How to ditch plastic from your life

Living Well | Jessica Taylor Yates | RACV | Posted on 25 June 2021

To celebrate Plastic Free July, we look for ways we can help the environment by going plastic bag free. 

So, what is International Plastic Bag Free Day? Celebrated on July 3 each year, International Plastic Bag Free Day is a worldwide initiative to stop using single-use plastic bags. It’s part of a broader movement to ‘Break Free From Plastic’ altogether and to make the world safer and more sustainable for all living things. 

Here’s what to know and some easy swaps you can make to make the world more plastic bag-free.  

plastic bag in tree

This will still exist long after our lifetimes. Image: Getty. 


Why are plastic bags so bad?

Did you know that every piece of plastic you’ve used in your life is still in existence? That’s because plastic bags can take up to 500 years to disintegrate and end up polluting landfills and waterways, harming humans, wildlife, and sea creatures. Animals such as seabirds, turtles and marine mammals can be severely affected by swallowing or becoming tangled in plastic bags, affecting their mobility, ability to eat and in some cases cause suffocation and death. Even after this, the plastic can remain in the environment, affecting even more wildlife. 

According to the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

  • Over a million plastic bags are in use around the world every minute
  • 80% of marine litter is plastic
  • Approximately one million seabirds and over 100,000 mammals die every year from plastic ingestion or entanglement
  • A study by the University of Queensland found 30% of turtles autopsied were found to have plastics, including plastic bags, in their intestinal tract

Also, whilst cheap to produce, clearing plastic is an expensive endeavour that continues to trash our planet, which affects future generations.

What will happen if we keep using plastic bags?

It’s estimated that our oceans contain over five trillion pieces of plastic, with eight million tonnes being added every year. This affects sea creatures, land animals and future generations. 

The litter itself will become increasingly hard to manage and dispose of. Plastic bags can blow into open spaces, waterways, and land areas, creating a literal sea of garbage affecting all living things. 

Additionally, the clean-up alone costs the Victorian Government around $80 million dollars a year.

While each Australian is estimated to use 65kg of plastic annually, plastic production is expected to quadruple by 2050.

What is being done about it?

Over 30 countries worldwide now have plans in place to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags. Since 2019, all states and territories (except NSW) banned lightweight plastic shopping bags from food outlets, retailers and more. Stores have been encouraged to provide ‘reusable alternatives’ such as reusable plastic bags, green, cotton, or hessian bags.  

turtle swimming with a plastic bag in mouth

It's important we make sure pictures like this don't exist. Image: Getty. 


What can I do to help?

There are plenty of sustainable swaps you can make to stop using single-use plastic bags. These include: 

  • Taking your own bags out with you
  • Reusing any plastic bags or containers you already own
  • Using cloth bags or baskets
  • Weighing your fruit and vegetables, bag-free
  • Get green! Grow your produce, when possible, to reduce the use of plastic 

What if I forget to bring my own bag?

That's okay, we're all learning! You could consider: 

  • Using cardboard boxes or crates that are usually readily available at supermarkets and greengrocers
  • Purchasing a green bag for future use at the supermarket, or a cotton bag from a retailer
  • Carrying as much as you can, bag-free - it can be great exercise! 

What are some other ways I can reduce my use of plastic?

To reduce plastic usage in other areas of your life, consider the below: 

  • Ditch the plastic straws and cutlery and buy your own reusable ones instead
  • Reuse containers from takeaway for leftovers or bulk shopping, or better yet, get glass or stainless steel containers
  • Make your own beeswax wraps, or use foil over plastic wrap
  • Pack lunch in reusable lunch boxes
  • Chewing gum actually contains plastic - try to get natural or organic!
  • Carry a reusable drink bottle and coffee cup
  • Try to avoid excessive plastic food packaging when you can
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle