The non-profit Plastic Free July Foundation behind the global movement Plastic Free July, a month-long challenge encouraging individuals to take small steps to eliminate plastic from their daily lives, has launched its ‘My Plastic Action Counts’ campaign to remind Australians that their actions count for more than just avoiding waste.
Australians are the biggest consumers of single-use plastic waste in the world, producing an average of 59kg of plastic waste per person a year. Just 15% of the plastics consumed has been recovered. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 84% of plastic is sent straight to landfill. Plastic may be polluting the planet, but it’s also polluting our bodies too, with a research study estimating that each person ingests about 250 grams of microplastics a year— about a credit card’s weight in plastic every week.
In a 2020 survey, the non-profit found that two-thirds (66%) of participants found it harder to make changes to reduce single-use plastic due to COVID-19, with health measures increasing the usage of single-use plastic for many takeaway items, as well as a surge in demand for PPE such as single-use face masks, gloves and bottles of hand sanitizer.
The sense of urgency to turn the tide against plastic pollution has never been greater. “Our waste disposal and recycling efforts are fighting a tide of new plastic waste that is being created every day,” said Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, founder and executive director of Plastic Free July and the Plastic Free Foundation.
“If we only start to manage plastic waste once it is in the bin, we’re not going to fix the problem. Instead, ‘My Plastic Action Counts’ celebrates the power we all have to live our values and protect our health, our communities and our environment through waste avoidance and reduction. Every person can be part of the solution, and every action counts towards this shared goal.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, participants of the 2020 Plastic Free July challenge each reduced 21kg of waste and together contributed to 900 million kg of plastic waste avoided worldwide. According to the Plastic Free July Foundation, 85% of participants made changes that have become habits beyond July.
“There are millions of Australians doing the right thing by choosing to refuse single-use plastics. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen our participants staying COVID-19 safe at the same time as still taking steps to reduce harm to the environment,” said the Plastic Free July founder.
“Now is the time to join in and make a difference by looking at the plastics in your life, simply look in the bin, look at the litter that is on the street around you, and pick one or two alternatives such as choosing reusable fabric masks or coffee cups, choosing unpackaged produce or switching to a bar of soap. Together our plastic action counts towards the health of our planet and people.”
While the global plastic-free movement focuses on the demand side of the plastic pollution equation by encouraging individual action, another non-profit organisation, Break Free From Plastic focuses on the supply side – the source of the plastic pollution. Compiling data on the world’s worst corporate plastic polluters, the organisation works to ensure that businesses are taking responsibility for their role in flooding the market with plastics and that they aren’t externalising all the costs to society and governments. “Companies must urgently rethink and redesign how they deliver products to their customers,” its 2020 brand audit report states. “The current business models of FMCG companies are based on marketing and selling their products in single-use plastic packaging, and conveniently passing the burden of managing their throwaway packaging onto consumers, taxpayers and local governments.”
Plastic Free July, which began with a Facebook group of 40 friends in Australia, has made huge strides in the global fight against plastic pollution, with an estimated 326 million participants from 177 countries pledging their support in 2020. Roughly three million Australians participated in the Plastic Free July challenge in 2020, with more expected to join in on the challenge this year.
Keen to reduce your single-use plastic consumption? Check out our post: Plastic Free July: 10 Tips for a Month Without Single-Use Plastic.
To learn more about the Plastic Free July movement, visit www.plasticfreejuly.org.
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Cover image by Karolina Grabowska.