Plastic Free July: the issue with single-use plastics

1 July 2014

Tuesday 1 July marks the beginning of Plastic Free July. The challenge this month is to refuse all single-use plastic. We take a closer look at single-use plastics, the challenges around their use, and the alternatives.

Plastic Free July banner (insert into website at top of story)

‘Single-use plastic’ includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, coffee cup lids and plastic packaging – anything that is intended to be used once and then discarded.

Ministry for the Environment statistics estimate that New Zealanders send approximately 200,000 tonnes of plastic to landfill every year, roughly half of which is packaging.

One of the issues with using plastic for single use items is that it never biodegrades. Apart from the small amount of plastic which has been incinerated, every piece of plastic ever produced still exists somewhere on earth.

The discussion about plastic and the circular economy has become mainstream in many parts of the world. In addition to the mantra “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” we often hear Redesign, Refuse, Recover, Repair, Rethink, Respect, Restore, which shows that globally, people are looking for alternatives to single use plastics and disposable items.

Single use plastic items have no place in a circular economy. Overseas, the EU is looking at banning plastic bags. Several states in Australia have already banned plastic bags and some States in the USA have banned single use plastic drink bottles.

But banning single use plastic items is not necessarily the answer.

“We all need to take responsibility for this issue. We’re working with businesses to encourage, inspire and support the creation of solutions  which support a circular economy –  where, at the end of life of a product all materials are fully utilised – as opposed to the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ model,” says James Griffin, SBN’s circular economy project leader. 

SBN is asking you to take the challenge and refuse all single use plastic items for the month of July.

If all single-use plastic sounds a bit daunting, you could try refusing the ‘Big Four’ single-use plastic items, which are plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic straws and plastic containers.

The guidelines for the challenge are:

  1. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
  2. Remember it’s not going to be easy! It is a challenge, not a competition, so don’t worry about being perfect.
  3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep it in a dilemma bag and share it with us at the end of the challenge.
  4. It’s up to you regarding how long you participate. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose, it will still make a contribution.

You can register for the Plastic Free July challenge, and share your experiences, ideas and tips by clicking here.

Find out more about SBN’s work on the circular economy by clicking here.

The New Zealand Government is currently considering whether it should intervene to improve the management of four product waste streams: electronic and electrical equipment; tyres; agrichemicals and farm plastics; and refrigerants and other synthetic greenhouse gases.

Have your say by 5.00pm Wednesday 2 July and get single use plastics onto this list.