Plastic Free July challenge comes to Launceston

Trish Haeusler twirls a standard ballpoint pen in her hand.

“This pen will outlive me,” she says.

Not necessarily its usage or purpose, but its imprint on the earth.

Made of hard plastic, it could be 500 years before it has broken down.

For 20 years, the Launceston woman has noticed the growing prevalence and normality of plastic in everyday societal transactions.

As a teacher with an interest in environmental science, she’s walked students along beaches that are littered with discarded plastic.

This July, she wants people to think more about their plastic consumption, for Plastic Free July.

Ms Haeusler said it was not about overhauling one’s way of life, but taking small steps to reduce their plastic consumption.

“During July, we’re going to try and give people little tips,” Ms Haeusler said, who started the Facebook page Plastic Free Launceston.

“It’s about taking responsibility for all these plastics that you buy.

“When you buy something now, you think, ‘Where will this end up? This is going to be about much longer than me’.”

She said an easy place to start was with the big four: plastic bags, plastic straws, coffee cups, and bottled water.

It’s estimated that Australia uses 6.9 billion plastic bags each year, and about half of those are plastic shopping bags.

And they may seem small and inconsequential, but more than 10 million plastic straws are thought to be used in Australia every day.

The debate around reusable coffee cups has been hot lately, and not out of the blue – Australians use one billion a day.

And despite our level of drinkable tap water, Australians bought more than 726 million litres of bottled water in 2015.

So how do we tackle the “big four”?

It was as simple, she said, as saying no, or asking for an alternative.

“It’s about showing people that there is an alternative,” Ms Haeusler said.

“When you buy something, make it known that ‘I’m interested in buy this, but could you sell it to me like this?’, or just maybe going without.”

She’s been spreading the message throughout the community, running workshops in schools, and talking to businesses.

“Talking to businesses, that’s been really interesting,” she said, and added that part of the program was instilling a positive approach, rather than a guilt-inducing or shaming technique.

She said that, once again, it came down to making people pause to think if the plastic they’re about to take on is completely necessary.

“[I’m talking to businesses about] how about during July, rather than automatically doing something, wait for (the customer) to ask for a straw, or plastic bag,” Ms Haeusler said.

“Or, just say that you’re trying to cut back, and ‘Would you prefer not to have a bag or straw?’.

“It’s about changing behaviour.

“There’s this belief that you can’t live without plastic bags, when people did for a long time.”

It’s not about making life harder, but just have a look at what you’re using daily, and just see if there are a few things you can replace

Trish Haeusler, Plastic Free Launceston

Ms Haeusler said the recent War on Waste series on ABC  had prompted more people to think about the after-life of their rubbish.

When it comes to reducing the use of the “big four” single-use plastics, Ms Haeusler said the alternatives were obvious and easy.

Bring your own bag to the supermarket, or so no to a single-use plastic bag if offered.

Say no to the plastic straw when ordering a drink.

Invest in a keep cup, and take it to your local caffeine haunt.

The same goes for bottled water – invest in your own hardy water bottle, and take it with you.

Ms Haeusler said that once people started to think about the amount of plastic they use once, twice and throw away, they were startled at their usage.

“It’s not about making life harder, but just have a look at what you’re using daily, and just see if there are a few things you can replace,” she said.

“We can get people to be confident to say ‘I can’t buy that’ or ‘Can I have that in a paper bag?’.”

She encouraged people to talk to friends, family, and colleagues about their plastic use, and easy ways that it could be reduced.

“C’mon, how about we give this a try?,” is the tried-and-true line she recommends.

  • Plastic Free Launceston will kick off the month with an event at Harvest Market in Launceston on Saturday.

“I feel like I’m constantly reliving this terror every night, and no matter what I can’t find a way to calm myself down.