Perils of everyday plastics

Plastic is everywhere these days, and it’s become a real problem. From drink bottles and disposable cutlery to cosmetic product microbeads and tiny particles from synthetic clothing, plastic is clogging our waterways, killing our marine life and damaging our ecosystems and our health.

Plastic in our oceans

  • Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans—and much of this comes from particles that wash off things like car tyres and synthetic clothing. 
  • At the rate we’re currently throwing out single-use plastics such as bottles, bags and cups, by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish, and around 99% of seabirds will have ingested some form of plastic.
  • There are now said to be 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, with 46,000 pieces in every square mile. That’s why 100,000 marine creatures die from plastic entanglement each year, plus around one million sea birds, and why 700 marine species might go extinct because of plastic. 

Plastic on our land

  • We throw out so much plastic every single day, and most of those bags, bottles, packets and more aren’t being recycled—they either end up in landfill, littering the environment, harming wildlife or blocking drains and increasing flood risk.  
  • Plastic doesn’t break down—in fact, plastic bags last so long (from 20 to 1,000 years) that there are more of them in the litter stream every year, and in Australia, only 3% of plastic bags are recycled. 
  • In the US, producing plastic uses 331 billion barrels of petroleum, a chemical that harms the environment by polluting air and water, every year. 
  • Plastic is made from non-renewable resources: liquid petroleum gases (LPG), natural gas liquids (NGL) and natural gas.

Plastic and our health

  • Plastic is working its way into our food chain: research shows that when marine creatures consume plastic, it remains in their system—which means that when we eat fish, we’re eating plastic, too
  • Many of the chemicals that leach from plastics used in cooking and food and drink storage aren’t good for us: the worst culprits are biphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, which are hormone-mimicking endocrine disruptors.

So how can we fix our plastic problem? The good news is that many governments all over the world (including Queensland) have either already implemented, or are planning to implement, plastic bag bans; the UK and US, among other countries, have also banned plastic microbeads.  

But what can you do as an individual? Here are five simple steps you can take to reduce your plastic consumption:

  1. Bring your own bags: Reusable shopping bags are easy to find, and come in a huge range of colours, styles and sizes. Carry a bag with you wherever you go so you never have to put your purchases in plastic again!
  2. Bring your own drink containers: Get your morning brew in a KeepCup and fill a reusable bottle with water so don’t have to opt for single-use cardboard or plastic alternatives when you’re on the go.
  3. Store your food in non-plastic containers: Invest in some beeswax wraps to cover food instead of plastic wrap, and opt for glass or stainless steel containers to pop your leftovers and school or work lunches.
  4. Buy in bulk: Cut down on packaging by stocking up on pantry and household essentials in bulk—some organic/natural food and produce stores even let you bring your own containers to fill with goods such as pulses, nuts and grains.
  5. Replace your kitchen and bathroom plastics: Ditch plastic containers for products such as shampoo, detergent and handwash (buy these in bulk and decant them into glass bottles or jars instead), or opt for things like soap, shampoo and deodorant bars instead of their plastic-packaged alternatives.

You can also get on board with global movements such as the Australian-founded Plastic Free July to kick-start your new plastic-free fantastic lifestyle and help save the planet! 

What to do during COVID?

Plastic Free July has compiled some tips and suggestions from leading health and environmental advisors about how you can continue to reduce your plastic consumption safely during COVID.