Urgent call to strip 'high-risk' everyday items from Australian shelves

Can you guess how much more plastic we'll be producing by 2040? The answer might shock you.

Everyday products like balloons could soon disappear from supermarket shelves, to help stop the world doubling its plastic use by 2040 — But that's not the only item facing the axe.

Balloons are just one of many items added to a list of “high-risk” and “unnecessary” plastic items that World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) believes the world needs to ban. Also being targeted are:

  • Disposable vacuum filters

  • Single-use vapes

  • Plastic Q-tips.

Kate Noble, a plastics expert with WWF in Australia, believes many of us aren’t aware that products like cigarette filters, disposable coffee cups and even some tea bags can contain plastic. “Wet wipes are another classic example. There’s much higher awareness in some countries like the UK which have had a number of enormous 'fatbergs' clogging up their sewerage systems.”

Left - empty shelves in a supermarket. Right - a child looking up at the shelves in a supermarket. She is next to a trolley.
To protect the next generation from the world's addiction to plastic, WWF is calling for some single-use products to be banned. Source: Getty (File)

While banning these everyday products might seem confronting, the alternative is our beaches and streets being overrun with plastic. In April, Yahoo used AI to illustrate how Sydney and Melbourne could look in 2050 if plastic use continues to skyrocket.

Why is the call for a ban happening now?

WWF is advocating for the bans ahead of United Nations plastic pollution treaty talks in Paris later this month. The conference will involve 175 nations and create a binding agreement by 2024.

The charity has released three reports that set a framework for banning and phasing out many common household products.

In 2019, the world created around 353 million tonnes of plastic and less than 10 per cent was recycled. The talks have been organised because people are literally choking on plastic, and it’s impacting our health and fertility. Plastic is in our food, water and even the air. There’s even a new disease in seabirds that’s been linked to plastic.

Does Australia need to worry?

Embarrassingly, Australia isn't even able to recycle its soft plastics. The country is one of the world's biggest per-capita users of single-use plastics, and only recycles around 14 per cent.

What plastics are on the ban list?

There are around a trillion microplastic particles, and so WWF wants them banned in products like cosmetics and toothpaste. It also argues plastic cutlery should immediately go, because there are viable alternatives already in production.

What plastics are on the phase-out list?

WWF wants to see these items phased out by at least 2035, or reduced to a minimum. It believes setting a clear target will prompt industry to innovate alternatives that can be reused and recycled.

  • Single-use food and drink packaging

  • Unnecessary plastic items

  • PPE

  • Tyres and textiles

What if we don’t ban these plastics?

Between 2003 and 2016, the world produced more plastic than it did throughout the entire 20th century. Predictions for future plastic use are dire — in just 17 years this is what the world will face:

  • Global plastic production will double.

  • Plastic leaking into the oceans will triple.

  • The total volume of plastic in the ocean will quadruple.

Left - a boy flexing his muscles and holding heaps of colourful balloons. Right - a girl outside blowing a bubble.
Is Australia ready to give up balloons and use bubbles instead? Source: Getty

What would a world without balloons be like?

While you might be thinking banning products like balloons would upset children, Ms Noble believes there are simple alternatives that are just as much fun, but far less harmful.

“Science tells us balloons are one of the deadly deadliest soft plastics when they get into the environment because they’re frequently mistaken by wildlife or food,” she said. "But there are alternatives like bubbles which are magical, and don't have anywhere near the same kind of impact.”

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