The 5 Easiest Ways To Avoid Plastic This July
COASTALWATCH | Environmental News
A (Plastic) Wave Of Change
Story by Alice Forrest
When this image made headlines a couple of years ago, people thought it must have been photo-shopped. Zak Noyle was in an extremely remote location in Java, expecting pristine waves. Unfortunately, what he found was oceans full of plastic. We all know that this is a growing problem. We’ve seen the turtle with the straw in its nose, and baby bird skeletons packed with lighters, toothbrushes and hard plastics. What many people aren’t aware of is that these ocean problems are coming from the land, and from our day-to-day activities. Over 80% of marine debris is land-based, and the majority are single-use plastics. Those coffee cups, chip packets, straws, bottles, packaging and bags that we use momentarily, but which are made of an everlasting material.
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The decisions we make on land are constantly impacting our oceans. The immensity of the issue – over 5 trillion plastic pieces in the top 10 cm of global oceans alone, 4 billion plastic bags used in Australia annually, about a quarter of fish sold at fish markets contain plastic – can be overwhelming. So this July, a small group of people in Western Australia are encouraging us not to focus on the big picture, and stop looking at what we can’t avoid. Instead, focus on what you can do to make a difference. Every piece of plastic you DON’T use makes a difference, and around Australia and the world people are taking on the challenge.
Plastic Free July started in the western suburbs of Perth in 2011 with about 40 people, it’s now spread global with over 40 000 registered participants this year. The initiative started as a personal challenge in a council office, has spread to over 90 countries, over 150 schools, and over 600 businesses. There are whole towns in New Zealand endeavouring to cut down on plastic this month, and whole shires in Byron Bay and Sydney’s northern beaches. Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, founder of Plastic Free July, sees it as a way to catch people's imagination with an empowering challenge. She says that while it’s easier in certain locations than others, no one comes away unchanged. It opens their eyes to the ridiculousness of that straw in their drink, and that awareness is the first step to making changes in behaviour.
I know what some of you are thinking. “This is too hard, I already had a coffee this morning in a takeaway cup (lined with plastic, topped with a plastic lid) and besides I reuse my plastic bags to line my bins”. I too used to have a plastic bottle in my car, buy a lot of coffee and never remembered my bags at the supermarket.
This is my first Plastic Free July, and I already bought a bag of frozen peas, but I also have avoided;
- 5 coffee cups (by bringing my own mug),
- Several bags (by carrying extras everywhere),
- A few plastic bottles (by carrying my reusable water bottle)
- A whole heap of packaging (by shopping at the bulk food store and farmers markets & using my own bags).
- Wrapping my lunch in glad-wrap (putting everything in containers instead)
I’m not focusing on the peas. I’m focusing on all those pieces of plastic I haven’t used, that won’t end up in our ocean. And I’m thinking about the 40,000 other people doing that this month, and countless others around the world doing it every day. I’m thinking how much cleaner that wave should be in a few years if we keep this up.
They say it takes 30 days to make a new habit. Whether or not you’re registered for Plastic Free July, every day is a chance to start changing some habits. This definitely does not mean becoming a perfect plastic-free human overnight. It’s much easier to throw our trash in the bin or recycling and not worry about where ‘away’ really is.
The conversation about reducing our waste has been started, and no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there are things you can do too. Whether this is going ‘Topless for the Sea’ and saying no to a lid on your coffee, or changing where you shop, or just saying no to straws, every piece of plastic you don’t use helps our oceans.
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