I was inspired by a series of events recently that lead me down a rabbit hole of articles, news reports and webinars on waste within our society; here’s my combat strategy against plastic bag overload.

Mountains of plastic garbage bags on the streets of New York City
Mountains of plastic garbage bags on the streets of New York City

Local renovator @hellopoppylee posted on Instagram her disappointment in the excessive number of re-usable plastic bags for her grocery order delivery. A resounding chorus of supporters expressing similar frustrations ensued asking the simple question of “why are there so many bags?”

Excessive plastic bags used to deliver an ordinary weekly grocery shop.
Excessive plastic bags used to deliver an ordinary weekly grocery shop. https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/are-you-serious-coles-shoppers-anger-over-18-bag-stuff-up-c-1065166

It’s a significant topic right now following the ban of single-use plastic bags in 2018 and the huge increase in online orders this year. The Queensland Government is also in the process of banning single-use products such as straws and cutlery.

The solution from many retailers to date has been to replace the single-use bags with more durable and “re-useable” plastic bags. The more durable bags are now the standard in the major supermarkets, however the ongoing and excessive use of plastic bags makes me question how effective the changed laws have been on the environment.

There are reports that since the ban in Queensland, there has been at least a 70% drop in plastic bag litter. This is promising but potentially misleading. Take the Instagram post I referred to earlier for example; does a single bunch of bananas need a plastic bag? How many plastic bags are unnecessarily being produced due to excessive usage like this?

Reduce-Reuse-Recycle…..that’s the mantra.

The problem with replacing one plastic bag with another is I don’t see a lot of ‘Reduce’ happening.

Plastic Wars

A recent 4 Corners report supported the argument that there’s too much focus on the recycling component. ‘Plastic Wars‘ went into detail about the role petrochemical companies play in the recycling process by pouring funding into research and advertising promoting the ability for their products to be recycled. The implication being the responsibility is on the consumer and validating the need for these products to be produced. The challenge is that while a lot of these products can technically be recycled, the return on investment is financially unsustainable thus making the argument for its recyclability almost null and void.

We live in a corporate world and a cheaper, legal option will always prevail. It’s no doubt a challenge we will continue to battle for a long time however it’s encouraging to see the Queensland governments proposed legislation against plastic products.

Ultimately I believe policy and law will be the biggest drivers for change.

I am inspired by actions some companies are taking such as Gerrard Street, a subscription-based company manufacturing modular headphones. Their business model is to create better quality products that last longer and offer them to the market on a subscription basis to be financially viable. Parts can then be returned to be fully recycled. They are designed for longevity, to reduce the production process and their impact on the environment.

Going old school - supermarkets offering paper bags & cardboard box options for grocery delivery.
Going old school – supermarkets offering paper bags & cardboard box options for grocery delivery.

On a more local note, and back to my original point about plastic bags, I’ll give a shout-out to my local Woolies. Since opening their new drive-thru collection window, every one of my grocery orders has been packed in a re-used cardboard container. This probably saves about 8 plastic bags each week.

The left-over cardboard boxes are also great for entertaining a 2-year old!

References:

Plastic Wars: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/four-corners/series/2020/video/NC2003H027S00

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEbVQu5ARIs/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Queensland’s proposed single-use plastics ban:

https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/pollution/management/waste/recovery/reduction/plastic-pollution/single-use-plastic-products-ban

https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/queensland/queensland-single-use-plastics-ban-set-to-pass-but-some-demand-more-20200710-p55avo.html

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