plastic bags

Guest blog #2: The Rogue Ginger writes about living plastic and waste free

Erin Rhoads, aka the Rogue Ginger, has lived plastic and waste free for over a year. She writes a popular blog about her experiences, offering cool-as tips and techniques to reduce plastic usage and overall waste in our everyday lives. We've asked Erin to shed some light on how she does it. 

By Erin Rhoads

I blog about plastic and waste free living and have been invited to write on the Sustain Me Blog ‘Sustainable Living’ about the consequences of irresponsible plastic use. 

I can hear you ask ‘What is irresponsible plastic use?’ I consider irresponsible plastic use as most of our day to day items, that are not needed. The throwaway stuff.  I am not anti plastic, simply anti the misuse of plastic. Plastic has made vast contributions to medicine, improving the quality of life for many people. Something like a throw away plastic straw, has not made much of a contribution other than continued pollution.  

Recently, there was a story in news of a turtle, with a plastic straw lodged in its nasal cavity. The images were devastating. Stories like this, and many others, are what prompted me to start fighting the misuse of plastic. If we are going to use up a valuable resource like oil, why waste it on a plastic straw?  

Our oceans are filling up with plastic. According to analysis by Project MainStream, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean. The affects will be felt across the world if we don't do something now.  

Living plastic free all began with one step. It can be hard to eliminate plastic all in one go, but here's a couple steps for you to reduce unsustainable plastic use. 

SIP WITHOUT THE PLASTIC 

Saying NO to plastic straws takes practice and if you don't remind the waiter you might end up with a useless plastic stick in your drink. Yuck! Here is a handy tip: when the waiter takes your order ask them to write down your request. Some drinks call for straws so why not invest in a reusable straw. I carry one around with me (including a spoon, fork and knife).

If you enjoy going strawless encourage your local cafe to put the straws under the counter. Then ask the cafe to only give out straws if patrons ask. 

NO MORE PLASTIC BAGS 

Many supermarkets now offer their own reusable bags. If you don't already have some then I suggest purchasing a couple. I also carry a fold up bag in my handbag for moments when I need a bag. Human beings have been living without plastic bags for hundreds of years. Reuse a bag and let's save our rivers and oceans from them. 

SAY NO TO PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES 

If you are serious about lessening the impact of plastic in your life then you will want to invest in a refillable bottle. I have had no trouble asking for cafes and restaurants to fill up my bottle for free when I need it. With a bottle tucked away in your bag you will save money and realise how silly paying for bottled water is.  

DITCH TAKEAWAY COFFE CUPS

Does your morning not start until you have had your coffee on the way to work? Like to keep warm with a takeaway chai? Next time the need for a takeaway hot beverage comes knocking ask for no lid or take 10 minutes to sit in to have your coffee in a mug. You can also take your own coffee cup.  

I offer this tip as a way to start you on your journey, today. I don't advocate the use of takeaway, ever. However, saying no to a plastic lid is a good start. 

Plastic lids easily end up on busy streets creating unwanted pollution. If you are a daily take away coffee drinker saying NO to a lid each day could save you up 20 bits of plastic from entering your life and the environment each month.

Remember that paper coffee cups are not recyclable and go into a bin for landfill. 

Saying no to plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic water bottles and unnecessary takeaway, sends a message that these items are not needed. Our consumer power is just as powerful as voting. Our great grandparents thrived and survived without these four items in their day to day lives, and I know we can too.

Guest blogger Liv Gluchowska lives sustainably

Guest blogger Liv Gluchowska is an elite athlete, dual world champion in Brazilian jiujitsu + physiotherapist. We've offered her a new challenge: recycling (correctly). Here's what she came up with.

By Liv Gluchowska

Melbourne is undoubtedly one of the best cities in the world - and if you have ever visited then you will know just how much we love our coffee. There seems to be a new trendy, hipster cafe popping up every week, each better than the last. I have my personal favourites but also go on hunts to try new places and indulge in my coffee snobbery. Most often, I will judge the entire cafe based on the first cup of the delicious dark liquid, and no doubt I’ve been thinking  about it as soon as I wake up. Yes, I am a coffee addict in every possible way.

When I sat down to do my budget a year ago, I realized I spend close to $2,500 on take- away coffees a year. That's almost  2 cups per day. Horrified at how much money I gulp down each day, I decided to invest in a coffee machine in an effort to save some money.

I buy a lot of coffee.

I buy a lot of coffee.

I am time-poor, so I settled for a coffee pod type as it’s easy, convenient and quick. However, the seemingly easy solution to my problem actually became more of a problem. I am not having less take away coffee, but instead I am just having much more coffee. I still buy a take away cuppa each day as I head to work, and another one during lunch-time. And on top of that I am having my usual 1 or 2 at home...

A week after my purchase, I emptied the rocket-fuel maker of its pods. It’s not an exaggeration to say I was shocked at the amount of plastic I was about to bin. I wasn’t sure if the pods were recyclable, so I consulted the Sustain Me app on my phone. To my disappointment, I learnt that in fact I am just contributing to landfill.

Used coffee pods.

Used coffee pods.

I had no idea how rare landfills are in Australia and that we only have secured space for the next 15 years. And that some garbage trucks have to drive hundreds of kilometers outside big cities to reach those landfills. And that by buying coffee pods, as well as take away coffee cups, I am single-handedly contributing to the high demand of materials, which in turn causes high carbon emissions caused by mining, transport, processing and packaging.

My thought was that if I minimize my coffee machine use to one per day, I can at least recycle my take away coffee cups and limit my contribution to polluting the Earth.  Alas, to my horror, as many as 49% of all recyclables in Australia go to landfill each year. So it’s not only my coffee pods and the plastic and card board boxes they come packaged in, but also my many disposable coffee cups I go through per week. I decided I needed to change to be a better human being immediately.

Upon reflection, I was shocked reading about how I am single-handedly contributing to pollution in so many ways.

Had I bothered to make myself more educated about the issue, I would have done more research before buying an expensive coffee pod machine. At this stage only Nescafe offers a recycling service - but you still have to go to recycle in-store (which is inconvenient and time consuming for most people).

Overall awareness about the problems we face with recycling in our community is poor. Until Sustain Me app was released in 2015, I found it confusing and hard to find the right information quickly on the internet. I hate to admit that if I wasn’t sure about what to recycle, I would put it in the garbage bin, often wrongly so. Sustain Me app now does the thinking for me and I can be certain I’m doing my bit to help the environment.

Use reusable coffee cups and live sustainably.

My Recycling Plan:

I have committed to making a change in just a few simple steps:

  1. Limit coffee pod coffee to 1 per day. If desperate for caffeine, I will have a tea.

  2. Take a re-usable coffee cup to work

  3. When time allows, sit down at a cafe for a coffee rather than getting take-away

  4. Re-use coffee trays when buying coffee for my colleagues

  5. Spread awareness about recycling at work by recommending Sustain Me app

  6. Always do research first when buying new appliances

 

Follow Liv on her Website or on social media:

Glass bottles take 1 million years to break down at the tip.

Stephen and I went to school this week to create some inter-generational change. We spoke to 30 odd year ones and twos. At first, I was terrified. Something about their age (being between 5 and 6), and their strength in numbers, rattled me. Children of that age tell you right away if they're dead bored of you. And, like a horse, they can smell your fear. 

Despite these fear-exciting qualities, they were a bit cute; plus, their teacher was sitting behind them. So they had to be good. 

Stephen created an excellent teaching plan and in the process taught me a thing or two. One of the activities included getting the students to guess how long it takes for an every day house hold item to break down in landfill

So for a banana peel, it was between 3-4 weeks. 

For a paper book, it's 3-4 months. 

For tin cans it's 200 odd years. 

For plastic bags, it's 1000 years. 

For glass bottles, it's 1 million years. 

Ok, fine, so according to this article, due to varying conditions within landfills, results can range ridiculously. So it depends. 

But the take home message here is that we don't have enough space on earth to put our waste in big holes. This is not sustainable. 

Think about it - plastic beverage holders (six pack rings) take 400 years to break down. It lives 4 times as long as you could, and we all will use countless six pack holders throughout our lives. Actually, if you drink too much beer, the six pack rings might live 5 times as long as you do. 

This is a first, but I am cut and copying the following from Charissa Struble's article on Be Healthy Relax's webpage because of how striking the details are. This is how long it takes your junk to decompose. 

Take a look. 

  • Train Tickets: 2 weeks
  • Paper Towel: 2-4 weeks
  • Orange Peel: 2-5 weeks
  • Newspaper: 6 weeks
  • Apple Core: 2 months
  • Cotton Shirt: 2-5 months
  • Cotton Gloves: 3 months
  • Waxed Milk Cartons: 3 months
  • Thread: 3-4 months
  • Ropes: 3-14 months
  • Canvas Products: 1 year
  • Plywood: 1-3 years
  • Wool Clothing: 1-5 years
  • Non-Waxed Milk Cartons: 5 years
  • Cigarette Butts: 10-12 years
  • Lumber: 10-15 years
  • Painted Board: 13 years
  • Plastic Film Container: 20-30 years
  • Leather Shoes: 25-40 years
  • Nylon Fabric: 30-40 years
  • Foamed Plastic Cups: 50 years
  • Rubber Tires: 50-80 years
  • Rubber Boot Soles: 50-80 years
  • Foamed Plastic Buoys: 80 years
  • Batteries: 100 years
  • Hairspray Bottle: 200-500 years
  • Plastic Beverage Holders (Six Pack Rings): 400 years
  • Plastic Beverage Bottles: 450 years
  • Engine Blocks: 500 years
  • Sanitary Pads: 500-800 years
  • Monofilament Fishing Line: 600 years
  • Polyurethane Seat Cushions: 1,000 years
  • Automobile Windshield: One million years or longer
  • Tinfoil: It does not biodegrade.

Let's deny the concept of waste. Never waste an opportunity to recycle. I know: it can annoying and boring and you often don't have the time. But you have an app for that now, so it's easier.

I have schooled myself.

Arggh. Since going to the primary school last week, I can't stop thinking about how single-use plastics will sit in landfill for 1000 years.

I can't stop noticing people on the street using plastic bottles, plastic bags, tin cans. I look at coffee cups in the bins in Flinders St Station, and I'm like, "Well, according to some estimates, that coffee cup will never decompose". I wonder if I'm the only one who has noticed that the 'recycling bins' in Flinders St Station are actually just plastic bags, custom made to look good. And we know that if you put a plastic bag full of recyclables in for recycling, that it gets chucked into landfill...

This worry is giving everything I might eat out of the house a sour taste. Everything I might do.

And, you see, I'm already a bit of a recycling vigilante; you've no doubt picked that up by now. I'm only going to get worse. And that worries me. 

I'm worried because if I'm a vigilante, if I'm the only one thinking about these things, then what are we going to do? What will come of us if concepts such as single-use plastics remain the norm? While most of us do recycle, we also put a lot of our stuff into landfill, too. 

For example, I am horrified at myself for one particular bad habit. I'll name and shame it here, and never do it again. When Laurence and I have jam or pesto in the fridge that goes mouldy, I'd chuck it out. That is, I put it in the waste bin instead of cleaning it out and putting it in the recycling bin. These glass jars that I've thrown out have no doubt ended up in landfill and will remain there for 1 million years. Horrifying, hey? 

And this was simply because I hadn't processed the thought that I could recycle the glass jar, despite the mould. 

Crazy. 

You might be sitting here hoping I have an answer to these concerns. I do, well - an answer of sorts. I'm going to keep advocating for us to recycle more, I'm going to keep promoting the Sustain Me app as a convenient way for people to recycle, whether they're at home or not. And I will continue to advocate that we deny the concept of waste. 

Hopefully you will too.

We fight over plastic bags.

My boyfriend, Laurence, and I agree on a great many things sustainable. We agree on all the good reasons we should take the train to work; we agree on the problems with eating meat, with buying from supermarkets, and so on. We aren't ideologically opposed. It's just one of us - I won't say who - is a little more, let's say, pro-active about sustainability than the other. 

Imagine supermarket check-outs, imagine shiny floors and packaged goods. Imagine the odd loose lemon: everything piled high in our supermarket basket. It all begins with a question:

"Should we get a plastic bag?"

"No, we don't need one". Comes the reply.

"Really? There's too much here to carry"

"It's fine, look: I've picked up everything now anyway. Can you grab the milk?; and we're done". 

 

I lost the argument the other day when we had gone shopping right before I was getting on the train to the city. 

"We're going to need a plastic bag". 

"You know what I think about single-use plastics," I say jokingly, not really thinking about it. "Look, it's fine." I flexed my dexterous fingers. "I got this". 

"How am I going to get it all up the stairs?"

"I'll help - ..." My eyes shot to the left, like they do when I've just realised something. "Oh."

Laurence picks up the plastic bag, triumphant. "Thank-you-very-much". Never before has a plastic bag been so cherished. 

That is, until we used it as a bin liner. (Couldn't resist, sorry Sweetheart).

 

I read a blog a little while ago that said "Break Ups on the Rise: Over Tissues". Apparently, according to this blog, people are reporting breaking up over trivial sustainability measures, such as whether or not to recycle tissues. Looking at Laurence's and my supermarket routine, I can see how the regular, everyday-demands of living sustainably in a non-sustainable culture can be heavy demands indeed. Especially if one partner is really pushing it more than the other. This is a source of tension among families, I'm sure, and among friends. The relationship space is not immune. 

In my view it is the good old not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees syndrome; people can get caught up over trivialities like recycling tissues and the odd single use plastic bag without recognising that, as a society, we live in a unsustainable way. We are raised to consume heaps, buy more, buy bigger. We are guilty about the rotting food in the fridge, but too busy to do anything about it. Broadly speaking there are large changes we need to make in our lives to help us be more sustainable. In Laurence's and my own situation above, we've actually tried to not shop at the supermarket at all, and have a CERES food box delivered to our house. This forgoes the need for plastic bags (it's delivered in a cardboard box that we recycle in our kerbside recycling bin); and the food is locally sourced. Going even broader, it would be great if Victoria went plastic bag free like SA, NT, NSW and Tassie. (According to this blog, Queensland is committed to being the next). So, government leadership would be great. Right about now.... :/ 

Failing that, there are some useful sustainability initiatives popping out of the ground like daisies in spring time. Take One Step, run through Greensteps at Monash University, encourages people to think up one thing they can do that lessens their impact on the earth, and the program then encourages people to then act out these steps. Similarly, Climate For Change seeks to create a climate for change in Australia's politics-scape; they (also) help you identify and then act on achievable actions that help us unite to create a social mandate our leaders can't ignore and thereby bring about good action on climate change. 

Here are a few ideas about how we can avoid the matrimonial warnings not worth ignoring about plastic bags and all things sustainability. 

 

EDIT: Laurence has just googled whether or not you can recycle tissues. Answer: yes if unsoiled. Compost it (or worm farm) if it is soiled.