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Plastic Free July

Matter of Interest

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:46 :27 ): I rise today to speak about Plastic Free July. Plastic Free July started in 2011 as a local initiative of the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Perth. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness about the amount of single-use disposable plastic that is used in our lives and to challenge people to think about the impact this plastic has on the environment. Campaign participants are encouraged to refuse single-use plastic for the month of July. If participants are unable to commit to refusing all single-use plastic for a month, they are able to sign up for a shorter period, such as a week or a day, or they can commit to refusing the top four single-use plastic items for a week; that is, plastic bags, takeaway coffee cups, bottles and straws.

According to the Plastic Free July page, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Worldwide, 10 billion plastic bags are used on a weekly basis. That is more than one plastic bag per person per week for every single person on the planet. Every hour in America, 2.5 million plastic water bottles are used, and 500 million straws are used daily. Many plastic products will only ever be used once and then disposed of, but they are made of material that lasts almost indefinitely.

A quick glance at a typical day will highlight how many items of single-use plastic a person encounters every day. Daily morning coffees are usually served in single-use cups made of a composite of plastic and paper. Newspapers are wrapped in plastic as protection from weather elements. Lunches brought from home are often in ziplock bags or Glad Wrap to avoid contamination, and bought lunches often come in plastic containers with plastic cutlery. Drinks to go with lunch are often purchased in plastic bottles with a plastic straw, and snacks come prepackaged in small single serves.

Grocery shopping involves even more plastic, as nearly every item at the supermarket is wrapped in plastic. Even fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and meats come either prepacked wrapped in plastic, often on styrofoam, or put into a thin plastic bag. Although South Australia is a leader in banning plastic bags from being given away at the point of sale, many people still purchase plastic bags as they forget to take their reusable bags into the supermarket.

There are many alternatives available to plastic bags and many of them herald back to the day of when I was a boy. Plastic bags did not exist for fresh produce and shopping; instead we used recycled sugar bags made out of hessian. Lunch sandwiches were wrapped in baking paper and put into a brown paper bag, which was used over and over again.

Whilst hessian bags may not be readily available these days, there are reusable alternatives for nearly all single-use plastic products. Lightweight washable bags can be used in place of produce bags. Instead of Glad Wrap, paper or beeswax wraps can be used, and carrying your own knife and fork can result in a significant reduction of disposable cutlery. Whilst convenient, single-use plastic has had a significant effect on the environment and is simply no longer a sustainable option. A little preparation can go a long way to limiting the amount of single-use plastic that is used.