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Everyday Enviro with Elise - Single use is still an issue

Date: 18-Jun-19
Author: Elise Catterall

Whilst action on single-use plastics is underway, there remains so much more we can do. Image: Adrienne Andersen/Unsplash © Adrienne Andersen/Unsplash

Whilst action on single-use plastics is underway, there remains so much more we can do. Image: Adrienne Andersen/Unsplash

So the good news is that we have already seen a positive impact from the ban of single use plastic bags driven by supermarkets and by consumers, with both major supermarkets reporting major reductions in plastic bag use. Woolworths estimates the move has prevented nearly 5000 tonnes of plastic entering circulation whilst Coles says the strategy has diverted 1.7 billion bags from landfill*.

On top of this, the uptake of other types of single use plastics - plastic straws is a good example - is also decreasing. Two big ticks. 

There is no doubt that this is a very good thing.  However, it is becoming clear that the message to use reusables still needs to be pushed because while we are seeing a reduction in single-use plastics, there is still a reliance on non-plastic single-use items – especially cardboard and paper items, which are seen as benign because, well, they are not plastic.  Unfortunately they aren’t benign.  In truth, nothing that is single use really is, particularly if it is easily substituted by a reusable alternative.

To make a paper bag, critical resources and energy are used and there is a hefty carbon footprint associated; if this bag is dyed and printed (think the type of bag your pharmacist may put your script in displaying their logo), the impact is greater.  Will you reuse that bag? Probably not – especially if it carries food and gets soiled.  If it is your typical brown paper lunch bag, you may be able to compost it, so it won’t become waste, but the resources were still used in its manufacture.  Reusables remove both the manufacturing issue and the waste issue.  

And let’s face it, we’ve got all those bags, we need to get using them! A recent story in The Conversation discussed how, in order to get true environmental benefit from the reusable supermarket bags and totes we all have piled up in our kitchens and cars (it can’t just be me!), we need to use them between 37 (your typical supermarket green bag), and possibly even up to 7000 times (that last figure is for a cotton tote, which carries a major environmental price tag – so maybe skip buying those ones if you haven’t already).  

I know that there are instances in which we are caught short, or when using a reusable is just not doable, and in those circumstances, we just need to make the best decision we can at the time.  The point of this message is to just reiterate that paper bags, and cardboard containers are not the solution - reusables are ALWAYS a better option to anything that is single use.

* This article was amended on 21 June, 2019 to reflect updated statistics on single-use bags provided publicly by both Woolworths and Coles. The article previously stated there had been an 80% drop in the consumption of plastic bags across the country, equating to approximately 1.5 billion fewer bags.

See you next time! - Elise

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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


Elise                                             Catterall
Author: Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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