Australians use around 10 million plastic bags every day – an astonishing 4 billion every year. Of these, approximately 150 million end up in our oceans and waterways, contributing to an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. These plastic bags fill our landfill, harm our wildlife, and can take between 15 and 1,000 years to break down in the environment. Even then, they never disappear; they simply break down into smaller and smaller fragments that continue to cause environmental harm. Most Victorian council kerbside recycling bins do not accept plastic bags, and only 3% of Australia's plastic bags are currently being recycled.
There are lots of alternatives to single-use plastic bags that are compact and easy to carry. They are readily available and often look much prettier. Most stores and supermarkets also offer alternatives at the checkout, including cloth and string bags if you've forgotten to bring your own. To ensure you're reusing the cloth bags you already have, rather than buying more, keep some in your car and carry one with you.
While it would be far better to eliminate plastic bags from the waste chain, soft plastics – including plastic bags – can be recycled at many supermarkets through the REDcycle program.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Do you really need all those plastic bags? Wherever possible, it's important to avoid them: in supermarkets, other shops and at home. Remember to say 'no bag please', just as you would say 'no straws please' in bars and restaurants. Better than reusing or recycling is reducing the amount of plastic bags we produce and use in the first place.
Wherever possible, use bags you already have at home – such as backpacks or cloth bags – for your shopping. Keep some in your car and carry one with you so you never need to take a single-use plastic bag. Reusable cloth bags such as cotton, calico or bamboo are a more sustainable choice because they are made from natural fibres. You could even get creative and make your own reusable bags from old clothes and material.
Sandwich bags, freezer bags, garbage bags and so on. With so much plastic in our world do we really need to buy more? Try substituting a glass instead of plastic container for your leftovers and, when the odd plastic bag finds its way into your life, use it as a bin liner. If you must buy plastic bags, buy those made from recycled plastic, and remember to put your kerbside recycling out loose. There are also many ways to avoid food packaging when you shop for food.
As a last resort, if you cannot avoid or reuse your soft plastics, they can be recycled at many supermarkets through the REDcycle program.
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