Single Use Plastic Ban: Will It Actually Work In Australia?
As Waster is very much committed to helping the environment and reducing waste going to landfill – we have strong opinions on any single use plastic ban.
As a waste and recycling business – we are very keen on recycling – as it is how we make money. However, in recent month’s we have really come round to the view that prevention is much better than cure when it comes to the issues presented by plastics in general – and whether there should be a national or international single use plastic ban implemented.
Since plastics were unleashed on the global markets in the middle of the 20th century – there clear benefits such as sterile, long lasting, clean, cheap etc – have seen seen them being introduced into nearly every aspect of daily life.
We use them to brush our teeth, hold our lunches, drink through, and everything in between. They are basically used everywhere.
The problems are that we use them for a short time – even just a few seconds and then throw them away.
As covered in other blogs that we have posted on whether there should be a single use plastic ban – (how to reduce waste – looking at supermarkets and why recycling is a waste of time – which argued that prevention is so much better than cure).
Why recycling single use plastic is almost impossible in 2019
We would all like to believe that recycling single use plastic will solve the problem and mean that it is all ok.
However – the reality is that only a tiny percentage of single use plastic is recycled globally – and lots of it will never be. This means that huge amounts ends up in landfill – or much, much worse -in our seas and oceans where it is consumed by sea-life. We do not know the long term damage caused to the environment as yet.
Main reasons preventing recycling include:
– The plastics are in small amounts in different places – it is almost impossible to separate commercially
– The products are a mixture of various materials – i.e. and need complex systems to separate and recycle each component – think about the coffee cup issue.
– There is no actual market for lots of the recycled low grade plastic. For example – low grade plastic bags are recycled into things like park furniture and flooring for gyms in Australia by Redcycle – but no one actually buys it.
– Even for higher grade plastics – the global economy is skewed – with production and consumption often happening in different continents, let alone countries. Why recycle a product that will then have to be shipped overseas to be actually used. This is a huge downside of the collapse of manufacturing in Australia.
We are basically in a bind – and a single use plastic ban has to be part of the solution.
The only long term solution is a single use plastic ban – on an international basis
We often like to think that the market can solve all problems – i.e. that we do not need government getting involved. However, in this instance – I argue that we really need a ban on single use plastics – and potentially on many other types of plastic going forward.
This would be accompanied by a large investment in new recycling facilities – specifically for plastics and also on increased research and development for truly compostable and biodegradable plastic alternatives such as corn starch plastics (and find solutions like an alternative to single use plastic bottles).
If we put money behind it – we have to be able to produce viable, mass market – and truly compostable plastic alternatives
Do we need an actual ban -can we not just reduce single use plastic voluntarily.
I usually argue that the Government messes things up more than they help – and even argued recently that food waste should not be subject to a waste levy in Australia – organic waste processing.
However – I see this more like the battle to ban CFCs in the late 80s /90s to rescue the ozone layer. Whilst I am by no means an expert – I believe this has been very successful.
This of course required a global ban – involving all the big manufacturers and global monitoring and penalties etc.
Would people not just go along with it?
The ABC recently covered the confusion created by the rollout of a single use plastic ban in Darwin markets – held on public land.
“The council have spoken with stallholders and said they can phase out what existing packaging they have.”
While a number of stores had made the switch, Ms McCourt said non-compliant vendors would be prevented from trading until they ditched the plastic.
“Some areas are very achievable and people may not even notice that, like [switching to] plant-based straws.”
The change has also proved a challenge to Darwin’s market-loving population, which flocks to eat and drink across a number of suburban markets every weekend.
On one wet season weekend last year, an audit found that thousands of coffee cups and pieces of plastic cutlery, as well as more than 30 kilograms of plastic food containers, were destined for landfill after a day’s trade.
This sort of outcome is very predictable – as was also seen in the pushback on the single use plastic bag ban recently. See our new blog on soft plastic recycling options.
The population is made up of a full spectrum of people – many will try very hard to avoid plastic but others could not care less.
It was also pointed out – that why should stall holders pay three times the price for compostable coffee cups – when there was actually no facility capable of recycling them in the NT at all! It is almost just window dressing.
It is also crazy – when you can simply walk into any local supermarket and stock up on as many plastic forks and spoons as you like.
A single use plastic ban needs to happen as part of a joined up solution globally. This will involve significant enforcement and monitoring alongside investment in recycling and viable and economical alternatives such as biodegradable plastics (such as an alternative to single use plastic bottles).
We ask in another blog whether using plastic in road construction is actually a good idea.