SINGLE-USE PLASTIC FIASCO
Plastic is so permanent and so indestructible that when you’ve tossed it, in the ocean, or in a dustbin... it does not go away
DIRTY FACTS ABOUT PLASTIC
Unfortunately, plastic is not just found along our own local roads, beaches and bays. Over 8 million tonnes of plastic enters our ocean each year, and it’s found from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the Arctic sea ice.
Globally, we’ve created over 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic, that’s the equivalent of 50 million Blue Whales .
Sadly, plastic doesn’t magically disappear over time. Every single piece of plastic ever produced still exists in some way today. It can take over 1000 years to break up into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastic, causing long term impacts on our environments.
At the current rate, plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years. To make sure we don’t end up choking on our own plastic waste, we need to take a good hard look at our plastic consumption.
MOST COMMON LITTER ITEMS COLLECTED ON OUR BEACHES
Source: Beach Patrol Australia
Waste Wise Peninsula’s work is guided by the litter data collected by approx. 5000 Beach Patrol and Love Our Street volunteers. Litter data is fed into the Australian Marine Debris Database administered by Tangaroa Blue to help drive holistic change and develop new ways to tackle specific litter items.
PLASTIC AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Plastic is a big climate change contributor. Traditional plastic originates from fossil fuels and emits billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases along every step of its lifecycle.
But the impact of plastic on our climate doesn’t stop there. As plastic enters our oceans, it leaves a deadly legacy. Sunlight and heat cause plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, leading to an alarming feedback loop.
WHY RECYCLING (EVEN LOCALLY) ISN'T THE CURE
We once thought we could just send all our plastic overseas to have it magically recycled into something new. Not so!
Over the past few years we’ve learned the hard way that it’s not that simple. While some materials, such as glass and aluminium, can be recycled indefinitely, that’s not the case when it comes to plastic.
Out of the 907,401 tonnes of plastic packaging consumed globally in the year 2017-18, only 32% was recycled, with only 14% recycled domestically in Australia . The remainder was sent to landfill, burned, or made its way into our environment.
Ultimately, recycling, whether here or overseas, will not solve the plastic crisis.
5 REASONS WHY RECYCLING IS NOT A CURE
Virgin plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic and as a result, the demand for recycled materials is still pretty low.
Australia’s recycling infrastructure is still in its infancy, previously relying mostly on exporting before export bans were started in 2019.
Plastic can’t be recycled infinitely - after a few cycles, it starts to degrade in quality and is downcycled until it needs to be landfilled.
Plastic production, consumption and recycling heavily contribute to our climate crisis as plastic is a significant carbon emitter
Many plastics are difficult to recycle as they are made up of mixed materials. The cost of recycling such materials is high, making them economically unviable to recycle. In addition, Australia does not have the facilities to recycle large volumes of complex items.
The truth is, while recycling plays an important role, we can’t recycle our way out of the plastic crisis. The solutions lie in reducing single-use plastics, tackling plastic litter, improving our packaging and recycling better.
WHAT CAN BE RECYCLED?
If you aren’t sure what can and can’t be recycled, you’re not alone. It’s hard to keep up with the types of materials being accepted by different councils and waste service providers. We’ve helped plenty of businesses and seasoned recyclers check what to do with specific items. Please feel free to touch base with us if you're unsure how to recycle an item.
BIOPLASTICS, JUST AS BAD?
Compostable bioplastics are often seen as the solution to single-use fossil-fuel based plastics, seemingly enabling the same single-use takeaway lifestyle with eco friendly alternatives. While some are a better option, they are definitely not the cure and not the solution to plastic pollution.
Let's clear things up a little.
Bioplastics are not just one material, they comprise a family of materials with differing properties and applications. Not all bioplastics are made from plant-based materials, nor are are all bioplastics compostable. To learn more about this, here is a great factsheet that explains the difference.
Compostable bioplastics are a type of bioplastic that is made from plant-based materials and are also compostable. It is commonly used to make single-use food ware.
But just because a product is made from plants, it does not mean it automatically returns back to earth like a plant. The majority of compostable bioplastic items require industrial composting at very high temperatures to break down fully.
WHICH BIN TO USE FOR BIOPLASTICS
Compostable bioplastics look identical to fossil-fuel based plastics, so they often wrongly end up in the recycling bin. Unfortunately, bioplastics can’t be processed along with traditional plastics and end up contaminating our recycling stream.
We currently have very limited infrastructure to process bioplastics in Victoria, so the only household and public place bins bioplastics can go into is landfill bins.
As they don’t biodegrade outside of certain conditions they can still contribute to marine pollution if they become litter.
For compostable bioplastics to become a sustainable alternative to fossil-fuel plastics, we need adequate carbon neutral processing facilities.
The good news is, a wide range of new materials are being introduced, such as bagasse, which is made from a sugarcane byproduct.
With all materials, an important thing is to understand the end of life - that is, how long they take to biodegrade and what composting conditions they require.
If something is biodegradable, then, given the right conditions and presence of the right microorganisms, it should eventually break down to its basic components. However, the term implies no timeframe or guarantee that it will break down completely, nor whether toxic residues are left behind.
Something capable of breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment, under specified conditions and time scales, without leaving toxic residues. There are a number of different standards of compostability (e.g. the Australian, American and European standards). There are also different conditions specified for home compostable standards, and commercially (or industrially) compostable standards.
Oxo-biodegradable (also called oxo-degradable) are fossil-fuel based plastics that have had an added pro-oxidant chemical to help induce degradation. In reality, this just means the plastic will break apart into microplastics more quickly than conventional plastics. Not eco friendly at all!
PLA is a compostable bioplastic made by extracting sugar from plants like corn and sugarcane to convert into polylactic acids (PLAs). Certified compostable PLA will completely biodegrade in a commercial compost facility, however will not adequately biodegrade in home compost or the environment.
Where more heat resistance is needed, such as for cutlery or coffee cup lids, PLA is crystallised with added chalk to withstand up to 90ºC. Certified compostable CPLA has the same end-of-life requirements as PLA.
15 REASONS TO DITCH SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
1. They are made from non-renewable fossil fuels.
2. Only a very small percentage is recycled.
3. 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year.
4. Can take over 1000 years to break up into smaller and smaller microplastics causing havoc in our environments.
5. 95% of plastic packaging is discarded after one use .
6. Between 90-130,000 tonnes of the plastic consumed in Australia enters our marine environment annually. This represents 4.3kgs of plastic per capita .
7. Plastics in the ocean adsorb toxins and other contaminants and studies have shown they can be up to 1 million times more toxic than the ocean surrounding them .
8. Leaches toxins and hormone disruptors into food & drinks.
9. For every Australian, there are 5 pieces of litter on beaches.
10. 75% of marine litter is plastic and 59% is from land sources.
11. Huge carbon footprint, contributing to climate change.
12. 85% of Australian seabirds are affected by plastic pollution. Every year, 1 million sea birds die due to entanglement or digestion of ocean plastic
13. Marine organisms 10km deep have ingested plastic.
14. The overwhelming amount of litter found along Victoria’s beaches is single-use plastic.
15. There are many easy swaps and sustainable alternatives available.
We get it…. As you delve into the scale of waste and litter, you may feel a little overwhelmed and question if the choices of a Peninsula local or business actually make a difference.
Truth is, we’re already seeing that small changes add up over time. The Peninsula has collectively committed to sending zero waste to landfill by 2030 , and we are launching a range of programs that will enable us to drastically reduce our waste.
This includes Council’s ‘Single-Use Plastics (SUP) policy’ designed to eliminate all SUPs on Council land and the introduction of ‘FOGO’ (Food & Green Organics) bins for residents, diverting food waste from landfill.
On a global scale, many countries are already ahead of us when it comes to phasing out single-use plastics and advancing their circular economies.
When you consider how many people on the Peninsula, in Australia and in fact around the world are working hard to reduce their waste, it’s easier to understand how individual changes will collectively make a massive difference.
Where to start? We’ve launched our #onechange campaign as we believe in starting with just that! One change. Commit to one change, start a new habit and then another and you’re on your way to reduce more and more waste over time.
If you’re ready to start cutting back on waste in your life or business, here are our top tips to get you started.
We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.
Anne Marie Bonneau
10 TIPS FOR LIVING WITH LESS PLASTIC
1. #BYOCup for coffee, smoothies, juices
2. Slow down and dine in
3. Choose refills at bulk food stores or Roving Refills
4. Bring your own shopping bag
5. Carry a reusable water bottle
6. Bring your own reusable lunch & deli containers
7. Buy loose fruit & veg and BYO reusable produce bags
8. Say no to disposable straws and cutlery
9. Buy bulk snacks instead of individually wrapped
10. Choose plastic-free cosmetic products
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.
 Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, “Packaging Material Flow Analysis 2018", prepared by the Institute of Sustainable Futures
 Mornington Peninsula Shire Council's 'Beyond Zero Waste Strategy’
 Boomerang Alliance, 'Marine Plastic Pollution - Threat Abatement Plan'