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Plastic free July in the capital

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 13 July 2017 16

Suddenly it seems that Canberrans are talking rubbish! And this is a good thing.

Hot on the heels of the conversation generated by the ABC’s ‘War on Waste’, a new campaign ‘Plastic Free July’ provides us with a new opportunity to reflect on how wasteful modern life can be and a chance make a commitment to reduce our impact on the planet.

Plastic, from clingwrap, plastic bags, plastic storage containers and takeaway coffee cups, is something that permeates our everyday life. When first invented, plastics were environmentally important as they replaced the use of ivory, tortoiseshell, horn and other plant and animal products. Today however, they are having a significant impact on our planet, particularly in our oceans. The use is staggering – over 1 billion tonnes of plastic was produced in the last half of the 20th century and in the first ten years of this century this figure has more than doubled! And this is for products that we may use for a couple of minutes and throw away, but can basically last forever.

Plastic Free July focuses on the fact that while many plastics can be recycled, this will never be the whole solution. It suggests a strategy of refuse, reduce and reuse. This campaign started in Western Australia but has grown into a global movement.

There are plenty of Canberrans who have got involved and so I was interested to hear from one of these about why and what they are doing in Plastic Free July. Viv Lightfoot is a local Canberra artist who practices ceramic sculpting. As someone whose work often reflects on the blind spots around caring for this planet, she felt that this was a great thing to make a commitment to.

Viv’s approach recognises that giving up plastic is tough. One early focus was how to get rid of the ever-useful plastic bin liner. She came up with some ideas, including putting her organic waste in the worm farm. She has given up clingwrap and opted for wax covered cloths. She is thinking hard about the packaging her food comes in and has stopped buying food in plastic containers – and that includes the milk containers (only cardboard containers now). She is using paper bags and just not putting her veggies in bags, often buying smaller quantities to reduce waste. Viv is also making much more of her own food – from yoghurt to hummus and muesli. She is finding that this is also saving her money and is pretty yummy as well. For things like washing detergent and shampoo, she is using less than usual and looking at natural alternatives such as vinegar, bicarbonate soda and lemon juice (that’s for the dishes not the hair). She also has a whole lot of suggestions of easy things people can do – from carrying your own thermal cup, disposing of dust collected after sweeping into the garden rather than the bin and of course carrying your own bags when shopping

Viv’s commitment shows what a difference that one person can make, and shows that additional benefits can also be achieved, such as saving money and eating more healthily. I find Viv’s actions inspiring and has motivated me to make many changes in the way my household uses plastic.

The Plastic Free July campaign highlights just how much plastic there is in our lives and provides a focus for individual action which is a fantastic first step. We need these types of campaigns to be complemented by broad community action. Whether it be through legislative change, new initiatives or broad education, the Canberra community is one that can be a model community. We need strong community support and leadership from our decision makers to make this happen. We have great examples of how this has occurred before– we have some of the highest recycling rates in Australia and were early adopters of the plastic bag ban but there is still more to do. The plastic bag ban could be enhanced by requirements to make all plastic bags fully compostable and we will be introducing a container collection scheme are just some ideas to help Canberrans reduce their reliance on plastic.

I think Plastic Free July is a great way to personally make a commitment to reduce our use of plastics as well as start a conversation about broader strategies to reduce plastic use. What do you think we should do to reduce the use of plastic in the ACT and how can we become a model community in the reduction of plastic use?

Learn more on the Plastic Free July page on Facebook.

PLASTIC CAN kill

Image courtesy of Vivien Lightfoot’s son, David.

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16 Responses to
Plastic free July in the capital
Felix the Cat 6:12 pm 18 Jul 17

Here’s an article I found supporting my earlier post saying that banning single-use bags and replacing them with re-usable bags will do little for saving the environment and more for the bottom line of the supermarkets – https://theconversation.com/getting-rid-of-plastic-bags-a-windfall-for-supermarkets-but-it-wont-do-much-for-the-environment-81083

No_Nose 8:42 pm 17 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

We use them for other things too such as for the kids’ wet swimmers at school, to put fish in when at the lake, for rubbish bags in the car and much more. Can’t do that with cloth bags.

I find a multitude of uses for them and normally get about 5 uses out of one bag before it is then consigned to use as a bin-liner or a doggie-poo pick-up bag.

Every time I cross the border and do some shopping I make sure I pick up a couple of dozen of them. Self-serve checkouts are great for this as I can put one item in a bag, then double bag it, then slip an extra bag or three into the first bag.

If I plan carefully I reckon I can stockpile at least a thousand bags before they phase them out. That should keep me going for a few years.

They seriously are just that useful!

Maya123 5:17 pm 17 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

GCS14 said :

LocalUser said :

No plastic bags with my shopping just means I now have to buy commercial plastic bags from the supermarket for my kitchen waste – environmentals savings for me – absolutely zero

So you would use all the supermarket bags given to you as waste bag?

We use them for other things too such as for the kids’ wet swimmers at school, to put fish in when at the lake, for rubbish bags in the car and much more. Can’t do that with cloth bags.

Here’s a couple of inspiring families showing you have alternatives:

ttps://www.domain.com.au/advice/how-to-live-life-with-less-and-create-a-zero-waste-home-20151006-gk2c3b/

http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/we-chat-australias-zero-waste-family/

wildturkeycanoe 7:28 am 17 Jul 17

GCS14 said :

LocalUser said :

No plastic bags with my shopping just means I now have to buy commercial plastic bags from the supermarket for my kitchen waste – environmentals savings for me – absolutely zero

So you would use all the supermarket bags given to you as waste bag?

We use them for other things too such as for the kids’ wet swimmers at school, to put fish in when at the lake, for rubbish bags in the car and much more. Can’t do that with cloth bags.

GCS14 12:00 am 17 Jul 17

LocalUser said :

No plastic bags with my shopping just means I now have to buy commercial plastic bags from the supermarket for my kitchen waste – environmentals savings for me – absolutely zero

So you would use all the supermarket bags given to you as waste bag?

Maya123 6:26 pm 16 Jul 17

I use cloth bags. They last for years. The green type bags (they come in other colours too) can be mended to make them last longer, but cloth bags are still better. Hessian bags are good too. Worn out hessian bags can be used around plants, such as tomatoes, in the garden, and eventually they will rot into the soil.
I don’t need to take plastic bags to line the bin with. I use the CT plastic wrappers for that. One wrapper a week or fortnight is enough for me. The CT wrappers are good for other storage too.

LocalUser 6:23 pm 16 Jul 17

No plastic bags with my shopping just means I now have to buy commercial plastic bags from the supermarket for my kitchen waste – environmentals savings for me – absolutely zero

No_Nose 5:02 pm 16 Jul 17

Felix the Cat said :

I see Coles and Woolies in other states are following ACT and getting rid of single-use plastic bags, but replacing them with the thicker (and theoretical) multi-use plastic bags. I don’t see this as anything to really crow about from an environmental point of view. Most people I observe in supermarkets rarely bring their own bags or boxes, they just buy the multi-use bags. So much for multi-use. And so much for Coles and Woolies saving the environment. They are just making money by selling bags instead of giving them away.

I recall reading a study that calculated that the thicker plastic bags need to be used around 50 times and the green ‘reusable’ bag need to be used around 100 times in order for their environmental benefits to be realised.

Felix the Cat 7:48 pm 15 Jul 17

I see Coles and Woolies in other states are following ACT and getting rid of single-use plastic bags, but replacing them with the thicker (and theoretical) multi-use plastic bags. I don’t see this as anything to really crow about from an environmental point of view. Most people I observe in supermarkets rarely bring their own bags or boxes, they just buy the multi-use bags. So much for multi-use. And so much for Coles and Woolies saving the environment. They are just making money by selling bags instead of giving them away.

Maya123 11:05 am 14 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

Jodie Ruth said :

Lemon juice comes in…lemons. The peel of which can be composted, or added to the vinegar for cleaning purposes. Vinegar can be purchased in glass, which can be recycled.

No, citrus are not good for compost. They destroy the bacteria and worms don’t like them. Glass, plastic, makes little difference because both are recyclable anyway. It isn’t like vinegar bottles are the problem with the oceans or landfill, it is the other plastic wraps which suppliers seem to be intent on putting absolutely everything in. These wraps are also recyclable though, so I still can’t see the big deal.
Plastic coffee cups? I thought they were all cardboard, or the heat would burn your hands. The lids however are also recyclable. It isn’t the products that are the problem, it is litterbugs and people who can’t work out simple recycling conventions.

I put citrus in the compost all the time and it isn’t any problem. My compost has lots of worms. But perhaps you are confusing compost with worm farms, where citrus is not recommended.

wildturkeycanoe 8:37 pm 13 Jul 17

Jodie Ruth said :

Lemon juice comes in…lemons. The peel of which can be composted, or added to the vinegar for cleaning purposes. Vinegar can be purchased in glass, which can be recycled.

No, citrus are not good for compost. They destroy the bacteria and worms don’t like them. Glass, plastic, makes little difference because both are recyclable anyway. It isn’t like vinegar bottles are the problem with the oceans or landfill, it is the other plastic wraps which suppliers seem to be intent on putting absolutely everything in. These wraps are also recyclable though, so I still can’t see the big deal.
Plastic coffee cups? I thought they were all cardboard, or the heat would burn your hands. The lids however are also recyclable. It isn’t the products that are the problem, it is litterbugs and people who can’t work out simple recycling conventions.

No_Nose 3:14 pm 13 Jul 17

I dont understand how this is even an issue anymore as I distinctly recall a previous Chief Minister telling us that there would be “No Waste by 2010”.

Didn’t that work?

Jodie Ruth 3:04 pm 13 Jul 17

What War on Waste also showed us is that sometimes the stuff we think is going to be recycled ends up in landfill anyway. It’s better not to create the avoidable waste than to try and deal with it.

Lemon juice comes in…lemons. The peel of which can be composted, or added to the vinegar for cleaning purposes. Vinegar can be purchased in glass, which can be recycled.

wildturkeycanoe 10:40 am 13 Jul 17

” she is using less than usual and looking at natural alternatives such as vinegar, bicarbonate soda and lemon juice ”
And the vinegar and lemon juice comes in what? You guessed it, plastic! It is near impossible to avoid plastic for any grocery item these days, without extra expense of going all the way to the markets. The consequences of travelling there probably cost more for the environment than a few plastic products do so it can be a futile effort. But, it makes Greenies feel warm and fuzzy while having bugger all impact.
As for saving money, hah! Plastic wrapped junk food is much cheaper than enviro-friendly natural goods. I’d be happy to participate in a study to prove this.

mapinact 10:02 am 13 Jul 17

I respect the ideas here, and applaud anyone who can consistently make this work for them – it’s definitely a harder way to live in comparison to using plastics. I’d question though just how effective this can be overall. We aren’t all about to give up plastic en masse, any more than we’ll all give up cars or all start exercising properly or all start doing enough exercise.

One of the surprising facts to come out of “War on Waste” was that you can recycle soft plastics, which are any plastic you can scrunch into a ball, e.g. plastic bags, chip packets, gladwrap etc. Currently both Woolworths and Coles accept bags of soft plastics for recycling at selected stores. Woolworths sends them overseas to be turned into more plastic bags; Coles sends them to Victoria to be turned into council garden furniture, bollards, bricks etc.

We’ve started separating out the soft plastics from the garbage (we already take out the organic waste to compost) and this has cut our garbage waste by nearly 2/3. We only empty the kitchen bin once a fortnight now, but take a couple of shopping bags of soft plastics to Coles every week.

We use the soft plastics bin at Coles Manuka. The bin is frequently full, with another bin to bin-and-a-half’s worth of bags beside it, so the scheme is definitely getting attention. I would imagine that being “in your face” like this is more likley to engender a change of habit in others too.

It’s be fantastic to see a council-sponsored soft plastics collection scheme! I don’t believe we can rely on the corporate sector to continue supporting it indefinitely.

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