Plastic bags surround us. From local shopping malls and grocery stores, to your everyday household waste, it’s hard to turn a street corner without seeing one.
However, with Queensland's decision to ban the bag by mid 2018, this is all about to change.
It is estimated that the world’s population uses more than 1 trillion plastic bags per year, with almost 3.8 billion of those in Australia alone. To add to these harrowing facts, only 3 per cent of that world figure is reported as recycled, with more than 200,000 plastic bags dumped in landfill every hour.
And it doesn't stop there. In fact, the consequences of plastic are even more terrifying—take the Albatross as an example.
For thousands upon thousands of years, this incredible species has circled Antarctica, collecting food and feeding their young on a diet predominately made up of sand eels, squid and fish. However, in the last few decades, their usual diet of ocean delicacies has been hidden—hidden away under a bed of plastic.
In 2015, a team of English and Australian scientists reported that by 2050, 99 per cent of all seabirds are likely to have undigestible plastic waste in their stomachs.
Sea birds are not the only victims of this plastic pandemic. Marine life such as turtles, dolphins, whales and fish are also truly threatened by our outrageous disposal of single-use plastic.
So, what can we do to make a change? Is it too late to rewind and rectify our actions?
Established on the Gold Coast in 2013, Boomerang Bags works to reduce the use of plastic bags by engaging local communities to create sustainable carriers from offcuts of recycled material.
From humble beginnings, the not-for-profit organisation now has more than 400 ‘sewing bee’ communities throughout the world, including countries
such as Canada, Poland, Iceland, Indonesia, Germany and the United Kingdom.
As part of the On The Couch series at SSC, Eleanor Knight spoke to Jordyn De Boer—co-founder of Boomerang Bags—about how as individuals, and as a community, we can make a difference.
Interview with Jordyn De Boer
The team at Boomerang Bags must be overjoyed by the Government’s recent decision to ban the use of plastic bags by mid 2018. What do you think about it?
It’s a huge step forward, and obviously it’s a flow on effect from many other areas around the world that are taking positive steps to ban the bag. There are a few loopholes in terms of Woolworths and Coles implementing another plastic alternative to the existing plastic bag, but they have said there will be a fee on that.
A lot of other countries have seen huge reductions in the use of plastic bags in consequence to the fee [tax] so it’s certainly a big step forward.
And it means that people are asking for it, which I think is the best thing—the communities are saying ‘we don’t want this anymore’.
Being the co-founder of Boomerang Bags, you are obviously very passionate about this topic. What advice would you give to people who currently use plastic bags, and will soon have to find another alternative?
It’s a transition, and it’s all about starting somewhere. First things first, find an alternative, whether it’s a bag, basket, box, whatever suits you and your lifestyle. Secondly, getting into a habit of using it, and not beating yourself up —it’s not something that happens over night, it’s like any positive habit that you want to implement.
Most importantly, just give yourself some time to become more informed about the issue at hand. For me, these habits started because I found out what impact those daily choices were having, and if you can flip that around and go ‘if I choose to take my reusable bag today I can have a positive impact on the world’ that’s a really good way to look at it, and a good way to get motivated.
But in terms of strategy, things like hanging them on your front door, leaving them at the front of your house, in your car, and in your purse are obviously good ways to remember and get into the habit.
Perhaps this is a bit of a simple question, but why is it so important to limit the amount of plastic, including plastic bags, that we use?
It’s actually not a very simple question to answer as it’s such a multifaceted issue. I guess starting with the beginning of its life—it’s a synthetic material made from oil, which we know is a highly unsustainable product to be using. Not to mention the production—the water use and resources going into making and transporting plastic at such a huge quantity, all for just an average of 12-minutes’ use before throwing them away.
And then there’s that term of ‘away’—it doesn't really exist. It’s going somewhere, whether it’s going into the ground, or part of the 8-million tonnes that end up in the oceans each year.
Obviously another huge factor is the impact it’s having on wildlife through ingestion and entanglement.
Lastly, the fact that this product was made to last forever—even though plastic may break up into smaller pieces, those smaller pieces are still existing in our water.
Living a plastic-free life is idyllic, and I'm sure it would be a positive thing for all of us to embrace. Having said that, I can imagine a life without plastic could be a limiting life—does it have to be?
There are definitely ways around it, especially at the moment because the zero-waste movement has grown considerably in the last few years. There are a lot more companies coming out with products that are not packaged in plastic, as well as bulk food stores that sell groceries without packaging.
I think just changing your perspective on it—realising that it doesn't necessarily have to be limiting, and that there are options and alternatives out there if you look for them.
Most importantly, just remembering to take it one step at a time. Start with your food products, and then move onto trying to make your own [household and cosmetic] products.
Instead of feeling like it’s a limiting exercise, make it a fun, exciting and empowering exercise, knowing that those choices you are making are having a positive impact.
As consumers it is great to stand up for something we believe in. However, do you think the drive for plastic-free products and packaging should come from the consumers of producers?
That’s something that I have thought about a lot over the last year or so, and there are a lot of different ways to look at it and opinions on it. I guess from a Boomerang Bags point of view, we are really coming in through a grassroots-ground up level, in terms of educating people, and helping them make more conscious decisions as consumers.
I do think it needs to come from both levels, and I think that when you are talking about penalties and fines, it should probably be the producers and manufacturers of the products, rather than the consumers.
However, I think that as consumers, we are the ones that are going to have to try and tell them [producers] that that’s what we want to see, by choosing to buy, or not, buy their products.
As customers, we have the ability to drive that market.
Even though the idea of phasing out single-use plastic is very possible, there will still be huge effects from plastic that exists within our systems. How can we try to rectify this?
I have heard some things about certain bacteria and organisms that can break down plastic. There’s also a lot of new technology that is trying to clean up the oceans and plastic that already exists out there, but it’s hard to say whether we can actually ‘clean it up’.
So, I think the best thing we can actually do is stop. Stop using single-use plastic as much as possible to stop it going into our environment.
Have you heard the Chinese proverb "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”—well I think we can only do what is within our power, and I think it’s within our power to make an effort today to reduce plastic.