The story of Plastic Free July

Plastic Free coverPlastic Free is a warmly personal narrative by the founder of Plastic Free July, a sustainability initiative which began less than ten years ago, almost by accident, in Perth.

Prince-Ruiz was working at the time as a community educator in waste management so she was well equipped to support the programme when it unexpectedly took off – and that was all it needed.

Her emphasis was always on community, on shared learning, and on doing what’s possible right now rather than aiming higher and missing the goal. It made Plastic Free July an achievable and therefore engaging challenge, which then became a gateway to engagement with other sustainability issues – avoiding other single-use products, reducing food waste, joining food co-ops, and so on.

‘I’m going plastic free next month, who wants to join me?‘

When Rebecca Prince-Ruiz asked her colleagues this question in 2011, she had no idea that less than a decade later it would inspire a global movement of 250 million people in 177 countries to reduce their plastic use. Plastic Free tells the incredible story of how a simple community initiative grew into one of the world’s most successful environmental movements. It also shares tips from people around the world who have taken on the Plastic Free July challenge and significantly reduced their waste.

Plastic Free is a book about positive change and reminds us that small actions can make a huge impact, one step – and piece of plastic – at a time.

That’s straight from the back cover and (perhaps surprisingly, given its source) doesn’t make any claims which Plastic Free doesn’t amply back up.

I intended to prove that point by quoting from the book but discovered that I wanted to share so many gems that I will simply say, “Highly recommended!” and leave it at that.

Tasmania says goodbye to shopping bags

bye bye bagsThe Tasmanian Government announced last year that it would ban lightweight plastic shopping bags on November 1 this year.

The Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment set up an advisory site which explained …

Plastics are a major pollutant in our environment and waste valuable resources. You can make a difference and help reduce the number of plastic bags by bringing your own bag!

From 1 November 2013 Tasmanian retailers can no longer supply shoppers with non-biodegradable, lightweight plastic shopping bags. The ban is being implemented by the Tasmanian Government and applies to all Tasmanian retailers. Please be patient with retail workers while everyone adapts to the change.

In the event, the change appeared almost effortless, as the Hobart Mercury reported next day:

Tasmania’s shoppers adjust quickly to ban on plastic bags as new regulations kick in 

Shoppers and retailers got through the first day of the state’s plastic-bag ban relatively unscathed, major supermarkets report.

IGA said early feedback from Tasmanian stores was that day one had gone smoothly. “It is very early days but I expect the next few weeks to be interesting as customers get used to the new arrangements,” IGA’s Grant Hinchcliffe said yesterday. Cloth and bio-degradable plastic bags will be on offer at IGA stores, at a small cost.

Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths also reported no major hiccups. Woolworths said the first day under the new regulations had gone smoothly. “The adverts, media coverage and our own communications has meant our customers are well aware and have prepared for the changes,” a Woolworths spokesman said. “Anecdotally, we’ve noticed many customers coming into stores today with their own bags.”

The ban does not apply to biodegradable plastic bags and heavier “boutique-style” bags, which can be re-used. Re-useable green bags, ziplock bags and thin-film barrier bags used to wrap prepared foods and fruit and vegetables are also still allowed.

Next question: why can’t we do it here?

… and “here” means Queensland (since that’s where I am) or whichever state you’re reading this blog from.

  • The South Australian ban came into force in May 2009.
  • The Northern Territory ban came into force in September 2011.
  • The Queensland government briefly considered one in July 1013 – then back-flipped on the specious grounds that it would increase the cost of living. The story about it in the Courier-Mail is worth reading in full so I won’t post it here. All I will say is that the decision is absolutely typical of the Newman government. Sigh … but never give up!

“Here” also means Townsville (since that’s where I am) or whichever town you’re reading this blog from. A statewide ban would obviously be better but a local one may be easier to bring into existence. I first saw one in action in Tasmania, as it happens, in a pretty little seaside town called Coles Bay. They banned bags back in 2003 and when I visited in 2006 it was perfectly normal for the locals, while tourists like ourselves approved of the change and adapted to it very quickly.

More information

A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in Waves, newsletter of the Reef HQ Volunteers’ Association, for December 2013.

The perils of plastic

The new American movie Bag It has been garnering awards at film festivals across the nation. What started as a documentary about plastic bags evolved into a wholesale investigation into plastics and their effect on our waterways, oceans, and even our bodies. It will be in Townsville for the Sea Turtle Foundation’s Marine Debris Roadshow from September 28 to October 1.

Special guest Tim Silverwood, environmentalist, photographer and film-maker, will also be present and will be talking about the issues surrounding single-use disposables and showing some of his own footage from a recent trip to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

The Road Show itinerary is:

  • Wednesday 28th: 5pm Lecture, JCU room 101 science and engineering building, JCU.
  • Thursday 29th: 6pm Bag It (full length version) and Tim guest-speaking at xbase, Magnetic Island.
  • Friday 30th: 1.00 – 2.30pm Bag It (the 45 min short version) and Tim guest-speaking in the Reef HQ Theatre.
  • Friday 30th: 6pm Eco marine exhibition followed by Bag It and Tim guest-speaking, Court Theatre, Townsville city.
  • Saturday 1st: 8.30-11am Creek clean up, national park boat ramp, South Townsville.

For more information about the Marine Debris Road show, please click on the flyer thumbnail.

RSVP (preferred) and further event information: Rachel Amies at rachel.amies@seaturtlefoundation.org or ph: 07 4721 2699 (this is the correct number – the number on the flyer is incorrect)

For more information about the movie and its background, go to http://www.bagitmovie.com/