OPINION | Don't waste the moment, reduce the use of plastic

Don't waste the moment, reduce plastic use

On average, over 950 tonnes of plastic waste is generated daily in Australia. To put that into perspective, that amount of waste would fill-up around 32,000 wheelie bins every day. Much (around 90 per cent) of this plastic actually doesn't get recycled. It ends up in our soil, environments, oceans, streams, and even our food chain.

Most of this is single-use plastics - which means it was used once and then thrown away - a problem that has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Think of the plastic waste associated with facemasks, medical equipment, take away food containers, plastic cutlery and disposable coffee cup lids. Despite having plastic waste reduction targets in Australia, on average, we're using even more now than usual, to ensure personal hygiene and protection.

A recent report has cautioned that there would be more masks in the oceans than jellyfish due to the marine pollution caused by "COVID waste."

The World Health Organisation has warned that COVID-19 'will be with us for a long time,' which means plastics waste will continue to grow in the next few years, not only for lifestyle but also to fight the global health crisis.

Researchers at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute have proposed both a 'zero waste' and 'zero toxic' agenda need to be considered to tackle the current crisis, to safeguard the environment from dangerous plastics pollution. Simply put - we need to stop using single-use plastics.

While we need government and legislation to ultimately reach this zero target, a reduction can start with you, in your home. We all individually contribute to Australia's plastics waste.

Reuse and recycle plastics where you can - avoid single-use plastics. If your local council doesn't recycle all plastics, seek out alternative programs to help divert even more plastic waste from the environment.

Look for products made with non-toxic and biodegradable materials, as alternatives to the plastics you normally use.

Jute and hemp can immensely reduce our high dependency on plastics, and at the same time, they could create a large number of new jobs that are vital to revive the shrinking economy in the post-COVID era.

What we need in Australia, and worldwide, is to not 'waste' the moment. We need to work together to recognise the prospects of zero plastic waste, and transform the current plastics crisis into an opportunity through visionary strategy and policies.

Atiq Zaman, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute