Last Friday, I attended a documentary screening of ‘A Plastic Ocean’ at Academy Xi in Surry Hills. When I arrived, we had the chance to try out a virtual reality headset - which fittingly simulated an underwater scene featuring a huge blue whale! After we got stuck into the wine and snacks, we found our seats and got settled in to watch the documentary.
A Plastic Ocean was filmed in 20 locations around the world and documents the global effects of plastic pollution. It’s eye-opening and harrowing at times but ended with actionable tips on how each of us can make a difference. Beginning with stunning footage of an infant blue whale, it focused on plastic pollution's impact on animals, the environment and human health. Here’s a summary of the main points the documentary makes:
Plastic that goes to landfill can end up our oceans
Any plastic that is not processed for recycling could potentially end up in our oceans, by seeping into inland waterways and eventually making its way into the ocean.
Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there
When you look out on the crystal clear ocean on your next trip to the beach, you may have thoughts of how clean and pristine it looks. You would probably be pretty shocked to know what lurks beneath the pristine surface. As we know, plastic takes thousands of years to break down. In seawater, plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, but it’s impossible for it to fully biodegrade. This results in tiny microplastics floating around our oceans, eventually mixing with plankton. This is exactly what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of, which is why it is invisible on the surface and cannot be detected from space.
Plastic is entering the food chain
As a result of the above, sea life confuses these microplastics for plankton and digests it. Not only does this result in horrible images of animals with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs, it also means plastic will enter our food chain. This means there is a high chance we are consuming plastic, as it moves up the food chain and onto our plates. As we know, exposure to plastic has a range of health implications, including cancer and fertility issues.
What can you do?
The film ends by advocating for a change in consumer behaviour in order to reduce the amount of plastic pollution ending up in our oceans. While I agree that a significant change in consumer demand can influence change, I think ultimately the biggest impact will come from changes in government policy, for example reclassifying plastic as hazardous waste and banning disposable plastic. Countries such as France have already done so, why can't others follow suit? In the meantime, there are some simple changes you can make which will have a positive impact. Here are some of my tips for reducing your personal plastic consumption.
Reduce your overall consumption of plastic:
One of the main things you can do is simply reduce your reliance on plastic. Here are some of the easiest steps you can take to reduce your plastic consumption:
Stop using plastic bags at the supermarket
You know those plastic bags supermarkets have in the veggie sections? Stop using them. There is absolutely no need for them - they won’t protect your fruit and veg from bruising. In addition, carry a foldable shopping bag in your handbag, so you don’t have to use plastic carrier bags after a spontaneous shop.
Straws are one of the biggest culprits for ocean pollution and cannot be recycled. Next time you order a smoothie at a cafe, make sure you tell them you don’t want a straw. If you really can’t live without them, you can buy a glass one, like one of these.
Buy a Keep Cup
If you are a coffee lover, invest in a reusable coffee cup. It's estimated that 500 billion coffee cups are produced globally each year and due to their polyethylene lining, they cannot be recycled. I have a Frank Green coffee cup which I love. You can literally chuck it in your handbag and it won’t leak! It’s made from recycled material and is fully recyclable.
Stop buying bottled water
Take your plastic wrappers, bags and packaging to your nearest supermarket:
Most people are unaware that most supermarkets have a plastic bag recycle bin. This is mainly the fault of the supermarket, as the bin is pretty small, not in an obvious location and there is practically no signage. You can recycle your plastic shopping bags, crisp packets, cling film and other soft plastic packaging here. I keep a canvas shopping bag on the back of my kitchen door to collect plastic wrappers, so when I go shopping I pick up the bag, dump the plastic in the recycle bin and use the bag to carry my shopping home. Doing this will significantly reduce the amount of plastic you are sending to landfill, and eventually ending up in the ocean.
Ask your local government to ban the bag:
This is probably the most important point on this list. Amazingly, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia still haven’t banned the plastic bag. Every time I go to the supermarket in Sydney I feel nauseous when I see the amount of plastic bags being used and I know won’t be recycled. Greenpeace is currently campaigning to ban the plastic bag in Australia. Find your local campaign here and sign the petition!
Do you have any other tips for reducing plastic consumption that I've missed?