The Big Plastic Problem

05 June 2018

Plastic bottle littering the beach

World Environment Day in 2018 focuses on beating plastic pollution. With recent news that big supermarket chains are cutting down on plastic packaging and introducing plastic bag bans, it feels like there is reason to be hopeful for a reduction in plastic consumption.

It’s also a good time to remind ourselves why it’s so important. So, what’s the problem with plastic?

1. Plastic becomes litter

Plastic items, particularly lightweight plastic shopping bags, packaging and straws, can easily end up as litter or break into smaller parts. Even when thrown into landfill, plastic remains there for years and contributes to greenhouse gas production and climate change.

2. Plastic is a hazard to wildlife, particularly birds and marine animals

Australians use around 10 million plastic bags every day, many of which can end up in the environment. Apart from the potential to entangle an animal, a piece of plastic can mimic food to a sea creature, who ingests it thinking it is dinner. The plastic does not break down and clogs the stomach. This can result in malnutrition, illness or starvation.

3. Plastic is expensive to produce

It is so common and can be so convenient, that we don’t see the real cost – that of the gas, oil and energy used to produce it. Globally, 17 million barrels of oil are used on plastic production annually. These resources are lost forever when plastic is not reused or recycled.

4. Plastic doesn’t break down, it breaks up

One of the reasons that we use so much of the stuff, is that it is durable. But this is also the problem! Plastics, when they enter our environment, break up into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming microplastic – it does not biodegrade! These plastic pieces can adsorb chemicals causing further threats to aquatic life who consume it.

What you can do

Sustainability Victoria has many ideas on our website for householders to cut down on plastic and other single use items that can make a difference every day. Many household plastic items can be easily recycled through council collections. Collect and return your soft plastic bags and packaging to one of many supermarkets for recycling.