe in climate change, take some more time and care about your daily duties, purchases and say no to the plastic bags you get over the counter, even if they do pick up your dog poo on your morning walk.