How to reduce your plastic waste and save the planet

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Globally, people have produced 8 billion tonnes of plastic waste since 1950. Scientists estimate that between 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year. Australia produces 67 million tonnes of waste every year.

You may remember that in January 2018, Australia’s waste management industry became a crisis when China banned the importation of 24 types of recyclable material. Late this year in May, Malaysia announced that it would be returning ‘non-recyclable waste’ from Australia back to Australia, deepening our recycling nightmare.

According to, in 2015, the packaging industry in global plastic waste generation, alone produced 141 million tonnes of it, sitting nearly 100 million tonnes ahead of any other sector.

While the government has offered $100 million in loans towards the local recycling industry in hopes of expansion, the domestic market for recycled plastics in Australia is not yet developed enough to sell the quantity of products produced. This means we need to encourage big brands to invest, incorporating locally recycled materials into their products rather than raw plastics.

The next time you take your bins out have a look inside. You may notice that a majority of the waste comes from food packaging. For those of us who remember refilling honey jars and using paper bags to carry our groceries, it may seem obvious that the excessive plastic used in food packaging is entirely unnecessary.

Stop using plastic straws
We’ve all seen pictures of just how turtles and plastic straws don’t get along. If you’re a straw addict, you can purchase reusable metal straws. Some bars and cafes are even beginning to charge people for the use of a plastic straw. If you have a packet of plastic straws at home, donate them to a local nursing home rather than throwing them out.

Use reusable bags
A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to break down and approximately 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year. While single use plastic bags are being phased out at most major supermarkets, it’s important to remember that the bags used to hold fruit and vegetables are still just as bad. Where possible, try to avoid them.

Give up the gum
Did you know that chewing gum is made of synthetic rubber … also known as plastic? Give it up in the name of the environment.

Choose the cardboard clad products
You may have noticed that you can buy products like juice or laundry detergent in either a box or a plastic bottle. Cardboard is more easily recycled than plastic, and breaks down faster.

Refill and reuse
You may have seen some shops return to the ‘good old days’ of filling reusable containers or paper bags with food from bulk bins. You can support this ecofriendly alternative by rewarding them with your business.

Avoid take away cups and containers
If you know you’re likely to get a takeaway coffee at some stage, make sure you leave the house with a keep cup. If you’re getting takeaway food bring your own container to be filled. This is becoming much more common and some coffee shops even offer a discount for people using keep cups.

Purchase plastic free
Whether it’s gladwrap, cotton buds, your tooth brush or the wrapping on all the foods we consume, we use and dispose of plastic at a rapid rate. Many smaller companies are bursting forth offering ecofriendly alternatives for many of these. Whether it’s wooden handle toothbrushes, reusable plastic-free swabs or beeswax wraps, try to make the plastic-free purchase.

Recycle at home
Other materials can also be reused on a local level. According to the ABC, cardboard and paper still make up over half the contents of Victoria’s recycling bins. You can rip up these materials and lay them on garden beds to deter weed growth, or add them to your compost or worm farms. Glass jars, rather than being tossed into landfill, can be reused as storage containers for dried foods or donated to op shops.

Write in and speak up
Your opinion matters. If you’re the loyal customer of a brand that uses unnecessary plastic, write in about your concern, letting them know that their customers care and want to see change. Write in to local politicians and let them know that they can’t push this issue onto the backburner any longer.

While these statistics may seem overwhelming, it’s important to understand just how significant the choices we make are. As consumers, we have the ability to direct markets. Each purchase we make is a vote. We choose either to comply with the current harmful standards of producers or to support organisations that are opting to make change.

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Written by Liv Gardiner


Total Comments: 28
  1. 0

    The story is what is colloquially known as ‘p*ssing in the wind’.
    People essentially do not care. They care not what they throw in what bin. They care not even to find a bin in public and will leave their garbage where they finish with it. And they certainly will not change their usage habits because many of us think they should.
    The biggest problem in the whole waste cycle is the relationship our governments have with big business. Its simply unpalatable to tell big business that their business model will need to change. That would cut off money flowing to political parties (funding/bribes) so the pollution game goes on no matter what the cost to all of us. Its not until garbage is dropped in front of the homes of politicians that anything will ever change or until the laws on political donations change to ban the bribery of political parties.
    Whilst I live in hope I’m no fool and it ain’t a gonna happen other than tinkering at the edges to get the media off their miserable backs

    • 0

      That is quite negative Mick, there is movement to change the world to a better place, especially among the younger ones, we need to support the changes and stop going on about what is not being done rather concentrate on what is being done and what we can do on a personal level makes a big difference, after all we have buying power, and we need to make better choices. I think most people do want to make a difference but are frustrated with lack of changes within the Government, for example why is Victoria not implementing a cash for cans program like the rest of the country?

    • 0

      Perception is NOT reality. What I see on a daily basis is people trashing the country.
      Cash for cans is a financial incentive. Doing the right thing is responsible behaviour where we have to put ourselves out just a little. That is the issue. People want others to clean up after them and God help many when you have different bins for different sorts of rubbish. That’s pushing the limits. Of course some of us do the right thing…..but go talk to the rubbish collection agencies. You’ll get the real story opposed to the feel good head in the sand one.
      I really hope people, all of us, moved towards a recyclable future but we have a PM who is great at deceiving citizens whilst doing the wrong thing. Did you take in the South Pacific Forum in the past 2 days? Tells a story and recycling will likely go the same way. Token BS funding. Just like climate change. The behaviour is well established from this lot and if you think recycling is going somewhere then good luck with that one.

  2. 0

    Check out redcycle. which tells you what crushable plastic can be recycled and how do you do this. Hang a plastic bag in the kitchen and fill it with the crushable plastic as per the web site. Next time you go shopping drop the bag at Coles or Woolworths. We keep a cardboard box, that was used when we move for packing books, in the bottom of the pantry and put all our paper, cardboard, glass, etc and when it is full put the contents in the recycle bin. Same with small bins in the bathroom for toilet rolls, etc. At the moment we normally only have 1 small bag of rubbish each week as we also have a worm farm, compost and also green waste bins. It does not take much effort and remember it’s your kids and grand kids that will inherit the problem so do you part to help them. The thing that annoys me is the rigid plastic packaging that is not recyclable. This should be banned immediately. If some is recyclable, all should be recyclable.

    • 0

      Yes the redcycle is excellent, you remember to take your reusable bags and take your bag of plastics as well to the supermarkets. I noticed they are always full too, so a lot of people are using the redcycle bins.

  3. 0

    I use calico shopping bags which are easy to wash if they get dirty.
    Instead of using plastic bags to store my dog food I am going to buy small glass containers. This will save at least 30 freezer bags a month.

  4. 0

    I have not recycled for many years as I have done (yes I have the training) the calculations – from anywhere outside of a large capital city, recycling of anything except some metals is energy negative – more energy is used than is saved. This means that if you recycle, more coal or gas is burnt, so it COSTS the planet to recycle from these areas.

    All I can say here is that it is nearly impossible to use logic to change an idea, if that idea was not started by logic in the first place. We have all been conned by propaganda from the recycling industry (who make dollars), and politicians (who feed on fuzzy warm feelings) and by well-intentioned folk who just KNOW they are doing the right thing without actually thinking about it.

    It’s OK though, the planet will survive. Humans may not, but the planet doesn’t care. Just remember, plants of all kinds just LOVE carbon dioxide and warmth…

    • 0

      This article needs recycling, I have never read such a pile of rubbish in my life. Janus is entirely correct, recycling is just another greenie con job, making those who don’t think very deeply feel good, while wasting resources to do it.

      Yes there are a few things worth recycling, like steel & aluminium, but attempting to recycle plastics is “garbage” it can’t be done outside of factory regrind, & it probably does not have enough energy contained to even use as boiler feed stock for power generation.

      Then the “garbage” that plastics last for decades in the environment. I used shopping bags to cover rear view mirrors to stop birds attacking their reflection. In 3 weeks they were falling apart due to UV degradation. Even heavily UV stabilisation to stand even moderate sunlight exposure.

      I have never been able to figure out the difference between a grain of plastic in the soil or a grain of sand.

      Really Your life choices, you can & should do better than this.

    • 0

      I was not entirely correct, Hasbeen,
      There is so much in this, that there is not the space to talk about it fully. You are right in that plastic degrades, but it takes a long (human) time. Nature has all the time it wants.

      The basic idea would be to stop the problem at the source rather than the bandaid response of cleaning the mess: ie stop the packaging. Some you can’t – eg getting meat or fish to your home – but I take the inert or dry items out of the packaging and leave it at the shop.

      SHOPPING RULE: if the item is lighter than the packaging, refuse to buy it, or leave the packaging with the shop.

      I do like some recycling (such as old paper = cardboard for egg cartons) but not very much and only in large cities.

      The root cause of all of these problems is simply that there are too many humans. Anyone got a solution??

    • 0

      So you want the wildlife to keep choking on plastics? Not too mention that nearly all fish you eat contains plastic as well.

    • 0

      So there you have it musicveg. Told you so.

  5. 0

    I have never seen the point in people putting paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium and steel cans all into the same recycling bin. The problem is made a lot worse when many people do not seem to understand that they should not put both garbage and recycling into the same bin.
    I remember when recycling was first mentioned and was surprised when a friend in Sydney said told me that the bin was divided inside and marked with what went into each space, apparently the truck that picked up the bin was also divided inside so all the same stuff went into the appriopriate space.
    That seemed to be very sensible but once recycle bins became common everything was then thrown into the same bin.

    • 0

      There are places in America where citizens go to a central collection area and go from skip bin to skip bin with their sorted waste. Works well but lazy Aussies would be outraged if they had to put themselves out to recycle. Not me! I can feel the howls of indignation.

  6. 0

    Every piece of plastic ever made still exists (in some form). Refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle. Our grandmothers managed without plastic – surely we can give it a go. Every bit of plastic you avoid helps.

    • 0

      Exactly! I remember well the time before plastic products became widely available. Meat came from the butcher wrapped in paper, fruit and vegetables were weighed into paper bags, milk was in bottles or sold straight into your billy. Paper lunch wrap for sandwiches, soft drinks in returnable bottles. Lollies were counted or weighed into a small paper bag, same with biscuits. The joys of the old corner store, where you could decide how much and how many you wanted. Actually, when plastic containers became available I didn’t like them anyway. The first ones had a pretty awful smell which could taint the food that was stored in them. It wasn’t for many years that I found out how plastic was made, but when I did it explained that smell.

    • 0

      I agree it is up to us to make more effort to use plastic less.

    • 0

      And musciveg………..???

  7. 0

    Having read Mick’s comments below, I have to agree, most people simply do not care. My next door neighbour (a gentle tradie) has been chucking his rubbish in any old bin for the last 15 years. In vain I’ve left booklets from the council, had a chat to him, all to no avail. He is very likely not the only one. And as for the plastic I find on the beach every day – if I don’t pick it up, who will?? I’ll drop garbage outside the homes of politicians – who’s with me?

    • 0

      You are right about that Patti. So many people just don’t care. You only have to drive through the suburbs or countryside and see all the rubbish thrown about or left behind after a picnic or camping trip to know how so many behave . They wouldn’t dream of taking it home with them, or finding a public bin to dispose of it. Much less sorting recycles from garbage – much too hard! But I wouldn’t dump rubbish outside my local polly’s house because the environment is one of his big concerns. One of the few good ones.

    • 0

      I pick up plastic from the beach too and anything else that does not belong and I am not the only one who does it on this beach, if we all do our bit and keep our own areas clean it is a start. Great idea Jenny, Craig Reucassel from the War on Waste already tried taking the rubbish to the pollies.

    • 0

      Thanks patti. Sadly the reality is many people want to believe what is simply untrue.
      I’m a believer in recycling but am also intelligent enough to see how people behave.

  8. 0

    Bring back ye olde deposit on bottles as we had in the 1950’s and South Australia still has …. we recently travelled SA … some 5,000 kms … saw a lot of bins for bottles and cans (supporting local community groups), seldom saw messes around rubbish bins, seldom, if ever, saw plastic bottles or beer cabs etc by the roadside.
    As a kid my pocket money was earned by “cashing in” lemonade bottles and beer bottles … as much as 10/- per week….

  9. 0

    The manufactures of packaged goods need to take more responsiblity too and make sure that they are using more glass, aluminium and cardboard instead of plastic. Buyers need to consider their buying power, for example you can buy dry pasta in a box or a plastic bag, make your choices wisely. Also buy in bulk where you can and store in glass jars. Shop at a market or bulk buying store, there are many options online too. I buy some things in bulk direct from farmers, like quinoa from Tassie, lentils and oats from Northern Victoria, and Buckwheat from NSW, all come in calico or paper packaging. I store some in the freezer and the rest in jars, and I get better quality and save money too. Try farmhousedirect too.

  10. 0

    I take a cardboard box to the shops and fill it with loose fruit and veg – reckon it saves about 7 or 8 plastic bags each time. Stopped using bin liners. Compost everything I can. Buy what I can in bulk through our local food co-operative. It’s not hard and if everybody did even that, instead of being negative, it would make a difference, I think.

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