A storm in a plastic teacup

It’s always fascinating to hear and see how the rest of the world views Australia. On our recent holiday in Europe, we were often told we were “so far away”. (Yes, we know.) One host was amazed to see a map of Europe superimposed over one of Australia for size comparison, knowing Australia is ” just one country” and expecting it to be the size of her country (France). A bar owner called my husband “kangaroo” and proceeded to kangaroo hop behind the bar during World Cup Final celebrations in regional France. Many people told us they’d love to visit Australia but it was “too far”. If they had visited, they always commented on how expensive Australia is. Again, don’t we know it?

News of Australia from mainstream media outlets is, of course, carefully selected and heavily edited, presenting a rather skewed view of our life down under. News seen or heard about home whilst overseas can make you laugh or cry, but is rarely balanced. One person in the know asked me if our prime minister was “still Malcom Turnbull” because “you don’t like to keep them in for too long, do you?” Haha, sad but true.

Not far into our holiday, we had BBC TV news playing as we got ready for our day of sightseeing. I cringed as the headline appeared Plastic Bag Ban Causing Havoc in Australia. Oh no! Of course, this was the only story about Australia that morning. The story went something like this: a customer in Queensland who didn’t want to either bring his own bags or pay for new ones had reached over the counter and grabbed the sales assistant by the neck. They then went on to cite several other cases where the newly introduced plastic bag ban/ fee had led to violent and otherwise unacceptable behaviour in a range of retail situations. Yup, that’s right, Queensland, my adopted state, where having to provide your own shopping bag or pay for a plastic one becomes a matter of life or death. I was later shocked to discover Coles had backflipped and given in to customers throwing toddler-like tantrums and was giving away plastic bags again so people didn’t have to buy them. Thankfully I don’t shop at Coles, or I’d have to change my shopping habits. Seriously, people, it’s not that hard! Surely our world is worth it?

Now, I’ve been on the reusable bag bandwagon for many years and was happy to pay top dollar when poly bags were first introduced in my area, close to twenty years ago. (About $5 each if I remember correctly. I used to add one a week to my shopping until I had enough.) I usually take my own bags or do without. Even my eighteen year old son who has recently moved out of home happily uses reusable bags and has even bought extras when the ones I provided were not enough for his needs. Yes, it involves a little forethought and changing habits, but seriously our oceans are drowning in plastic, it’s killing our wildlife and filling up our landfills and we really can live without it. Surely what little we can do to reduce the amount of plastic in our world should be embraced wholeheartedly, not complained about and used as an excuse to abuse others?! Personally, I think the current ban does not go far enough, but at least it’s a start. Other states in Australia and many other countries around the world have had similar bans in place for some time.

During our travels, we spent the majority of our time in France and Italy. It was interesting to observe their approaches to single use plastics and compare them to things at home.

In France, we encountered very few plastics. Although we didn’t do major food shopping, we did visit supermarkets, bakeries and other stores most days. Bakeries exclusively used paper packaging and when we purchased a slice of quiche for lunch one day, it was placed on a piece of cardboard, wrapped in foil and placed in a paper carry bag. Almost all packaging was recyclable. Supermarkets charged for bags but nearly everyone arrived with their own bags, a basket or trolley to take their shopping home in. Woven cane and grass baskets were cheap to purchase, available everywhere and widely used for shopping. Cotton reusable bags were also available as well as recycled plastic carry bags. Within the supermarkets, fruit and vegetables were not pre-packaged in plastic and no plastic bags were available to put them in, instead remaining loose or being placed in paper bags if desired. Baguettes were often wrapped in only a strip of paper for holding them or nothing at all if going into a larger shopping bag.

Public spaces all had sorted rubbish bins, and people carried recycling to neighbourhood collection points, as curbside collection wasn’t available for all materials or in all areas. This was especially noticeable in Italy. In Florence, curbside collection dealt with paper and cardboard but other materials needed to be carried to collection points. In Cinque Terre, organic waste was regularly collected from doorsteps.

Plastics were much more widely used in Italy and the level of rubbish along railway lines and similar locations was considerably higher. However, drinks purchased at restaurants and cafes were always either presented in a glass, often without a straw, or a glass bottle was placed on the table. Although small glass bottles are common in Australia, we commented we couldn’t remember the last time we’d seen a litre of Coke in a reusable glass bottle at home. Some gelato stores, mainly organic artisanal ones, served their icecreams with a large wafer to use as a scoop instead of tiny plastic spoons. Takeaway coffees were available in Italy, but rarely seen. Most people enjoyed a stand-up espresso at the bar or sat down for a longer break and a coffee such as a cappucino. Takeaway food in general was frowned upon in both France and Italy, as food is to be enjoyed whilst sitting and socialising, not scoffed on the go.

I found it interesting to see how other countries are dealing with the plastic problem. Personally, I strive to keep my use of plastics to a minimum. I do still get some plastic packaging, which I either reuse or recycle.

Below are my top tips for reducing plastic usage. It’s nothing new and is easy to do with just a little thought. If you have some great ideas, please share them with us.

Anna’s top 5 tips to reduce plastic usage (plus a bonus):

1. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car and handbag. There are some really cute designs around or if you want to get creative, you can make your own using old clothes. For non-sewers, I recently saw a no-sew version made from a tshirt. Just search pinterest for ideas. I make a point of buying a reusable shopping bag when I travel, both to use whilst away and to remember the trip by when I return home again.

2. Refuse to buy fruit and vegetables in plastic. If your current supplier won’t change, shop elsewhere. If enough people ask for no packaging or refuse to buy packaged produce, stores will be forced to change. A local fruit shop I sometimes use now invites customers to return packaging to the store for reuse/ recycling. If you do get plastic packaging, recycle and return soft plastics to recycling points now available in many large supermarket chains.

3. Switch from single use plastic wraps to wax wraps, reusable plastic or fabric pouches or containers. You’d be amazed how long veges stay fresh inside wax wraps. My favourites are handmade by a family business in the Noosa Hinterland, Bee Eco Wraps who have a range of beautiful fabrics available. It’s also possible (and I believe not too difficult) to make your own if you have the time. These would make great gifts.

4. Switch to refillable containers. Purchase from bulk food supplies and provide your own container or look for companies that offer eco-refills. I love my l’Occitane eco-refills and many other companies now offer similar options. L’Occitane also offer a discount if you return their packaging to the store for recycling in many countries, which is a pretty good incentive.

5. Take your own cup when buying takeaway coffees or drink-in using a real cup if you have time. Ask for no straw in cold drinks and if you really love straws, take your own stainless steel or silicone one. Alyce Alexandra has some great silicone ones available and you can get stainless ones everywhere now. If you get a lot of takeaway meals, consider taking your own cutlery too.

Bonus: Not strictly plastic, but this will certainly cut down on your household garbage and be better for your body. Switch to reusable sanitary products. Yep, you read right. I have been using reusable products for several years now, never run out and save money long term. If the thought grosses you out, start with a sample liner or pad from Hannahpad Australia. The staff are lovely and will happily answer any questions or concerns you may have. I recently asked about my aging pads and was given a way to make them last longer, rather than having to buy new ones. If you’re ready to jump right in, try replacing tampons with a menstrual cup too. Several brands are available and some even come in a variety of colours. You can educate yourself about these options by doing a quick google or youtube search. Ask around amongst your friends. You may be surprised to discover some of them already use these options.

I’d love to hear your tips for reducing plastic or waste in general. Please share by commenting below, you never know who you might be able to help. (The comment tab often gets lost but it’s there at the bottom somewhere and you don’t even need to include your email if that scares you.)

Anna xo

Just to make it perfectly clear, recommendations for products and companies above are based purely on my own experience, with no payment or benefits received. I have no affiliation whatsoever with these companies.

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