Trying to live plastic free: 'People are waking up to the state of the earth'

Tathra resident Lawrence Geoghegan has been attempting go live plastic free through July. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
Tathra resident Lawrence Geoghegan has been attempting go live plastic free through July. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

It seems nowhere on the planet is immune to plastic pollution. Within three seconds of walking onto Tathra Beach, local resident Lawrence Geoghegan, who is attempting to live as plastic free as possible during July, almost stepped on a discarded plastic bottle top, and he says it's everywhere.

The keen ocean diver said he has seen large amounts of dumped fishing gear and discarded plastic bottles off beaches from Bermagui to Eden for as long as he can remember.

"We see our environment here as pristine, but the plastic is hidden," the 51-year-old said.

"If you go to Tathra Wharf, and go diving, there's plastic fishing line everywhere."

He once spent two days clearing plastic from below the iconic tourist attraction.

Even during a trip to Antarctica a decade ago, he said the landscape was littered with blue strapping plastic and plastic buoys.

"That's about as remote as you can get, and it just makes you look at everything that you're using. We really have to stop using single-use plastic," he said.

Discarded plastic collected by Tathra's Lawrence Geoghegan during a short walk at Picnic Point in Mimosa Rocks national Park. Picture: Lawrence Geoghegan

Discarded plastic collected by Tathra's Lawrence Geoghegan during a short walk at Picnic Point in Mimosa Rocks national Park. Picture: Lawrence Geoghegan

Plastic Free July is a campaign led by the Plastic Free Foundation, and it is Mr Geoghegan's love for the ocean that drew him to attempt the challenge. Over 120 million people across the world took part in the challenge last year.

Founder of the Plastic Free July challenge and one of the world's leading plastic waste experts Rebecca Prince-Ruiz said the initiative aims to connect consumer's purchase choices to the plastic pollution problem.

"The growing movement of people refusing single-use plastic sends a signal to business and government that expectations are changing," she said.

Despite this, Ms Prince-Ruiz said global plastic production is projected to increase by 40 per cent over the next decade.

While Mr Geoghegan said some forward planning made the first few days of the challenge "easy", he was quickly forced to think up alternatives to plastic, and learn some handy home manufacturing techniques.

Since the the first synthetic plastic, known as Bakelite, was produced in 1907, it is estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, with more than 100,000 marine creatures found dead and entangled in plastic each year.

Subconsciously you just buy it, because everything is in plastic.

Tathra resident Lawrence Geoghegan

Mr Geoghegan said there has been a lack of leadership on how to combat the plastic issue in Australia.

"We can all make our own difference, but governments and companies need to do something. The state of our recycling in Australia is that it's almost non-existent," he said.

"China doesn't want our plastic anymore, because their environmental policies are changing.

"There's an awareness coming, but there's no leadership on it, and I'm not waiting for government or big business to do it.

"Individually we have a duty to leave this planet in a better state than we found it.

"I really think people are waking up to the state of the earth in general though," he said.

Results from the most recent Australian Plastics Recycling Survey found 3.4 million tonnes of plastics were consumed in Australia during the 2017-18 financial year.

Of the 320 000 tonnes of plastics collected for reprocessing, 54 per cent was exported for reprocessing, and the national plastics recycling rate was 9.4 per cent.

The federal government has admitted "consumption of plastic has increased exponentially", adding it is "supporting industry to design more sustainable solutions and recover materials before they enter the environment to reduce waste and litter".

"While plastic and packaging recycling in Australia is well established, only 14 per cent of plastic is recovered for recycling or energy recovery," the department of environment and energy said.

In Victoria, local councils have begun sending tonnes of household recyclable material to landfill after processor SKM closed its doors last week. In response, a Parliamentary Budget Office analysis found a proposed plastics recycling plant would cost the government $52 million to establish, and would bring a net gain of $166 million over the next ten years.

Even a can of beer has plastic lining in it.

Tathra resident Lawrence Geoghegan

According to Sustainability Victoria, the energy saved by recycling one plastic drink bottle would power a computer for almost half an hour.

Mr Geoghegan said most of the plastic he has come across has been purely marketing material attached to product packaging - especially through the human food chain and its suppliers.

"Subconsciously you just buy it, because everything is in plastic," he said.

"You would be living a very humble life if you were plastic free, and I think if we all made an effort we would naturally lower consumption. Have a look at products first, don't just pick it up and take it."

He said consumers should leave all their single-use plastic at the shop, creating an incentive for retailers to not stock plastic packaged goods.

"Why can't these companies take responsibility? All the responsibility falls on us," he said.

Sharing his experience online has meant his friends from across the globe have been able to give advice and even try going plastic free themselves.

"Everything I've used plastic wise I've contacted the company's customer service line about, and let them know about alternatives," he said.

He has even inspired one friend from the United States to "make more" at home, rather than "buy more".

"Even a can of beer has plastic lining in it. My almond milk had plastic lining, so now I know what a nut milk strainer is.

"The problem is our quick and easy lifestyle. We can just pick up food wrapped in plastic so easily. It's our craving for things like plastic bottles, forks and plates. It's just cheap and nasty at the end of the day.

"With everything we are finding out, it could all be too late," he said.