Single-use plastics campaign singles out multinationals

Report by TEARfund UK finds mismanaged plastic waste causes a million deaths a year

Blocked waterways, toxic fumes from open air waste burning, and plastics entering the food system through soil, rivers and especially the oceans has lead to far greater consequences than previously thought.

PHOTO: Supplied: TEAR Australia

By Chris Shearer

September 9 2019A new campaign is encouraging Australians to join the global fight against single-use plastics after a new report found plastic waste mismanagement was killing up to a million people every year.

Spearheaded by TEAR Australia and its sister organisation TEARfund UK, “The Rubbish Campaign” aims to curb increasing usage of single-use plastics, which is projected to double in the next 10 to 15 years, and roll back some of the damage currently caused by what the organisations are calling the “plastic pollution crisis”.

According to TEARfund UK’s No Time to Waste report, this crisis is causing a death every 30 seconds, mostly in poorer nations, through things like blocked waterways, toxic fumes from open air waste burning, and plastics entering the food system through soil, rivers and especially the oceans.

TEAR Australia’s advocacy lead Jo Knight, who is married to Melbourne Anglican priest the Revd Dr Peter Carolane, said the report was significant because it showed the connection between suffering of the poor and plastic pollution.

“We’ve been starting to understand the environmental impacts of this waste, but this is the startling realisation of just how many deaths are now caused for the poorest of the poor by mismanaged waste, [and] that’s only looking to increase,” she told TMA.

“Around half the amount of plastic waste that we produce globally is packaging that we use just once. Production is on an upward curb for single-use plastics. So unless urgent action is taken in this, global single-use plastic production will continue to double.”

According to TEAR, it’s estimated Australia produces enough plastic waste to cover a soccer pitch every five minutes, or enough to cover the surface of the planet approximately every nine months.

“We know in Australia we are a high income country that is struggling with our own recycling crisis … If we in Australia are struggling with this we can only get a glimpse of how much of a challenge it is in developing world contexts.”

The core aim of “The Rubbish Campaign” is petitioning four of the biggest multinational plastic producers – Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, and the brands that fall under their ownership – to commit to four principles designed to reduce the impact of their packaging:

  • Report by 2020 on the number of units of single-use plastic products they sell
  • Reduce that number by 50 per cent by 2025
  • Recycle one single-use plastic item per item sold by 2022
  • Restore environments by working with waste pickers to provide employment with dignity

“If you come into your kitchen and see the sink overflowing you’d turn off the tap but you’d also start mopping up the mess. So the call for companies is we want you to be part of the solution by turning off the tap but [be] part of the clean up as well,” Ms Knight said.

Ms Knight hopes that the global reach of the campaign will help these companies sit up and take notice. “The Rubbish Campaign” is part of the global Christian movement “Renew Our World”, whose members include the Anglican Alliance, and is being run in 13 countries around the world.

“We’re seeing incredible action and take-up whether it’s from the Church and campaigners in Brazil, my fellow campaigners in India [and] Zambia, so when we in Australia step into this we know we are joining with the global Church in other parts of the world, particularly when we talk about such big issues, but also very powerful multinational companies.

“You can feel disheartened if you feel you’re just a drop in the ocean, but when you realise you’re actually working together as the global Church – and the Church is one of the largest units of civil society in our world – [you] can really use that power for good.”

The campaign is also encouraging people to think about way they as individuals and communities can reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use.

“Our commitment to people is that we will continue to journey with them and help make changes in their own lifestyle and consumption, as well as resource them to have that conversation in their church and other networks and communities to be less reliant on plastic and start to understand both from a theological point of view how our actions matter,” Ms Knight said.

“God calls us to an abundant life, not an abundance of things, and the steps we can make around plastic and consumption is a powerful part of changing the situation. But it’s also an act of worship as we start to understand what it means to love our global neighbour but also care for God’s creation.”