Australia has taken a big leap forward this year, demonstrating greater responsibility to one of the most prominent environmental issues, with the two supermarket chain giants Woolies and Coles banning the use of plastic bags in their stores in July. This was a monumental step as it set the example for smaller retailers and grocers to follow suit.
Many of the well-known places we love to shop have opted to use paper bags or to provide a more sustainable bag for a cost. We are even seeing disruption within industries with one dairy producer taking the onus upon themselves to get rid of plastic milk cartons for good and return to the good ol’ days of bottling milk.
Single-use plastics are being eliminated from the hospitality scene slowly but surely; coffee lovers have united to join the movement with keep cups, people are bringing in their own takeaway containers and more bars and restaurants around the nation are putting away disposable straws or stirrers and substituting them with sustainable alternatives (I hear bamboo is where it’s at). But how much further do we have to go? What will it take to get single-use plastics completely out of the picture?
Well, it looks like we still have a while to go. Currently, every Australian state except NSW has banned or made a commitment to ban single-use plastic bags in the near future. A new report released by the Senate’s ECRC encourages a total ban of “petroleum-based single-use plastics” to be in full force in five years. Australia has relied heavily on countries such as China to sort out our recycling problem for us for far too long and now that we are forced to tackle it ourselves, we don’t have the right infrastructure, systems and skills in place.
As Greens Senator Richard di Natale put it:
“Australians are good recyclers, but they’ve been let down by local, state and federal governments”
These systems will need to develop over time as the government invests in learning from the European and Asian countries who are so efficient in their recycling. Furthermore, legislation should be introduced to minimise the amounts of single-use plastics which enter the waste stream in the first place, the bag ban is just the beginning.
Realistically, we won’t be able to stamp out all single-use plastics. There are some industries where they remain crucial, especially in health care and scientific research. You can read more about that here. But the fact is, Australia is making steady progress and we have a long journey ahead of us. But I hope to one day be drinking from my bamboo straw and laughing about how ridiculous it was when single-use plastics were such a big part of our lives.Written by Vivian Xin.