Plastic is becoming a very dirty word, particularly when spoken of in Plastic Free July, and you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that I’m absolutely passionate about saving the planet!
Let me begin by saying that I’m very much in favour of reducing waste of every kind including plastic. And as I have been taking my groceries home in re-usable shopping bags for about a decade, I’m horrified at the backlash against the plastic bag ban in supermarkets, and the images I’ve seen of marine life strangled in plastic break my heart.
However, I feel that a knee-jerk rejection of plastics would actually not be a good thing for the environment.
Here are some environmental benefits of plastic:
- Plastic is a lightweight, strong and versatile material and particularly important in places like the aerospace industry. Some plastic aeroplane components can be as much as ten times lighter than their metal counterparts resulting in increased fuel efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas pollution.
- The environmental cost to make many plastic items (e.g. a drink container, cosmetics bottle) is less than one made of glass, tin or aluminium. This is because, although per kilogram plastic can be more environmentally costly to make, there is about 4 times less plastic (by weight) used to arrive at an item that performs the same function.
- Plastic has enormous benefits to public health and in emergencies, e.g. for providing sanitary ways of injecting vaccines or medicine, and for transporting potable water to areas affected by disaster. Hospitals are very high energy (and plastic) users, so preventative measures to keep people out of hospital in turn have environmental benefits.
- One plastic item can replace many made of another material. For example, one plastic take-away coffee cup can replace hundreds of paper cups, and it is less likely to break than a ceramic or glass one.
Instead of looking to completely rid plastic from our lives, perhaps we should re-focus on the end goal of a greener planet.
1. Look for the beauty within
In the flurry to rid ourselves of plastic, there has been a rise in popularity of package-free products. For example, shampoo bars. Shampoo bars are attractive because you can wash your hair with something that hasn’t come in a bottle. This is great, as long as the bar itself is made from sustainable ingredients. Consider where the raw ingredients started off and how much effort (i.e. energy cost) it took to get them into the final product. E.g. are the ingredients made from petroleum, palm oil or an endangered plant? Have they travelled from the farthest part of the world to get into your product?
Several shampoo bars I have seen contain palm oil-derived ingredients. The palm oil industry, as you may be aware, is rapidly destroying precious tropical rainforests, and wiping out every living creature along the way. There is nothing planet-friendly about a shampoo bar that contains palm oil.
2. Support our recycled manufacturing industry
We need to support our recycled manufacturing industry, who are helping reduce our current waste, by actually buying their products, and encouraging our councils and governments to do the same.
- Ant Packaging is Australia’s first carbon neutral plastics factory that makes 100% post-consumer recycled PET bottles. They are also developing technology for plastic that is not made from petroleum, and biodegradable plastic.
- Australian companies are making outdoor decking materials and furniture using recycled plastic. Modwood’s decking is made out of 90% recycled material including reclaimed pine and recycled plastic milk bottles. Outdoor furniture made using recycled plastic is very durable. When you consider non-plastic alternatives, such as the popular decking made of Merbau that is often harvested unsustainably from virgin tropical rainforests, wouldn’t you choose recycled plastic?
3. Do you need it at all?
Let’s talk about drinking straws. Do we need them at all? I acknowledge that some people do for medical reasons because they cannot physically drink from a cup. But let’s face it, most people don’t use straws for medical reasons. So, do we need to buy them at all, whether they are made from plastic, paper, stainless steel or bamboo? Every manufactured item has an energy cost associated with it.
4. Reduce our use (especially single use) and disposal of ANY material
Every new material costs energy to make. In fact, you may be surprised to know that biodegradable materials generally use more energy and resources to make compared with plastic.
Let’s focus instead on:
- buying only what we need
- buying quality, versatile items that can be used often for a long time
- buying recycled products
- repairing, swapping, re-gifting and composting.
5. Support innovation
Science has a lot to offer in our journey to a better planet. Let’s keep our minds open and support innovators who might just be able to come up with more eco friendly solutions in the form of sustainable plastics and other approaches to a greener planet.
Here are some things that Two-winged fruit is doing to reduce our environmental impact.
- All of our products are certified palm oil free, therefore not contributing to rainforest destruction by the palm oil industry
- We include locally grown and produced ingredients where possible, for example Australian grown olive, macadamia, hemp and avocado oils; native essential oils such as tea tree, eucalyptus, kunzea, nerolina and sandalwood; and Australian clay, oats and raw honey.
- Our Nerolina & Hemp Shampoo comes in a 100% post-consumer recycled PET bottle made in a local carbon neutral factory.
- Our bar soaps are wrapped in labels made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper.
- We have retailers that stock our bar soaps unwrapped, and our liquid hand soap and body wash in bulk so that customers can re-fill their own containers. We are aiming to increase the number of stockists who do this and also the range of products supplied in bulk.
- We supply products in bulk via our online store.
- We can re-fill bottles on request by customers who shop at our online store.
- Our shipping materials are re-used (e.g. old magazines, or packing filler from our raw ingredient suppliers to which we are giving a second life); recycled (e.g. recycled plastic packing tape, tissue paper, cardboard), biodegradable or recyclable.
- We support environmental charities (Orangutan Foundation International Australia and Rainforest Rescue).