Download the Boomerang Alliance threat abatement plan for a complete overview of the plastic pollution issue and our national solutions to eliminate 70% of plastic entering australia's ocean by 2020

are bioplastic alternatives a solution? 

why are single-use plastics a problem?

Single-use plastics are plastic items that are designed to be used once and then discarded. This 'throwaway' model of consumer goods has created a global pollution crisis which is directly impacting the health of our environment, marine wildlife, oceans and human health and it's everyone's responsibility to take action.

 

The following blog is a snapshot of the key issues surrounding single-use plastics for those that are new to the topic of plastic pollution. For those who are already well aware of the impacts that plastic has on the environment, download the Boomerang Alliance Threat Abatement Plan above which explains the issue in detail with a focus on solutions at a National level. 

 

The majority of single-use plastic is made from oil which contributes to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Not only does plastic take up approximately 8-10% of global oil reserves (up to 20% by 2050(1)), it's indestructible nature means that every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form or another. This is an enormous issue with scientists predicting there is now approximately over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently in our oceans(2)

Plastic is made from oil 

plastic does not break down, it breaks up into microplastics 

plastic Ingestion & Entanglement 

When plastic is exposed to UV it becomes brittle and subject to fragmentation. Over time disposable plastic items exposed to the elements will break up into microplastics (smaller than 5mm) where they are more likely to enter the food chain. Traditional single-use plastic items do not biodegrade or decompose and will persist in the environment indefinitely. 

Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 mammals die every year as a result of plastic ingestion and entanglement(3). We also know that plankton is ingesting plastic which then bioaccumulates up the food chain as it is eaten by larger sea creatures until it reaches the seafood that humans consume which may result in an alarming health crisis. 

Recycling and plastic codes 

The majority of single-use plastic items (excluding bottles) - cups, cutlery, coffee cups, plastic bags & miscellaneous packaging do not get recycled and either end up in landfill or in our environment due to contamination and the cost of recycling vs manufacturing products from raw materials.

Common questions & myths

Bioplastics single-use items are plastics that use plants as a feedstock vs traditional plastic which uses oil. Whilst these items are often marketed as 'green alternatives', they are no better for the environment than traditional single-use plastic items if they are littered or mismanaged due to the chemical structure of the final products. Bioplastic single-use items will only biodegrade in complex infrastructure that is not widely available in Australia and will not biodegrade in terrestrial environments especially not in our oceans(4). Whilst bioplastics are a fundamental aspect of the circular economy they should not be promoted as a current solution to disposable single-use plastic items. For the majority of the target items under Plastic Free Wollongong, reusable or non-plastic (cardboard & wood) alternatives exist. 

can coffee cups get recycled?

Technically yes, but they do not get recycled at large in Australia. Coffee cups contain a thin plastic lining within the paper cup which makes it difficult to recycle in the plastic stream and the paper stream. Say no to single-use and enjoy your coffee in a reusable cup. 

How do i know what to recycle? 

Different councils across Australia recycle different plastic items coded 1-7. This is due to the economics of plastic recovery and the location and availability of end of life waste management systems. To find out which items you can recycle in Wollongong visit http://www.wollongongwaste.com.au/Recycling-Guide 

Isn't most of the plastic in gyres in the middle of the ocean, why don't we just clean that up?

The plastic on the surface of the ocean represents approximately 1% of marine plastic pollution(5). Once plastic reaches the ocean, it is too late to significantly reverse the effects. Over 80% of plastic that enters the ocean is land based plastic(6). If we want to solve the issue of plastic pollution we must eliminate plastic at it's source including new design, product stewardship, legislation, extended producer responsibility, stronger enforcement and individual behaviour change. 

Be part of the solution

Plastic pollution is everyone's problem and it's everyone's responsibility to be part of the solution. Take the PFW pledge and get onboard the Plastic Free Wollongong initiative to eliminate single-use plastics across the Illawarra and transition towards a more sustainable future. 

References 

1. Ellen McArthur Foundation, 'The New Plastics Economy, Catalyzing Action' p 22 

2. Eriksen M, et al. 'Plastic Pollution in the World's Oceans: More than 5 trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea (2014)

3. C Wilcox, E, V Sebille and D Hardesty, 'The Threat of Plastic Pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive and increasing' PNA5 2015. 

4. https://www.bioplastics.org.au/biodegradable-plastics-not-designed-solution-marine-litter/

5. Eunomia, 'Plastics in the Marine Environment' 2016, p 3 

6. Ibid, p 4

Resources - For students engaging more deeply in the topic, the referenced documents can be downloaded below in order of citation

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