Sewing the way to a plastic-free NSW
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;
Story

Sewing the way to a plastic-free NSW

Stories/498 , Issues/Environment , Issues/Sustainability
NSW
15th May 2019
Sewing the way to a plastic-free NSW
Boomerang Bags provides free, recycled bags to reduce plastic use.

With global warming become a more and more tangible reality day by day, it can be bewildering and frustrating how little immediate action institutions are taking— Particularly when it comes to simple solutions, like banning the single-use plastic bag.

Lagging behind the rest of Australia, New South Wales is the only state left to ban the single-use plastic bag. The ACT was the first state to place a ban on lightweight bags, miles ahead in 2011. Since then, all other states and territories have followed with the exception of NSW, with Victoria most recently committing to phasing them out earlier this year. But NSW still has not joined the rest of the country, which doesn't set a positive precedent for the amount of change needed to properly, courageously tackle global warming.

With politicians failing to take up the mantle, not-for-profits have been picking up the slack and taking action. Highlighting what can be achieved when you bring people together under a common goal, Boomerang Bags has grown into a global movement reducing single-use plastic bag consumption around the world. Boomerang Bags relies solely on the hard work of volunteers, and recycled materials. It involves communities setting up local spaces where volunteers come together to up-cycle donated material into shopping bags that they then give out for free to consumers. Community is at its core, and what began as one sewing club has now proliferated into many. The premise is the same across the board — engage local community members to affect their local community. It's local action with global impact.

Boomerang Bags Illawarra has given out hundreds of bags to students at the local University of Wollongong and shoppers at the local co-op and bulk foods stores. "We are optimistic that providing free, funky, recycled-material bags to students and the wider community will have lasting reductions in plastic bag use," says Madeleine Wray, a volunteer with Boomerang Bags Illawarra.

Currently, the demand is almost more than they can cope with. After all, the bags are free and the organisation is dependent on how many volunteers can help sew. "The easiest way to stop single-use plastic bags is to provide a viable, cheap or free alternative. I think it's unfeasible to assume all consumers will always bring their own bag, even we forget our bags sometimes! So ensuring that the backup option is not destroying our environment is essential," says Madeleine.

Coles and Woolworths have had a huge impact on the single-use bag ban, achieving an 80% reduction nationwide when they swapped out their single-use bags for reusable bags. However, both franchises are still under scrutiny for the 15 cent "reusable' thicker plastic bags that they offer consumers. Banning the single-use plastic bag is an important step forward in reducing plastics altogether, however an alternative that takes even more plastic materials and resources to make isn't a sustainable solution.

According to the NSW EPA, all Australian environment ministers have agreed to explore options to reduce the use of thicker plastic shopping bags, and NSW is working with the other states and territories to achieve this goal. While the EPA is committed to working with all jurisdictions on a national action plan to reduce single-use plastics overall and the NSW government has allocated $50 million over nine years to litter prevention, there was no insight on when the NSW government might move forward with the push to ban single-use plastic bags.

"Boomerang Bags has expanded massively around Australia, however I don't think it could cope with requirements if it was the only alternative. Paper bags can still impact our environment, but a recycled option would be possible," Madeleine states. "Although reducing use is always our first suggestion, there is potential to create a cyclic system of only producing new shopping bags from recycled ones."

Of course, sustainability cannot be achieved with just the effort of the government and not-for-profit initiatives— it is also up to consumers to take deliberate action and set an example. However, unique to the single-use plastic bag ban is that we have seen clear evidence that hard bans work to change consumer behaviour, with the Coles and Woolworths examples. Effort from both sides is required for any type of change, however there is much to be said for the fact that if the option isn't there, people will be forced to come up with their own solution. For many consumers in the habit of remembering their own reusable bags, they already are, and the way to replicate this behaviour with every consumer is frustratingly simple.

As Madeleine puts it, "The best way to ensure that all retailers are providing a non-plastic solution is to ban single-use plastic bags." We can only hope that the NSW government summons the courage to be just as decisive.

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