Thinking about breaking up with plastic? Is it even possible??
The answer to this question, according to Craig Reucassel, host of ABC’s War on Waste series, is probably not. But we can find ways to reduce plastic use and, in turn, the harm it’s doing to our planet with some easy household tweaks.
When Craig began exploring the devastating impact waste has on the planet in 2017, he started a revolution. For the first time in decades, everyday Aussies began not only considering their own environmental footprint – and ways to reduce it – but lobbying local councils, businesses and governments for change. We’ve come a long way, he says, but it’s time to return to the subject.
“We think of plastic as packaging,” says Craig, “but about 66 per cent of clothing or fibres are made from plastic. What has changed over time is that not only are we making more clothes with plastic, but we’re wearing them a lot less. They are cheaper, so it becomes more disposable. You think about throwing out plastic packaging, but we do that via our clothes as well.”
So far, so depressing. But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, says Craig, plenty of work is being done in the recycling space. All that is left is for that information to be passed on to the public. Here, he breaks down three simple ways we can reduce plastic use (and even save money in the process).
Learn the basics
To wash, or not to wash? Red bin or yellow bin? And doesn’t my recycling just end up in landfill anyway if I put in an unrecyclable item? These are common questions, says Craig, and confusion does lead to more things ending up in landfill, as we don’t have a standardised system across the country. Yet there are things that are universally applicable.
First up, you don’t need to make bottles squeaky clean. Rinse them, sure. And do it at the end of your washing up so you’re not wasting extra water or power. Pizza boxes? They don’t need to be pristine either. Throw out the crusts but don’t worry too much about crumbs or grease stains.
And if you have a plastic bag inside your bin? Don’t stress – it’s not likely to get thrown out. “It’s more expensive to send things to landfill than it is to recycle,” he says. “The things that are INSIDE the plastic bag will be thrown away but it goes through a sorting process where the other stuff in your bin will be recycled.”
Start when you shop
Zero plastic is not the goal says Craig. “Plastic has uses, including sometimes prolonging food use,” he explains. What you need to do is examine your goods in the supermarket before you take anything home.
“Check the packaging for not only if it’s recyclable, but if they use recycled content,” he advises. “Because if you look at a lot of water bottles – sure, you should still avoid them if you can – but they will actually say 100 per cent recycled content. We want to encourage brands to do that.”
There’s also a movement towards some shops catering for multiple-use packaging, where you return to fill up your plastic, glass or metal packages once the contents are done, which is a step towards a circular economy. “You go back to, ‘This is always my laundry liquid bottle,’ rather than ‘I buy a new one every time’,” he explains.
Watch your wallet
Cost of living is a huge topic in every household. But did you know that being more environmentally aware will help ease hip-pocket pain? Food waste in landfill creates potent methane gas “and we throw out one in five of the bags we bring home from the supermarket,” Craig states – a sobering fact. “One great tip is to put a ‘use it up’ box in the fridge. As in, these are the things you’ve got to cook first; they are closest to the end of their life.”
Learning to repair our clothes no matter what they’re made of is one way to get them to last longer. But for the thrill of a new purchase, why not organise a clothes swap or head onto Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace for a more sustainable – and cheaper – hi?
And don’t undervalue the cash you can make from your empty drink cans and bottles. Container Deposit Schemes are all around Australia and offer a 10 cent refund per container recycled.