“Think about it, why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?” – Jeb Berrier
Where is ‘away’?
‘Away’ is either a landfill where single use plastic bags, at best estimate, will take over 1,000 years to break down, or worse, they end up in our marine environment.
As of August 2010, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are being used each year worldwide. In New Zealand, the latest statistics show that we use 1 billion per year.
Plastic bags can be likened to modern day tumbleweed – they are lightweight and moisture resistant, which means they float easily in air and water, often travelling long distances. Many end up in the marine environment and a report published in the journal Science in 2015 estimated that about eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in global waters each year.
Approximately 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals die every year because they either mistake the bags for food or get strangled in them, says Natural Environment.
Recycling is important but it will never be the solution to our rapidly expanding consumption. We should focus on refusing and reducing.
Although plastic bags can be recycled, actual rates of recycling are often low and there are currently no local recycling options in NZ – soft plastics for recycling under the new scheme recently introduced by the government go to Australia for recycling.
What can we do?
Many countries are now taking action, the UK being one of the latest with the law now requiring large shops in England to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags. Charging started on 5 October 2015 and this recent article shows that the reduction of plastic bags is trending towards 83%! Should we be next? Check out this case study on Waiheke Island.
How can you reduce the number of plastic bags you consume?
- Bring your own reusable bags to the supermarket for your groceries
- Use a reusable produce bag for fruit and vegetables (just make sure you wash them often)
- Buy food from bulk bins where possible and fill a reusable bag or container
- Ask your local butcher or greengrocer to pack their products into your own reusable containers/bags
- Carry a fold up reusable bag with you for any shopping you may do
- Don’t use plastic bags as bin liners, rather put the rubbish straight into your indoor plastic bin, then tip into the outdoor bin that goes out for the rubbish truck, wash the indoor bin out and you are done