How your impact matters - plastic.

Posted by Melinda Miles on

Plastic. Once marketed to be an amazing invention of versatile convenience, now a dirty word as it covers our Earth, kills animals and more recently found to be ingested by humans in the form of microplastics. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, this is estimated to double by 2025.

Now is the time to start caring for our Mother Earth and begin repairing the damage we've caused her. Let this be an informative guide to gently guide you on where you can begin or grow and the benefits it brings to you and the planet.

 


 

So what is plastic and where did it come from?


Plastic is pliable when soft and retains its shape when it hardens. 
Natural plastics include amber, rubber and cellulose, which makes up the cell walls of plants.
Plastic is a category of materials called Polymers. Polymers have a molecular structure built up from a large chain of similar carbon atom units bonded together. 

The first plastics used were natural substances amber and latex (sap from the rubber tree). During the 19th century, chemists began modifying naturally occurring polymers, adapting both rubber and cellulose.

1835- Henri Regnault accidentally discovered PVC by leaving a sample of vinyl chloride gas sitting in sunlight. A white solid (polymer) had formed. Thinking it wasn't useful, almost a century passed before Waldo Semon found how to plastise it with additives.  

1846- Louis-Nicolas Menard and Flores discovered that cellulose nitrate could be dissolved in ether and that if they added ethanol, a clear gelatinous liquid formed, known as Collodion, which could be painted on human skin to dry to a flexible film. Collodion was used as a medical dressing in 1847. 

1851- Frederick Scott Archer found that collodion could be used to make photographic film.

1855- Alexander Parkes noticed that a white residue remained when photographic collodion evaporated. Based off nitrocellulous discovery, he began manufacturing Parksine, the first thermoplastic.

1860- John Wesley Hyatt acquired Parkes's patent and began experimenting with cellulose nitrate to manufacture billiard balls, with his brother Isaiah. Around the same time in the UK, Daniel Spill also began experimenting with cellulose nitrate. Both parties added camphor, creating a hard-like plastic that resembled ivory/horn. It was used as a cheap replacement.

1898- Hans Von Pechmann accidentally synthesized polyethylene while investigating diazomethane. 

1907- Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic, while searching for a substitute for shellac. Unlike celluloid, bakelite was well suited for mechanical mass production and was marketed as "the material of a thousand uses".

1933- Again by accident, the first industrially practical polyethylene synthesis was discovered by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson. Another chemist, Michael Perrin developed a method to reproduce their experiment for industrial low-density polyethlene (LDPE). Catcalysts were developed in the 1950s and again further into the 1970s, that became the basis for a range of polyethylene resins available today.

1937- Wallace Carothers developed nylon, the first synthetic thermoplastic polymer, initially as an alternative to silk. It was used in stockings, as well as ropes, parachutes, body armour and helmet liners during WWII. 

1939- Polystyrene was discovered by Eduard Simon by distilling an oily substance from storax, which after several days thickened into a jelly. The formation and composition was studied by many chemists eventually leading to its name polystyrene, following a thesis by German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger. It began being manufactured in Ludwigshafen around 1931 by the company I. G. Farben as a replacement for die-cast zinc. Otis Ray McIntire began manufacturing a lightweight, water-resistant and buoyant material used for watercraft and insulation. Styrofoam was patented in 1944.

1954- Expanded polystyrene (EPS) was developed by the Koopers Company and in 1960, Dart Container, the largest manufacturer of foam cups, shipped their first order.

Plastic production increased tremendously during and after WWII. Plastic debris in the ocean were first observed in the 1960s. As the start of plastic pollution began to rise, the plastic industry began encouraging collection of recyclable materials for them to process as part of their waste management program, but recycling only works in part while much waste spreads in landfill and ocean. Despite the overwhelming evidence that plastic is invading our planet, the production of it still continues and it is up to the people to tell governments and companies that we do not support plastic production, that we want eco-alternatives and reducing our consumption.

 


 

There’s so many alternatives out there, that change is achievable. We aren't expected to instantly be zero-waste and for some that isn't viable due to medical conditions. Every step counts and the more people that take those steps and make those little changes, makes a big difference. Our dollar means something with where we spend it. If we choose to spend with intention, we are shaping the way our future will look. This is when the people running big corporations, polluting our Earth without a care, will begin to listen. Singularly, we have a voice but collectively we have a movement. As long as we pay them, they will continue producing plastic products.

Starting out, the problem can feel overwhelming but join in the conversation and gently guide yourself, it's a lot easier than you'd think once you commit to making a difference.  Maybe you're already doing some or most of the suggestions or maybe you're looking for where to start? No matter where you are at in your journey, lets share in the discussion. We are all learning of the impact together, our family is continually making changes too and still hitting goals on the list further down.

People are becoming more aware of the importance of recycling and while it is wonderful that people are recycling with good intentions, it's not going to be enough in the long run and the sad thing is, still, only a small percentage of products are being recycled. 
It is the time to work on reducing and reusing, more than ever. Being mindful that there is no 'away' once you throw out your rubbish. With about 40% of the plastics we consume being single use, it's time for change. If not for ourselves, then for future generations and all the beautiful animals that deserve a life without straws being lodged into their noses, plastic rings choking them or bags and balloons being ingested. If our planet dies, so do we. We can do better than this.

While we make our changes it is also important to spot the brands genuinely trying to make a difference and the businesses that are trying to cash in on it.
What do I mean?
You might see the words 'eco' or 'environmentally friendly' printed on a product, but look closely.

 

For example:

  • Brand A is selling bamboo toothbrushes packaged in unbleached, recycled cardboard boxes. Brand B is selling bamboo toothbrushes packaged in plastic.  
  • Brand A is selling reusable shopping bags made from 100% natural fibres. Brand B is selling reusable shopping bags marketed as eco-friendly but are made from all synthetic fibres.

 

In many cases you may not even need to purchase a product for sustainable living. There's a lot of beautiful travel cups available on the market but have you considered simply taking your own mug to get a coffee or using a jar? Sarah Wilson advocates reusing a glass jar for your beverages with simply wrapping some rubber bands around it for easy hold against hot temperatures. Plastic Free Mermaid (Kate) also advocates for using a glass jar not just for beverages, but also soups and other meals and snacks. (Check out her Plastic Free July guide)

 


 

What can we do as individuals/families/educators?
Have a look through this list and see what changes you could make. This is a collective of recommended changes from a variety of organisations working to conserve the planet.
  • Use reusable shopping and produce bags.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes and oil pulling.
  • Reuse glass jars to use for bulk buying.
  • Seek food that isn't packaged in plastic, support farmers markets or grow your own. Cook your own food instead of buying pre-packaged.
  • Use shampoo bars and try making your own beauty products. Avoid scrubs and exfoliants that use microplastic beads.
  • Seek products that are packaged sustainably and that you can reuse.
  • Seek clothing made from natural fibres as many synthetic fibres will shed and cause microplastics from your washing machine. Go to or host a clothing swap.
  • Bulk buy natural cleaning solutions that you can refill or make your own.
  • Use travel cutlery holders so you can take your own cutlery wherever you go and avoid plastic single use cutlery, including stainless steel or bamboo straws.
  • Use sustainable sanitary products.
  • Ditch disposable razors and get a safety razor.
  •  Use cloth nappies instead of disposables.
  •  Go to or host a toy swap. Opt for toys made from natural materials. Make your own toys.
  •  Take your own container or lunch box when getting food out to avoid plastic containers.
  •  Use wax wraps instead of plastic wrap. (See our tutorial to make your own Beeswax Wraps)
  •  Participate in National Clean Up days, beach and river clean ups and pick up trash when you can.
  •  If you smoke, ALWAYS bin your butt. Cigarette filters are among the top plastic pollutants.
  •  If you are in Australia, collect what soft plastics you can't avoid and take them to a REDcycle bin located at Coles and Woolworths stores.
  •  Avoid laminators.
  •  Avoid plastic arts and crafts supplies such as glitter (a micro-plastic), googley eyes, beads etc. Use eco-glitter such as dried botanicals. Make your own eyes for crafts.Use wooden, glass beads or make your own clay or salt dough beads.
  •  Opt for filtered water instead of bottled water.
  •  Gift sustainable products to others.
  •  Avoid balloons, plastic table covers and tableware when hosting celebrations and events. Take reusable items for people to use and alternative eco friendly decorations. Latex balloons are not eco friendly, please see the Balloons Blow link at the bottom of this post for more information.
  •  Buy what you need, reducing your consumption and saving money.
  •  Rather than throwing out broken items, visit a repair cafe to see if it can be mended or find an upcycled way to renew it. 
  •  Teach our children about the impact of plastic pollution and get them actively brainstorming ways to help. Lead by example, involve them in things such as making natural cleaning solutions for the home.
  •  Get as much use out of the plastic items that you already have and upcycle or repair where possible. 

 
Taking part in National Clean Up Australia Day

 

     

    What are we doing?

    A huge focus of our business is avoiding virgin and single-use plastic wherever possible, in both our products and our packaging. That being said we do support using recycled post-consumer plastic products. There are some amazing innovative businesses doing their part by taking discarded plastic waste from landfill and oceans and turning them into new products.
    We are always looking for the best options we can find. Here's what we've implemented in our business so far. 

    We reuse:
      • Boxes (if a box is too marked, simply turn it inside out and its like new ready to use again!)
      • Eco wrap
      • Tissue paper

          We use 

          • Recycled boxes
          • Paper tape
          • Unbleached, recycled tissue paper
          • Recycled paper
          • Hemp twine
          • Eco wrap 
          • Compostable satchels 
          • Recycled paper business cards
          • Cotton and calico pouches
          • Glass bottles with cork tops

           Once in a while (but not often) we will receive an item from one of our suppliers in bubble wrap or a little lock bag. We reuse the lock bags in storing our handmade sterling silver jewellery to avoid scratching and tarnish. The bubble wrap is collected and put in a REDcycle bin where it will go towards being turned into something in the community such as a bench. You can see the REDcycle process here. Part of the solution is conversation and I have suggested seeking eco-alternatives with suppliers.

           Our mission is to continue supporting other small businesses with the same ideals, offering high quality products that will last and avoid toxic chemicals. We are passionate about supporting sustainably handmade and fair trade products using natural and recycled materials. As our business grows, so does our commitment to do our part for Earth and its inhabitants. 

           


          Choosing sustainable over plastic is possible.


          I'd love to introduce you to some wonderful people making amazing changes and inspiring those around them. 

          Sustainable Activity Centre in Wodonga, VIC. 


           

          Founded by Claire Greenhalgh, The Sustainable Activity Centre is a wonderful example of community working together to build a better future. The SAC is a hub for like-minded people and local community groups to meet, share, discuss and educate on sustainability.
          The SAC hosts a Repair Cafe, Boomerang Bags, Local Education Network for Sustainability (L.E.N.S.), Library of things (where people may drop of or take items they need - community sharing), Crafters Connect 4A Cause, Kids Workshops, Wodonga Local Food Network, Film Screenings, Tiny Houses Albury/Wodonga, Women in STEM, Business & Eco-Organisation Collaborations, Toy Swap, Grow Free (plant and produce swapping), Defying Gravity (learning opportunities for home educated children) and more. 

          In 2018, Claire founded The Replenish Store (located inside the SAC), which helps sustain the costs to run the SAC, continuing to provide opportunities for the community seeking sustainable options, offering refill stations, ero waste and reusable products.


          If you're like to show the SAC some support, please visit their Facebook page.

           


           

           

          Nick 
          Nick is a founder of Reusable, a wonderful business of sustainable living products with drive and passion in assisting people towards positive change. 
          Follow Reusable on Facebook or Instagram

          What inspired your journey into sustainable living and starting Reusable?
          A conversation in January 2018 with a then mentor (Now co-founder of Reusable) covered the environmental issues that had been brought to the attention of the Australian public through the documentary series 'War on Waste'. I followed up our conversation by watching WOW & a whole new world opened up for me. I was not only searching for ways in which to reduce my ecological footprint but also help others do the same. A seed was planted from that point onwards!

          I believe the best way to feel the importance of looking after our planet is by connecting with it. We need a society that encourages people (both kids and adults) to be outdoors rather than in. Besides plastic-free alternative products, what do you encourage people to do to engage with nature and understand the importance of not only respecting and nurturing out planet but feeling gratitude for it?
          Building an understanding of the many roles that nature plays in supporting human life on planet Earth builds an appreciation and furthermore a want to be closer to the beautiful yet mysterious ecosystems that surround us. There are many great documentaries that all ages can enjoy (Notably anything David Attenborough) which from grows a respect & love for everything nature.

          Anything from spending an hour outside a day (Having lunch, reading a book, going for a walk with friends & family) to volunteering an occasional Sunday with your local landcare group to support the needed activities that they host helps to build the appreciation & gratitude.

           

          You do regular clean ups in nature which is wonderful to see, a great example to people on how they can contribute to a better future. What are the most common waste items you find during these clean ups?
          Thank you Melinda! I've found the experience of cleaning the grassy areas around my town to be a very rewarding one. It also goes a long way to keeping the wildlife that inhabits these areas free from harm. 

          The most prevalent waste items I come across are KFC & McDonalds packaging which has been disgarded throughout these public areas. Cigarette butts & plastic water bottles are a close 2nd & 3rd respectively. 


          What is your vision for the future of Reusable?
          The future Reusable will be an organisation that offers not only eco-products but also educational resources & a collection of inspiring stories out there that can empower each & everyone of us to become a change maker within our circle of influence. The changes we need are not going to come from the Government or big corporations. It will come from the smaller efforts of the many as a grass roots level. We hope to both facilitate & support community led efforts across Australia and support more people on their way to living a more environmentally conscientious lifestyle!



           

           


           

           

          Teegan 
          Teegan is a kind and friendly soul who is passionate about health, nutrition and sustainability. She implements her eco choices into her home and business, Teegan's Family Daycare.
          Check her out on Facebook or Instagram

          What inspired your journey in ditching plastics over sustainable solutions?
          Watching the rise of plastic use over the years and the effect on our environment and wild life is something that always hits deep for me. I started making changes in my household and educating my own children in the hopes they can follow my lead and contribute to a better world. Being in family daycare I feel I am in such a great position to encourage positive changes for other children and their families within their household and educate people on the importance of these changes.

          Since beginning to take your business in a sustainable direction, what have been the most noticeable impacts you've noticed on your family daycare and home in general?
          Since starting cloth nappies within my daycare, we have gone from filling 2 rubbish bins a fortnight to only filling one. I have stopped approx. 630 disposable nappies from entering our landfill and saved around $300+ on nappies. Since bringing our family home into a more sustainable direction, my family have been eating a lot healthier with fresh fruit and veggies being majority of our groceries to avoid plastic use. My kids enjoy using our mesh produce bags to help pack our fresh produce in. They have also loved having our own sustainable garden filled with fresh veggies. 

          What are some of your favourite products or solutions that you have discovered in your journey?
          My most used reusable products are for sure mesh produce bags and metal straws that come everywhere with me in my hand bag. My coffee keep cup and deodorant paste from Flora and Fauna are also every day used objects. My whole family have a subscription for bamboo toothbrushes that we get sent every 8 weeks. The children love that they are different coloured bristles each time (yet to find bamboo that don't have plastic bristles). We take our own bottles and refill all our shampoos, conditioners, soaps and dish washing liquid at our local health food store Almar. All the products are natural. We also take in our empty jars to buy our seeds and nuts there too. We make our own cleaning products with natural products. There are so many ways to easily reduce plastic, it's just about educating ourselves. 

          I completely agree, we all start from somewhere and opening our eyes up and educating ourselves can change our lives for the better while also taking care of our planet. What advice would you give people that are just starting their journey in sustainable living and also other family daycare providers?
          I would say start off with the easy changes first and introduce new practices at your own pace. Small changes have big impacts and when you start to make those small changes you realise it is a lot easier than you thought to continue these changes. Something as simple as using your bins right. Separate your rubbish the right way. Recycle, food scrap and even a soft plastic recycle to take to your local grocery store when you go shopping. By taking the time to do this it will mean you will no longer need to use a bin liner in your garbage bin. That can mean around 150+ plastic garbage bags not reaching our landfill. Doing this in your daycare setting, the children will learn so much from such simply, everyday practices. I always opt for natural or recycled resources as much as possible in my daycare.

           

           

          For more information visit
          - Plastic Oceans
          - I Quit Plastics
          - Ocean Conservancy
          - Sea Shepherd
          - Plastic Soup Foundation
          - Breathe Conservation
          - REDcycle
          - Ocean Crusaders
          - Balloons Blow
          - Plastic Pollution

           

           


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