Updated: 4 days ago
Australia - the land of blue skies, surf beaches, friendly faces saying 'g'day mate' every where you go, fresh local food farms, world famous coral reefs, home of the most liveable city, sacred Aboriginal sites, home of the kangaroo and the koala; and amongst all the beauty, it is also the land of deforestation, endangered animals and plant species, large scale coal and gas mining, waste and plastic pollution, and a Prime Minister who doesn't seem to comprehend that we have a plastic crisis in our country, let alone have the capacity to begin to tackle it.
"Australia produces 2.5m tonnes of plastic waste each year, about 84% of which is sent to landfill. About 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste leaks into the environment annually." (Guardian)
With these alarming facts, one would assume that Australia was working hard to take action to solve our plastic crisis by implementing legislation and plastic bans to reduce our consumption, as well as encouraging the general public to reduce their individual plastic consumption. So, are we? I'll now delve into bans and initiatives being championed by community groups who have fought hard for balloon release bans, single use plastic bans, container deposit refund schemes and microbead bans, and see whether or not we are doing enough. Let's find out how Australia is facing this crisis.
The National Plastics Plan 2021 acknowledges the plastic problem Australia is currently facing, and announces the ways in which the government has committed to help address it. According to the graph below, plastics production has been increasing significantly since the 1950's. Currently, amongst the covid-19 pandemic, we are seeing a rise in single use plastics consumption, as well as PPE. Even though we are aware of the effects on our planet and our health, our overall plastics consumption is unfortunately not being reduced.
The actions of the National Plastics Plan are to: + Phase out Problematic and Unnecessary Plastics + Plastic free beaches (by working with Boomerang Alliance)
+ Hold a Plastics Design Summit in 2021
+ Industry Shift to Easily Recyclable Plastics
+ National Packaging Targets
The move to a circular economy is vital to reduce plastic pollution. The roll out includes shifting our reliance on single use and unsustainable materials such as uncertified compostable packaging, polystyrene and PVC labels.
CANS AND PLASTICS REFUND SCHEMES
Infographic of CDS scheme by Boomerang Alliance
Australia is the first continent on the planet to be fully covered by a drink bottle and can refund scheme.
Container Deposit Schemes (CDS / can also be known as CRS) are present in South Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. They are ahead of the game, whereas their neighbours Tasmania and Victoria have no CDS in place. Both states have announced their scheme models which are expected to launch in late 2022-23, which is a great step - however it means that the beverages which are currently being sold in Tasmania and Victoria have no public initiative in place to encourage people to recycle their cans and bottles for another 12 months at minimum. (Source: Australian Beverages).
SINGLE USE PLASTIC BANS
All states now have banned lightweight plastic bags (with the exception of NSW who have committed to banning lightweight plastic bags by 2022).
Single use plastics are being phased out across Australia by 2025, covering eight types of problematic and unnecessary plastic waste including plastic misleadingly labelled 'degradable', plastic utensils and stirrers, plastic straws, polystyrene food containers, polystyrene consumer goods packaging and microbeads in personal care products. (source: Guardian)
Which states have committed to banning single-use plastic items? Look to your left to find out who is leading the way (hint: It's Western Australia). Infographic by Marine Conservation Society These plastic reduction legislations make it seem like things are looking up for our ocean friends. However, this will only be the case if we hit these targets and follow through with enforcements of the bans. Environmental Minister Sussan Ley has been criticised by conservationists because they are arguing that the current roll out of the state-based schemes are failing. Further to this, a recently published government review found that no companies have been investigated or penalised over packaging in the past four years. (source: Guardian) It's all well and good that we put in legislation to reduce our plastic consumption, nonetheless - does the ban on paper matter if no one is following the laws of the new legislations, and no one is being held accountable if they do not comply? I'll let you answer that one.
Balloons are the biggest plastic killers of Australian seabirds, and one of the most lethal types of debris for ocean animals. (Source: CSIRO)
Only two states in Australia explicitly outlaw the release of balloons under litter laws:
NSW and the ACT - Currently it is legal to release up to 19 helium balloons into the sky.
VICTORIA - Environment Protection Authority laws introduced in July make it illegal to deliberately release balloons in Victoria, with a fine of almost $1000 for those caught doing so (source: Mornington Peninsula News).
QUEENSLAND - Releasing balloons is considered littering (which is illegal under littering laws).
The Australian Marine Society are calling for governments to implement an explicit ban on the deliberate release of balloons, as well as limits to prevent the sale of balloon helium to anyone except a balloon industry professional, who can only sell helium balloons for indoor purposes and who is responsible for education on correct disposal. You can sign the petition here.
"Microbeads are a kind of microplastic with specific function for scrubbing or exfoliating. In cosmetics, “microplastic” refers to all types of tiny plastic particles (smaller than 5mm) that are intentionally added to cosmetics and personal care products. They are often used as emulsifying agents. Sea animals absorb or eat microplastics; these particles can then be passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we also ingest microplastics. Microplastics are not biodegradable and once they enter the (marine) environment, they are almost impossible to remove." (Source: Beat the Microbead)
Microbeads in products can be labelled as: Polyethlene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon (PA). Find out if the brand you use still produces products with microbeads by searching Beat the Microbead. According to the National Plastics ban 2021, in 2020, microbeads began being phased out of rinse-off cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products in Australia. We are still however, yet to see the roll out of this occur on our shelves and products.
Let's look across the waters. What are our friends in other countries doing to fight the war on plastic?
New Zealand - New Zealand has committed to banning single-use plastics such as cutlery, bags, cotton buds, drinking straws and polystyrene takeaway containers by 2025. This will be rolled out through the government's $50 million pledge to the Plastics Innovation Fund, which will launch in November to help businesses find alternatives to plastic packaging. (Source: The Climate) Kenya - banned single-use plastic bags in 2017 and, this June, prohibited visitors from taking single-use plastics such as water bottles and disposable plates into national parks, forests, beaches, and conservation areas. (Source: United Nations) USA - New York, California and Hawaii are among states to have banned single-use plastic bags, however there is no federal ban.
Canada - Proposed ban (in 2020) to phase out checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery, and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics. (Source: Canada)
Europe - The Single Use Plastics Directive bans plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo degradable plastic bags which are marketed as biodegradable, polystyrene drink and food vessels as of July (2021). England - It is currently illegal to sell or supply plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds (2020). This legislation is in law, however the roll out has not been implemented across England.
So, is the Australian government doing enough? The simple answer is no. Stay tuned next week to see how local community is taking charge - where our government is failing behind.
Stay plastic free - where you can be.
Written by Amy References:
- https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/a327406c-79f5-47f1-b71b-7388407c35a0/files/national-plastics-plan-2021.pdf - https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/jul/16/people-dont-have-time-to-search-clear-instructions-could-help-australians-recycle-better?fbclid=IwAR25eizU6uI03UHq1ny4kcJ794EZRqntAbXy9qPRkqmEXxgQ16Hdu_CStQw