Remember those photos of the gorgeous Mindil Beach sunsets during the dry season? Crowds of people head to Darwin’s most iconic beach for a beautiful picnic by the ocean. Well, after the crowds leave, single-use use plastics like cutlery and containers don’t always make their way to the bin. They stay on the beach and ultimately enter the ocean, threatening turtles and other marine wildlife.
As a regular volunteer at beach clean-ups, I’m still very often confronted with picking up bottle lids, plastic forks, straws, spoons and containers along the Darwin foreshore. The last Sea Shepherd beach clean ups were done around Mindil Beach in November, and East Point in October 2020, and many of these items were still found lying around.
Currently it’s monsoon weather in Darwin and our beaches are showing an increase of marine debris. This is no coincidence. A lot of the torrential storm water is transporting plastic litter around, entering pipes and drains and ultimately our oceans.
What happened to the City of Darwin Plastic Wise campaign of 2019?
As January 1, 2019, Darwin Council officially banned single use plastics from all events held on Council land including markets. However, two years later at the Darwin regular all-year markets, a lot of plastic has sneaked back in after COVID-19 hit, and once in, we are back to the “plastic business as usual”.
In 2019, I was part of a fantastic initiative by Waste Free NT and the Environment Centre NT called the Wash Against Waste community hub, which encouraged people to “hire” some reusable utensils to use at the markets, and to be brought back and rewashed just after, so as not to create any waste.
The COVID-19 outbreak brought a halt to these community activities, but this doesn’t mean that we have to completely drop the ball and go back to using plastic the same as before just because it is cheaper?
There are now plenty of alternatives on the market for plastic-free, single-use catering solutions, like edible ice-cream spoons, home compostable banana leaf or cassava plates etc. So we can still, and should go back to being “plastic wise” even during the pandemic, especially as the NT has been luckily spared community transmission.
Such options are readily available at supermarkets or shopping centres, so there’s no excuse for plastic, not even for your private birthday party.
South Australia’s ban on single-use plastics to start in March
On a very positive note, South Australia’s ban on single-use plastics started this week on March 1, and their government is currently launching “Replace the Waste”, an education campaign to help businesses and the public prepare for the changes. South Australia is leading the country as last September it became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to ban the sale, supply and distribution of single-use plastic products such as straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers.
The Victorian Government announced last Saturday that it would ban single-use plastics by 2023. This includes single-use straws, cutlery, plates, drink-stirrers, expanded polystyrene food and drink containers, and cotton bud sticks.
Coles has also announced it will no longer sell single-use plastic tableware in all stores from July 21.
Will the Northern Territory be next?
We are lucky to have some of the most wonderful and pristine coastlines of Australia, but we are also at risk. As reported by the ABC in 2019, the inundation of plastics into East Arnhem Land is starting to have a disastrous impact on the region’s sea turtle population. There are signs that turtles have been forced to change their nesting habits because of the excessive plastic waste on the beaches.
It’s well known that a lot of this waste is coming from Indonesia and from fishing boats, but this is not a reason to stop the fight against single-use plastics. On the contrary, residents on both of both sides of the Arafura Sea should be educated on this issue, and efforts have been made with the NT’s Indonesian consul in 2019.
The urgency of COVID-19 crisis will go one day but plastic stays forever, and our children and the future generations will bear the consequences.
A new way to live
For all these reasons, I created an online platform to help people live with less plastic and find plastic free alternatives, or products made with upcycled materials, such as ocean waste. A useful A – Z recycling directory is also available, to find out what to do with items that would otherwise go to landfill.
The I’m Plastic Free website brings together ethical and sustainable Australian small businesses and connects them to consumers. through a one-stop guilt free marketplace.
We’ve become a very wasteful society, but COVID-19 or not, the world is changing and our future must be circular; we need to reduce, refuse and recycle more to curb the plastic tide.
Simona Paganetto is the founder of I’m Plastic Free and runs her own marketing consultancy and e-commerce business in the Darwin region.