Plastic Not So Fantastic

Plastic, once our “friend” in the fifties, has now become nature's “enemy”.

Our oceans now contain alarming amounts of plastic debris, which will take hundreds of years to break down and have tragic consequences for marine life. A recent comprehensive CSIRO ocean litter research report concluded that ¾ of all litter is plastic and that by 2050 over 90% of our seabirds would have plastic in their stomachs. Of our 11000 Australian beaches not a single one can be declared plastic litter free.

Below the waves, plastic debris, 40.000 pieces per square km, is finding its way into the food chain. The UN Environment Program described marine plastics as the new toxic time bomb. Other scientists have suggested that the problem is on par with climate change if not bigger. (The issue of marine debris
was recently brought to the world's attention by the search for missing Malaysian Airliner, which was reportedly hampered by extensive floating debris).

In addition to entangling wildlife plastic is mistaken for food; floating plastics accumulate and concentrate chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the pesticide DDT.

Since 2000 we have produced more plastic than during the entire 20th century. To produce the approximately 4 billion (conservative estimate) plastic bags, Australians used last year, vast amounts of non-renewable fossil fuels were used. Millions of bags end up on beaches, in rivers and other parts of our natural environment. In our own backyard, Lord Howe Island, plastic is killing migrating shearwaters. In the latest survey last year, one bird’s stomach contained more than 200 pieces of plastic. More than 70% of the chicks were found to have ingested plastic.

It is clear that we have to make our lives less plastic.

Dozens of countries and states around the world, from California to Bangladesh, including several states and towns in Australia, have banned the single use lightweight plastic bags with positive results. As a result of the public support, Bunnings and some other stores have decided to ban plastic bags on a national basis.

It is timely that the NSW government introduce a ban on single use plastic bags as a first step to reduce the serious effects of plastic pollution.

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THE FACTS

  • Australians use more than 4,000,000,000 plastic checkout-style bags per year.
  • Australians throw out more than 7,000 plastic bags per minute.
  • Lightweight plastic bags are used for 12 minutes on average.
  • They take up to 1,000 years to break down.
  • In only 4 shopping trips, the average Australian family accumulates 60 plastic bags.
  • Each year in Australia, an estimated 50 million plastic bags do not make it to landfill, instead entering the environment… and they never leave.
  • Plastic bag litter kills tens of thousands of birds, whales, seals and turtles every year.
  • These bags are made from fossil fuels – which are precious and non-renewable.

Who’s already 
banned the bag?

The momentum is considerable in NSW and in many communities to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and the A.C.T. have already taken the step –with great outcomes for the environment. On a global level, entire countries including Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa and China have either banned plastic shopping bags or implemented a levy to reduce consumption. 

California has just come on board as the first US State to introduce a state-wide ban.

It’s time for action.