8 Dec 2021


What does 3 million tonnes of plastic actually look like?

That’s how much Australia produces every year, with a terrifying 130,000 tonnes finding its way into the ocean annually.

Knowing these figures and being aware of the problem is important. But not as important as understanding what we can actually do about it.

Together, we can contribute to the global effort and turn the tide against plastic pollution.

Here are some simple and effective ways you can reduce your personal plastic footprint.

1. Reduce Your Use

Vegetables and groceries in a sustainable and reusable bag / Photo by Sylvie Tittel on Unsplash
Vegetables and groceries in a sustainable and reusable bag © Sylvie Tittel/ Unsplash

In Australia, only 12% of our plastic is recycled. The rest is taken to landfill. Here, it can easily get into water systems and transported into the sea. Once in the sea, it can kill unsuspecting animals and birds unfortunate enough to encounter it.

Reducing your use can take many forms. Here are some of the most important:

Buy a reusable shopping bag

While some stores in Australia are now single-use plastic bag free, in many places you’ll still find them on offer.

Most people only use these bags once. Their average lifespan is as little as 12 minutes, but they can take 500 years before degrading. This gives plenty of time for these products to get into rivers, and the ocean.

A pilot whale found in a Thai canal in June died after eating 80 of these plastic shopping bags. Turtles are also particularly at risk as they often mistake these items for jellyfish or other prey species.

Reusable bags, as the name suggests, have much longer lifespans and can be used again and again.

Hold the straw

Straws are among the top 10 most common items of plastic found in the ocean.

Cutting out plastic straws is an easy change to make in your own home. It’s a different story when it comes to bars and restaurants. Making ‘hold the straw’ part of your drinks order is a simple way to get around this.

For people who need straws, there are a range of reusable options made from materials such as metal and bamboo.

Rethink your lunch

Takeaway containers, water bottles, cutlery and coffee cups. All of these plastic items are often used once, and then thrown away.

Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups every year. Even cups that appear to be paper-based often contain a thin layer of plastic. This combination makes them nearly impossible to recycle.

Swapping out plastic bottles, cups and other plastic containers for reusable, eco-friendly alternatives is a great way to reduce your personal plastic waste.

Buy in bulk

On the supermarket shelves, foods such as pasta, rice and cereals are contained in plastic bags holding quantities as small as 500gm.

Our top-tip here is buying in bulk. This not only cuts down the amount of plastic wrapping, but could also save you money!

2. Recycle more

Green recycle bin surrounded by plastic bottles / Photo by rawpixels from Pexels

For the plastics that you do buy, recycle as much as possible. This sounds straightforward but isn’t a common practice in Australia.

There’s a lot of confusion about what can and can’t be recycled. Unfortunately, this can mean that items unnecessarily end up in landfill, or that whole bins of recyclable materials have to be thrown away due to the presence of a few rogue objects.

A common example is soft plastics. These include plastic bags (boo!), cling wrap and bubble wrap. While such items can be recycled, they need to be taken to special drop-offs, and not put in council collected bins. Examples of drop-off locations include supermarkets such as Woolworths and Coles.

3. Take action in your community

Volunteers taking action in their community / Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Whether you live next to the beach or not, your local community is a great place to start clearing up plastic waste.

The debris that enters our oceans can be the result of poor disposal practices a long way from the shore. Getting involved with groups who are taking action, or organising your own cleanup will have positive knock-on effects for our marine wildlife.

Of course, if you do live along any stretch of the Australian coastline, you’re the last line of defence. If you’re taking a walk on the beach, picking up litter could help save a life.

The inescapable truth is that humans are solely responsible for the problems of plastics in our oceans. That’s why it’s up to each of us to work towards the solution.