Making kind choices in your everyday life.

Plastic free July – Plastic Bags

Posted by on Jul 13, 2014 in Environment | 6 comments

“There is absolutely no reason why a single plastic bag ever needs to be produced again. It is absolutely within the capability of everyone shopping in the known world to vow never to use a single plastic bag again” – Mark Watson (from his very funny book “Crap At the Environment”.)

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My nanna trolley and big squid bag

 We are half way through “Plastic Free July”. Although I haven’t formally signed up, I am trying my darnedest to adopt the “refuse single use plastic in July” motto – namely water bottles, plastic bags and coffee cup lids. In keeping with the above quote, I am going to take it one step further and make a vow to myself not to ever use a plastic bag ever again. I think, armed with my pretty nanna trolley and array of re-useable bags I have collected, it will be an achievable and fairly easy feat. (Don’t have a nanna trolley in your life ? – check out these ones !)

I have been pretty good with my (non) useage of plastic bags for many years now but I still remain a bit “crap at the environment” – in quite an illogical manner too. I refuse to buy bottled water whilst out and about but I drink my fair share of large plastic bottled mineral water and cranberry juice at home.  Inconsistent and illogical – most definitely !

There are many good reasons to try to rid our world of plastic bags. They fill up our landfill (429,000 recyclable plastic shopping bags are dumped there in Australia EVERY HOUR !!) and, horrifyingly, find their way (even from land fill via the wind)  into our oceans and rivers where they suffocate, cause obstructions in the digestive system or maim thousands of birds and marine animals like seals, turtles and whales – who often mistake the plastic debris for food. Only 3 % of bags are currently recycled and 10 million new plastic bags are used every day in Australia. They are made from non-renewable crude oil which is obviously unsustainable. Plastic bags take up to 1000 years to break down and, even then, this process leaks toxins into the soil.

NSW is being left behind (again) with what seems to be an easy to fix problem.  Bag taxes in Ireland and Denmark have led to massive (around 90%) decline in plastic bag use. Single use, light weight plastic bags are banned in the  ACT and South Australia and Coles Bay in Tasmania has been plastic bag free since 2003 due to the threat that plastic bags posed to migrating whales (and a one man campaign from the local baker – love these stories !!).

If, like me here in NSW, you are twiddling your thumbs, waiting for your State government to make some kind of educated reform about plastic bags, we can take some action for ourselves. This is what I’m doing – not just this month but from now on :

No longer using bin liners: In our Odd Couple household where I am very much Oscar and my fella is totally Felix Unger incarnated, I thought this suggestion may cause some horror. I have been given the green light but am under strict instructions that I am now the keeper of the bins in every respect for this proposal to work. I am 1 week  in and, so far, so good. Anything a bit dribbly (like the old baked beans I just turfed) is wrapped in newspaper prior to being deposited into the bin and everything else is carefully placed in either the recycling bin or the compost bin as per normal.

Making a habit of saying “no bag thanks, I have one” no matter where I am shopping :

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www.bagladies.com.au

 Again, illogically, I have mastered the no plastic bags at the supermarket fairly well but as soon as I purchase something from somewhere else, say Myers for example, this rule often goes out the window. But no more. My pretty little scrunched up bags will remain on standby in my handbag permanently. You don’t have to stick with the ubiquitous “green” supermarket bags either…..there are so many cute ones available…..food shopping wise, I love my aforementioned nanna trolley and have just discovered these ones, which I have my eye on for next time. I have a few Onya ones for general use as they scrunch up easily and are made out of plastic bottles (!!).

* Bagladies have a great array of captioned bags including the one pictured above (with $3 going to PETA Australia).

Using biodegradable dog poo bags : I cannot think of a viable alternative to plastic poo bags for our dog and I am too scared to investigate what is considered viable for people who are determined to live completely plastic free. I buy these biodegradable ones from Maxpak but I like the look of these too as a profit (50% !!) goes to dog rescue groups and they are biodegradable.

Donate some re-useable shopping bags to someone not so environmentally “keen” : In this case, at my workplace. Our “social club” shopping is always done through the use of a multitude of plastic bags as nobody is ever organised enough to buy the green bags. I have just ordered 5 of these cute ones from Animals Australia to donate to my workmates – which not only promotes re-useable bags but also compassionate shopping, whilst supporting the brilliant work of Animals Australia.

Taking those inadvertent collection of plastic bags to a good place : In general, I do not like the duopoly of the big supermarkets but Coles and Woolies have done the right thing by supplying bins to take your plastic bag waste which cannot be recycled via your normal household bin system. Coles participate in a worthy scheme known as Redcycle where your “scrunchable” plastic waste (including biscuit packets, pasta bags, bread bags, shopping bags) is made into outdoor furniture for schools and kindergartens. This enables so much of our waste to be used for good (furniture) rather than evil (landfill).

Scorn the thick plastic soil, mulch, compost gardening bags :  Aaaahhhhh – this particular dilemma is driving me nuts. If you were to peer into my garage, you would find a pile of gardening plastic bags reminiscent of the most devoted hoarder. I have written emails to all and sundry about where I can recycle them and, to date, nobody has given me a solution so there they wait until I find one.  The irony of buying soil, mushroom compost and the like to do the eco friendly thing of creating a vegi garden whilst being left with swathes of thick, un-breakdownable plastic to be sent to landfill does not escape me. Unfortunately, I only had this epiphany about 6 months ago, at which time I bought some lovely big, white sturdy, reusable bags from my local hardware shop. The next time I need some soil, I will visit my local gardening center equipped with my bags to manually shovel and fill them up. Slightly less convenient but good exercise, cheaper and definately kinder to the environment.

Reuse where possible : Rather than relying on glad wrap and the like, a plastic bread bag or similar can be used again and again and again to accommodate your lunchtime sandwich.

Ignite the beachcomber within : I love the “Take 3” initiative (of taking 3 items of rubbish away with you when you visit the beach, rivers etc). There is a slight feeling of this being like picking up a grain of sand in a desert when you do this but you still have the satisfaction that the one bottle top or straw you remove from the beach may be one less thing for a beautiful sea creature to ingest.

Niggling those big businesses into doing the right thing : Writing a quick letter or face book post is a good way to have a bit of a vent to those big businesses who have so much influence on our habits. I wrote on the Cole’s facebook page with my suggestion about how shopper’s who are doing the right thing by bringing their own bags (and, therefore, cutting the costs for the supermarket) should receive a little incentive (like a small shopping voucher). Shops like to please consumers so feedback is a good way of voicing your concerns. My local council is next on the list. Petitions are always good too – here is a link to Animal Australia’s one seeking to ban the one use plastic bags in Australia and New Zealand. It takes 1 minute to complete.

Using alternatives when fruit and vegi shopping : I am going to invest in something from here to get around the “what do I put my baby spinach in ?” dilemma at the fruit shop. Until then, the paper bags usually reserved for mushrooms will do.

It a nut shell, the mantra of the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Re purpose, Recycle (in that order) – is a good way to live, for many things, not just plastic bags.

Planet Ark has an informative FAQ page about plastic bags if you want to learn more.

I would love to hear if you have any tips on reducing your own plastic bag usage. Please let me know in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

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  1. Heike Herrling

    Super wonderful and practical post! I’m going to try my darndest to get better at remembering to take my bags from the car, into the shops with me. I was in a really go way about it when we lived in the ACT, but it’s slipped a little since we’ve been out and about. I hate plastic water bottles and try to always by the boxed water. But not everywhere sells it, which is very annoying, when you’re travelling through areas with slightly dodgy bore water. Thanks for this. A great reminder to remain vigilant. x heike

  2. Michelle

    I have seen some lovely tulle or organza bags made for use in the fruit and veg section instead of the plastic ones. They don’t weigh much more. I think it’s a great idea. Wonderful post, thanks for the timely reminder to say no to plastic bags.

  3. Tread Kindly

    Thanks Heike. I can imagine the challenging practicalities that you would face about everything (let alone being an environmental warrior !) whilst being on the road so your efforts are impressive !

  4. Life With The Crew

    Thanks for sharing so much great information. I read about Plastic Free July several months ago and then forgot about ti. However, we try to live plastic free all of the time, but it is amazing just the little bits of it that add up. We do use plastic bags for the dog and cat waste. I don’t really get the point of a biodegradable poop bag, when it is just going into the landfill anyway. Its not like your putting it in your compost bin.

    • Tread Kindly

      Thanks Katie…wow, living plastic free all the time…it sounds like you don’t really need to participate in Plastic Free July as you are well ‘n truly doing your bit already !

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