Barefootprint Coaching Blog
Welcome to Barefootprint blog - documenting tips and hints for treading life with a barefootprint.
We recently had a friend stay with us for a couple of months. He’s quite socially-minded, so, it came as a bit of a surprise when I realised he wasn’t as environmentally-minded as his civic side. Shock horror, our friend didn’t use reusable bags. Our blissful green-living apartment was overtaken by plastic bags and the fridge became a place I’d peer into and cringe.
So what’s the big deal about using plastics?
Here are some staggering facts:
- Plastic bags last from 20 – 1,000 years. (Source: Clean Up Australia (CUA))
- Plastic bags are good at escaping, and float easily in air and water, travelling great distances. (Source: CUA)
- Currently only 3% of plastic bags used in Australia are recycled. (Source: CUA)
- Australians use around 4 billion plastic bags a year – that’s over 10 million new bags being used every day. (Source: CUA)
- An estimated 3.76 billion bags are disposed in landfill sites throughout Australia each year. Australians dump 7,150 recyclable plastic bags into landfills every minute. (Source: CUA)
- Australians are the second highest producer of waste, per person, in the world with each of us sending over 690 kilograms of waste to the landfill each year (the United States is the highest waste producer). (Source: CUA)
- It is estimated that 50 million bags enter the Australian litter stream each year. Unless they are collected, they’ll remain in the environment and accumulate at a staggering rate. (Source: CUA)
- Plastic has remained the common category of rubbish picked up on Clean Up Australia Day over the last 20 years. In 2009, it made up 29% of all rubbish found. (Source: CUA)
- It costs Australian government, businesses and community groups over $4 million annually to clean up littered plastic shopping bags. (Source: CUA)
- Plastic is the largest source of ocean litter. The second most abundant ocean pollution is cigarettes. (Source: ReuseThisBag.com)
- Ocean debris worldwide kills at least 1 million sea birds and 100,000 sea animals such as whales, seals, turtles. (Source: ReuseThisBag.com)
- Plastic bags are often mistakenly ingested by animals, clogging their intestines which results in death by starvation. Other animals or birds become entangled in plastic bags and drown or can’t fly as a result. (Source: Envirosax.com)
- Even when they photo-degrade in landfill, the plastic from single-use bags never goes away, and toxic particles can enter the food chain when they are ingested by unsuspecting animals. (Source: Envirosax.com)
Read more about the use of plastics in Australia with this factsheet put out by Clean Up Australia.
As you can see, using plastics indiscriminately is a health issue, an environmental issue and an international development issue. There is a very clear link between environmental degradation and poverty. In countries like the Philippines, with 7,107 islands surrounded by ocean - an indiscriminate use of plastic and disposing improperly of plastic can impact upon all kinds of industries that the local people, already struggling in their day-to-day lives, are even further impoverished from. One such example is the fisheries industry.
What can you do?
The simplest thing you can do is refuse plastic bags. It’s as simple as that.
Bring reusable bags with you wherever you go. I have a reusable shopping bag in every single one of my handbags and we have a stash of green bags in our car. I know it might be harder for guys, who don’t carry handbags, but there are some really nifty foldable reusable bags that fold down to nothing – you can carry them in your pocket.
If you are only buying a few items, hand carry them to your car or back to your house.
There will always be the occasion where you need to use plastic bags, and instead of throwing them out, here are some uses for them:
- Take them back to your local supermarket who will likely offer recycling facilities
- Reuse your plastic bags – take it back to the shop with you next time for reuse, store clothes or food in it, take it with you on your next picnic, use as bin-liners so you don’t have to buy plastic bin-liners.
Not just plastic bags – say no to plastic packaging
But don’t forget – it isn’t just plastic bags that you should avoid – but all kinds of plastic packaging where possible. Don’t use separate plastic bags when buying fruit and vegetables, the checkout clerks can scan them without needing to gather them in plastic – and just give them a good clean back home.
When buying any product, look for alternative packaging to plastic, such as no packaging at all, or recyclable paper, cardboard and cornstarch products.
Join a Clean Up
There is a sad truth out there - no matter what we as individuals do - others will still use and throw away plastic. But the good news is that we can be part of the solution there too!
When you're out and about, if you see plastic, pick it up and dispose of it thoughtfully - this goes for hiking, at the beach, or just in your neighbourhood (especially in your neighbourhood - we have to start in our own backyards).
Clean Up Australia Day is an annual event that you can join. This year, it's on Sunday March 4. Go to their website to find out where you can join in your local area or if there isn't an event near you - organise one! www.cleanup.org.au
You can always organise a clean up with your family, community group, school, church, office etc. I co-organised two large-scale cleanups in the Philippines for International Volunteer Day in 2009. It was quite a lot of organising, but well worth it on the day and we joined forces with the local and national government, the United Nations, community groups and volunteers from all over the world. Some photos are below. If you're interested in organising a cleanup, I'll be glad to share in some tips and hints on organising a cleanup - and the internet was full of helpful resources.
Manila Bay before the cleanup - miles of trash almost a foot deep.
Hundreds of volunteers clean up rubbish in Manila Bay, predominantly consisting of plastic products.