Plastic is plastic: A greener alternative to reusable bags

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Single-use plastic waste is mounting in the oceans, and being dumped on beaches. 

By ALEX McKENZIE

The removal of single-use plastic bags from the major supermarket chains is a step in the right direction, but it won’t fix the plastic problem, an environmental alliance says.

Boomerang Alliance, an Australia-wide association of 47 environmental groups, said the removal of the bags from Coles and Woolworths stores this month did provide a greener alternative to single-use bags.

But the group’s deputy director, Jayne Paramor, said the replacement bags offered were still mostly made from plastic-based fabrics.

“The heavy-duty plastic bags are just putting more plastic into the ocean because they are a heavier concentration,” Ms Paramor said.

“The only benefit that comes from using a heavier bag is that they generally will have a price tag associated with it, and people tend to be more careful with things they have spent money on.”

The reusable bags Woolworths offer. Photo: Woolworths

The four new reusable bag options available in Woolworths are: a heavy-duty plastic bag for 15 cents made from at least 80 per cent recycled plastics; their new “bag for good” for 99 cents which is made from non-woven polypropylene fabric;  a foldable bag for 99 cents made from polyester fabric; and a chiller bag for $2.49 made from a mix of foam, foil and non-woven polypropylene fabric.

All their reusable bag options can be recycled, except the chiller bag.

Ms Paramor warned consumers not to throw reusable supermarket bags into the washing machine, as tiny plastic fibres enter into the ocean, absorbing toxins that can build up in animals.

“We are seeing evidence of the dangers that it’s causing to marine life and it’s not such a big relief to assume that the same sort of effects are likely to happen to humans if we continue to consume,” she said.

Boomerang Bags Co-founder Tracey Scharenguivel, sews the donated recycled fabrics with other volunteers, to create reusable bags for the local community. Picture: Alex McKenzie.

“As the toxins that accumulate up the food chain are likely to be in quite high concentrations by the time they reach our dinner plates.”

Boomerang Bags is a community-driven movement that provides consumers recycled fabrics as an alternatives to plastic bags – a more environmentally friendly option for shoppers than plastic.

Ms Paramor said the Boomerang Bags – made from natural fibres – had the ability to biodegrade, unlike plastics.

“The cottons and calicos eventually break down and return to the environment,” she said.

Co-founder of Boomerang Bags Bayside Tracey Scharenguivel said they were saving the planet in two ways – “because we are not using plastics and because we are using fabrics that would otherwise go to landfill”. 

“All of our fabrics are doona covers, sheets, pillow cases, tablecloths and curtaining, and if we aren’t going to use it, where is it going to go? It’s all going to op-shops and if it has got a mark on it, they will just throw it into landfill,” she said.

Boomerang Bags Bayside started one year ago and is one of 610 Boomerang Bags communities to help reduce plastic pollution in the local area. Photo: Alex McKenzie

Ms Scharenguivel said Boomerang Bags Bayside had saved about four tonnes of landfill to date.

“We have had a huge response to people wanting to sew or wanting to help or wanting to use the bags. At last count on our Facebook group we had almost 500 members,” she said.

Ms Scharenguivel said they had a “huge spike” in sales of the handmade bags since the Woolworths announced the date of their plastic bag ban in early April.

“Now people are understanding there is not going to be any plastic in any of the supermarkets, I think they are being a little bit more environmentally aware that we should not be using plastic bags,” she said.

Boomerang Bags Bayside has made more than 2000 bags in the past 12 months.

Black Rock Woolworths Metro store manager, Rob Carruthers, said that while their store had started to sell Boomerang Bags, he did not believe it was enough to compete with the supermarket giant.

“Boomerang Bags will never replace the bags sold at Woolworths,” he said.

Woolworths declined to comment if more stores would sell bags made from recycled materials.