Wasteful world.
Wasteful world. Rafiq Maqbool

How to reduce your plastic footprint

JUST like the premiere episode last week, last night's episode of Craig Reucassel's War on Waste hit the nail on the head when it comes to waste in our country and around the world.

Plastic waste, and more specifically, plastic bags were a main focus of Reucassel's investigation last night.

Shockingly, Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year - that's over 10 million new bags being used every day, according to Clean Up Australia.

An estimated 3.76 billion bags or 20,700 tonnes of plastic are disposed of in landfill sites throughout Australia every year.

Last night's episode also featured a segment where Mr Reucassel went diving in Sydney Harbour, and filled a huge bag with the plastic he found in the water in a short space of 20 minutes.

Some may be shocked by that discovery.

Some may not.

Have you heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, mostly plastic.

Look it up on Google and YouTube if you want to feel a good dose of despair and sickness today.

According to Planet Ark, at least 20% of what is in our garbage bins right now should be in our recycle bins.

Another statistic, from EcoWatch, reveals 50% of the plastic we use is used once and then thrown away - like plastic straws, takeaway containers, plastic bags, water bottles and coffee cups.

Basically, this plastic waste situation can be avoided on some level, but our convenience has taken precedence instead.

Now convenience has become a huge inconvenience for the environment and our marine life.

War on Waste highlighted this strongly, and suggested ways of cutting back on plastic in landfill through recycling.


Plastic bags. Photo contributed
Plastic bags. Photo contributed Contributed

One strong message I'd like to convey is that while recycling is important, and it is imperative that you learn how to recycle properly in your council area (Visit their website for more information: Lismore, Ballina, Byron, Richmond Valley, Kyogle), it's not the be all and end all.

Recycling still uses a multitude of energy and water, and many items, like soft plastics, cannot actually be recycled, but rather "downcycled" into other products.

It's so much better to avoid the plastic and packaging in the first place.

This is incorporated right at the top of the "Five R's" that rule the 'Zero Waste' movement: Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.

The movement addresses the issue of waste in this order, and there are many things you can do in your everyday life to incorporate these principles into your life in a very simple manner.

Easy swaps:

Everyday items:

Plastic water bottle - glass or stainless steel water bottle

Single use coffee cup (they're non recyclable because of their plastic lining) - Reusable travel coffee mug

Plastic straws - Watch the heartbreaking videos of sea turtles damaged by these disposable straws and switch to stainless steel, bamboo or glass alternatives. Pronto.

Plastic bags - grab some canvas or other fabric bags and keep them near your front door, in your car, or even folded up in your handbag so you're always prepared when you head to the shops.

Plastic produce bags - It seems silly to be using canvas bags for your entire shopping expedition, but still using those little plastic bags for your fruit and veggies. Invest in some mesh/reusable produce bags.

Tissues - The good old cotton hanky

Paper napkins - Traditional fabric napkins


Craig Reucassel in a scene from the TV series War on Waste. Supplied by ABC TV.
Craig Reucassel in a scene from the TV series War on Waste. Supplied by ABC TV.

Plastic or polystyrene takeaway containers - Bring your own Tupperware (I always keep a container in my handbag just in case I get the munchies)

Plastic cutlery - Keep a spork or bamboo set of cutlery in your bag (I keep mine inside the container mentioned in the previous point for space-saving, along with a napkin)

Clingwrap - There are now alternatives for clingwrap on the market. Beeswax wraps are popular, as are their vegan alternatives, and silicone food covers.

Plastic toothbrushes - As people are encouraged to change toothbrushes every three months, these take up a lot of space in landfill. There are now bamboo toothbrushes on the market which can be composted.

Menstrual pads, tampons - Did you know that a woman's monthly visit from Aunt Flow ends up in around 10,000 disposable menstrual products being sent to landfill in her lifetime? You can change that by switching to a menstrual cup and reusable cloth pads (Don't be frightened, they're not as scary as they sound)

Disposable plastic razors - Invest in a safety razor and save your money (and get a closer shave too!)


Food packaging - Avoid a whole lot of food packaging by shopping at your local bulk shop. For Lismorians, many will be pleased to hear that Affordable Wholefoods in Magellan Street has finally reopened following the flood!

Tea bags - Did you know many teabags actually contain plastic? Switch to loose leaf tea and a teapot or single serving size strainer.

Shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles - Shampoo and conditioner bars or other homemade alternatives.

Deodorant in plastic container - Solid deodorant bars or use a homemade recipe (I've been making my own for the last six months and so far no one has claimed that I smell. But maybe they're just being polite...)

Liquid soap in plastic pump bottle - A good old bar of soap does the trick

Face cleansers in plastic containers - There are lots of good solid facial soaps on the market that come package free.

Toothpaste in plastic tube - Tooth powders in glass jars, or make your own.

Laundry liquid in plastic bottle - Soap nuts or soap berries, or purchase it from a bulk store.

Disclaimer: I've personally incorporated all of these changes bar the cling wrap solution (I just try to avoid it as much as possible and use Tupperware instead), and the laundry liquid swap (My household uses laundry powder) into my life, and so I can recommend them all on a personal level.

More resources:

Check out Trash is for Tossers, Bea Johnson, The Rogue Ginger (Australian), Going Zero Waste, Treading My Own Path, and some articles by 1 Million Women.