S1E2 Plastic Bag Free Castlemaine

In this episode I speak to Lucy Young about her role at the HUB Foundation and their ongoing campaign to make Castlemaine a plastic bag free town. We talk about the ins and outs of running a campaign, the personal reasons behind working so hard for sustainability and what we can do to replace plastic bags in our lives.


This episode was created in 2018 as part of an eight part series called An Environment For Change. This series was supported by MAINfm and the Mount Alexander Shire Council.


Transcript:

Allie: You are listening to An Environment for Change, an eight-part series looking at some of the many people in the Mount Alexander Shire who are working to combat climate change and promote sustainable living. These are local people who are working towards changing our habits so we can all move forward into a vibrant, healthy, and sustainable future.

In this series, we’ll hear from local farmers, Boomerang Bags, Repair Cafe, local environment groups, activists, and concerned citizens. You can hear it at 9:00 AM on Monday mornings on MAINfm 94.9 or listen anytime by jumping online to the MAINfm SoundCloud page. This series was made possible by a community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire council.

Theme music for An Environment For Change plays.

In today’s episode of An Environment for Change I’m speaking with Lucy Young, who’s been working in our community for over a year with Plastic Bag Free Castlemaine. Sponsored by The Hub Foundation, this campaign has been working to engage local businesses to replace plastic bags with more sustainable options and encourage us as individuals to also adopt a plastic bag free life.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of media coverage and a lot of hoo-ha over single-use plastic bags and people’s reaction to them being removed from popular supermarket chains. Mostly what those supermarkets are doing are replacing thin plastic with thick plastic which still may only get a single use, and I don’t think that’s exactly what Lucy had in mind when she’s been campaigning for a plastic bag free Castlemaine. 

So, her campaign is still alive and active and she will be pushing for much more sustainable alternatives than the thicker plastic bags that most of these shops are now introducing to replace the single use plastic bags.

To record this interview, I went to Lucy’s home, itself a model of sustainability, a beautiful house she and her partner built out of recycled and environmentally friendly materials in an intentional community called Murnong. 

Each household at Murnong is committed to eco living and sharing land and resources. We sat in a little study and drank tea and were able to watch the activities of birds and other wildlife in the Bush land just outside the window.

Allie: Hi Lucy. 

Lucy: Hi Allie. 

Allie: What was the inception of this? What made you start doing this? 

Lucy: It was actually the Hub Foundation. So they had been aware of my work through Growing Abundance (Growing Abundance Project Castlemaine).  And so they approached me at the beginning of 2017, I think. Is that right? Yeah, 2017. So not that long ago, and asked if I’d be interested. They kind of, they must have watched—there was a program on TV at that time. It was about plastic. It was at the beginning of that time and they’re like “really? Are we still doing this? we really should… this is something that Castlemaine should be able to take on and smash.”

Allie: Smash it! 

Lucy: Yeah. Just like “we can do this.” And they had already done a little bit of preliminary work the previous year on, you know, what a campaign might look like. And so, yeah, they just rang me up and asked me if I’d be willing to do it. I wasn’t doing any paid work at that time, so, I agreed to give it a go. 

Allie: Great. And what does ‘giving it a go’– what has that looked like? 

Lucy: Well, I say give it a go because it was partly about whether or not I was willing to step into that sort of work again. Also, it was asking some questions around the place, you know, what was already happening, or if I thought it was do-able.

But it was probably mostly… “giving it a go” is probably mostly a personal question around how did I feel working on my own again, and being kind of the holder of a project as well as the instigator and all of that. So, yeah.

Allie: It’s a big commitment too, because I guess if you launch something like this and then it fizzles, it just feels a bit crap.

Lucy: Yeah. And it probably feels crap for the Foundation that’s trying to do it as well. They have a really strong track record. I say I’m the bag lady because you become very much, you know, the identity behind the project. So, when I walk down the street, people talk to me about plastic bags. They used to talk to me about Growing Abundance and still do sometimes, but it’s a small town and people identify you with a project. Well, that’s been my experience.

Allie: So, I mean, I think the name sums the project up: “Plastic Bag Free Castlemaine”, but can you tell me a bit more about what the goals are and maybe what the timeline is or what you think is achievable for this town?

Lucy: Hmm. So initially it was really… I had about eight months to see if it was aspirational, the name was aspirational. Would it be possible to get Castlemaine declared a plastic bag free town? We were aware that there are towns in this area that have that status. They’re all much smaller than Castlemaine. So, it was going to be quite, you know, it was going to be a great achievement if we could do it really quickly.

Allie: So what towns are you thinking of? 

Lucy: Ah, Thanks for the challenging question. There’s a lot in the Loddon Mallee region, mostly up north of here, I think Inglewood, but a lot of them were supported over the last 10 years by Loddon Mallee Regional Waste Resource Recovery Group. You know, they worked with the model of having a local champion who said “yeah, we want to do this.”

Most of these towns would have one supermarket, a handful of shops really, a smaller population, and also some resources behind it. So, for Loddon Mallee Waste group providing a project worker who would go and consult with all the businesses and then also offer the resources to do a trial of saying “Okay, so if we buy your paper bags, will you not use plastic bags for six months and see how it goes?”

And so most of them, of course, found that behavior change happened quite quickly. Once people weren’t offered a plastic bag, then they just kind of forgot about them. So, we were aware of that when we started, but we were aware that it would be more challenging in Castlemaine. 

Allie: So, what are the challenges specific to Castlemaine? I know that there’s a lot more shops and cafes and businesses, I guess, than just a handful. 

Lucy: Okay. I guess it’s the challenge with any project that – who are the really key stakeholders, and in this town it’s our Maxi IGA and they’ve been reluctant to go that way. So, we’ve toyed with different ideas. Loddon Mallee Regional Waste was certainly in favour of us just declaring it plastic bag free and see what would happen as a result of that which is…

Allie: The social pressure, do you mean?

Lucy: Yeah. So, a strategy that they’ve used in other towns is, you know, they might have 80 or 90% of people on board and there’ll be a couple of stragglers. So, they’ll just go ahead and launch and the others will jump on board because they don’t want to be left behind. Yeah, and we decided not to not to do that in Castlemaine. 

Allie: Is there a reason why? 

Lucy: We did a survey and it was, you know, we just had a team of volunteers who went in and just surveyed anyone, they didn’t pick the people. And it was about 85% of people supported a ban, even though they might’ve been carrying plastic bags at the time, they said “If they don’t offer them to me, I won’t use them. I need something to push me over.”

And so that was, we were fairly confident that the result of that had integrity. There were about 140 people interviewed. As I said, they weren’t selected. And there were an additional, equal amount online which may have been more self-selecting, so that data might’ve been slightly skewed, but we’re fairly confident. And we know from the media and from other towns that basically most people in the population want to, in inverted commas, “do the right thing”. And so, if asked and if encouraged and if supported, most people know that plastic bags are not good for the environment and the creatures living in it, including us. And so would be happy to go along with it. 

I think actually in this case, the main factor that means that to date we don’t have plastic bag free status is actually that the state government has said that they will introduce a ban. Whether or not that ban has integrity remains to be seen. And over the coming weeks, we’ll find out what it looks like. 

Allie: So, when did they announce that. 

Lucy: It was in October last year. So, a few things happened around the time that the campaign took a break. One was that on the eve of the Greens’ bill to institute a ban in Victoria…

Allie: So, across the state, no plastic bags. 

Lucy: Yeah. And it also had extended to microbeads and a range of other plastics. So, on the eve of them announcing it being voted on in parliament, the Victorian government announced its own ban and then the following day voted down the Greens’ ban.

So, at that time, actually what they successfully did was take all the energy out of all the campaigns around the state, which some as cynical as me might say that this was a successful shutdown of the campaign. Having said that they announced the ban and then they announced… 

Sorry, I’m just a little distracted by the beautiful little bird sitting out the window! 

Allie: It’s gorgeous. Do you know what sort of bird that is?

Lucy: I think it’s a yellow-rumped thornbill. It’s gorgeous.

Allie: It is, it’s a little ball of fluff.

Lucy: Laughter. Yeah. So, they announced the plastic bag ban sometime this year and then they released a survey, and so they were inviting all Victorians to have input into the survey. And 8,000 people did have input into it. But when I read the survey, which was asking all sorts of questions about what Victorians thought about how it should be dealt with, basically. But they also had a whole lot of supporting documents and the supporting documents were fantastic. To my mind, I thought they already know the answers they should be producing. So anyway, to cut a long story short as to how this relates to the campaign, it did kind of put a blanket on energy because we knew that businesses that were reluctant in particular, our large supermarket would say “Well, why would I do something now, and put my business on the line? If I’m going to have to do it, I’ll just wait, thank you very much.”

And that’s effectively what it did. There was a big “Yay. Victoria is going to ban plastic bags.” Which, incidentally, I’ve got an article here somewhere that shows the great announcement, about 2007, that the Labour government said that they would be banning plastic bags and we’re in 2018. So, it’s kind of a well-worn strategy. ‘Cause people go “Yay, job’s done” and…

Allie: Forget about it. 

Lucy: Forget about it. And so also at that time, the other IGA changed hands. So, the people that I was negotiating with there and were very on board, suddenly they weren’t there anymore. There was a new owner who was not wanting to go out on a limb. They’ve since subsequently changed that, so they’re about to do that.

But I guess what I’m talking about really is the, you know, just the intricacies and the politics of relationships. You know, trying to build up relationships with people and the effect that it has when they move on. And so, when you’re looking at that broader social change, there’s always going to be, you know, key players.

And in this town, actually, the one that I’ve worked most consistently with is the Castlemaine Fresh (Castlemaine local green grocery store). They get lots of feedback from customers and they listen to them, and they know that people want to do it but they also don’t want to. Interestingly, they don’t want to do it alone. Partly because they’re aware that it might have some backlash on their business. But actually they also recognise that there’s advantage in what I was going to say earlier was coming back to this sense of town pride, or sense of a town being able to make a difference that could be gained from everybody doing it at the same time.

Allie: So, I know that Castlemaine Fresh do things like, they always have a pile of boxes behind the counter so people can take a box if they haven’t brought a bag. And they’re also supporting Boomerang Bags by having the box of Boomerang Bags out the front which may or may not be full of bags for people to take but at least they’re offering that as a thing. So, they’re trying to find solutions for people too, which is great.

What do you think the best solutions are for people instead of plastic bags? Because there’s two things that people say to me when we talk about losing plastic bags. One of them is “what will I use as a bin liner?” And the other one is “oh, I can’t be bothered remembering to carry bags around everywhere with me.”

What would you say to people who were saying those things? 

Lucy: Well, what would I say? I think the bin liner one is, I usually say “why do you need a bin liner?” And then I often talk about my own bin which is, like most people’s bin, a plastic bin, which occasionally gets grubby and I wash it.

And the reason it only occasionally gets grubby is because I don’t put compostable things in there. I put them in the compost or the worm farm because actually the organics in landfill is one of our biggest problems. It’s, you know, it creates something like 40% of the methane, which is a really, really harmful greenhouse gas. So that’s something that the council has been quite good at encouraging people not to put their organics in there.

I do understand that there are some things. Meat seems to be one of the hardest things because people don’t want to put that in their compost. Some really hardcore people might, you know, bury it in the garden or… But if people have anything dirty to put in a bin, I would suggest, I usually suggest that they put that, either wrap it in newspaper if they have some, to keep their bin clean, or use any other number of wrappers that we have like an old pasta packet or an old bread bag, or other of those things that we just have that are going to be put in the bin and most people’s bins are full of plastic bags of some sort or another.

And I’m not saying that those things should be in the bin because we’ve got a whole lot of other options now but the question of do you need a bin liner is just a—I’ve kind of adopted this thing that I can’t put into words, but if I don’t put it into words, it’s just kind of like: people need to kind of go “eh”. And I guess what that is, even as I’m trying to put it into words, is just taking a sideways step and going and having a look and saying “how can I do this differently?”

And so, a lot of the things that we’re focusing on now, like putting signs up around town, you know, the “dash and stash” or this “smug and love” just these kind of catch phrases are really just kind of reminding people to stop and think that it’s not very difficult, but I also know that it’s difficult to make a change.

And we do live in a world that is very fast and furious, and doesn’t really encourage people to think. So, a lot of campaigning now I think is about trying different ways to try and get people to stop and think, because I think it’s not that they are not in support of change or doing the right thing as I would say, it’s that it just involves a little stop and a pause and a sideways glance.

Allie: Yeah. Do you get feedback from people who have switched to reusable bags or canvas bags or other bags, about what the differences are and how it feels to use those bags instead of the plastic bags? 

Lucy: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the positive feedback loop that can be enabled if people are doing something that is in line with their values.

So, if we say broadly that people want to live with care in the world, then when they make a change, like stop using plastic bags, because most people know that it’s not sustainable and then start doing the other action, then it does feel good and psychologically, and in our bodies, it feels good.

And we feel… if you run into me in the street, you feel proud because you’ve got your bag and not a plastic bag. That’s a small-town effect. Yeah.

And so, I think, you know, people feeling good about the way they are in the world is, you know, is what happens. And that’s because it’s in alignment with people’s values around living with integrity, living with meaning, making a positive contribution towards the world they’re living in.

And all of that can be had in one little bag.

Background piano theme music with Allie speaking over the top. You’re listening to An Environment for Change on Main FM 94.9. This morning, I’m talking to Lucy Young about her campaign to make Castlemaine a plastic bag free town. I want to ask Lucy at this point in our conversation exactly why plastic bags are so bad. We all kind of know it, but it’s nice to know why.

Lucy: In Australia, we currently consume somewhere around; the estimates are around 5 billion plastic bags a year. It’s an enormous amount. Although I do believe there was some horror when Woolworths and Coles released their estimates on what they were using because it was far more than what people like Clean Up Australia, who currently provide those sort of stats, had estimated.

I think it’s interesting also to translate that into local terms. It’s estimated that we use about 10,000 plastic bags a day in this Shire, which is just mind blowing. I do know from speaking with the big IGA that they use a minimum 2000 per day. I would be interested to know whether or not that’s changed in the last 12 months but we don’t really have any way of estimating that other than anecdotal, and a number of retailers have told us that they’ve noticed a big difference in the last 12 months for a range of reasons. Since we’ve been running, and I think also it’s become more a mainstream issue as well with the War on Waste (Australian Broadcasting Corporation television series) and things like that.

In terms of why plastic bags are an issue, they’re an issue on a number of levels. What some of the authorities say is they last up to 1000 years in the environment. There are a range of different plastic bags, labelled degradable, biodegradable, oxy-degradable and there are problems with all of them.

Oxy-degradable, that were brought in as the environmental solution, are possibly one of the biggest problems because they are designed, they have a chemical additive that makes them likely to break down very quickly. The thing is that they actually don’t break down. They break up. So, we’re probably all familiar with the plastic bags left in the sun and they turn into little pieces and they’re just getting smaller and smaller pieces, they don’t actually go away. They do become like dust, but they’re still there in the environment that they’re for us to breathe in. They’re there for animals to ingest. They are a big pollutant.

From an intuitive point of view. I can’t say that I would choose to drink or eat plastic. And there’s evidence now that a lot of our bottled water, actually our tap water as well, has plastic in it because it’s in the atmosphere. Once it breaks down, it’s in the wind, it’s everywhere.

Allie: So, this is on the same level as what people who are worried about microfibres and microbeads and all that sort of stuff. It’s the same level of like, it becomes tiny, but that doesn’t mean it goes away. 

Lucy: Correct. It doesn’t go away and it’s not only—one of the most heavily promoted polluting aspects of it is with our marine wildlife, because there’s those terrible images that are around of, you know, whales washing up and just full of plastic, of, you know, chicks starving because their well-meaning parents are feeding them plastic when they’re collecting it from the ocean, mistaking the different colours for different fish. Those heartrending stories and they’re really, yeah, really disturbing.

There’s also other wildlife that, you know, land-based wildlife that has been affected. One of the issues with promoting, or we don’t promote the use of biodegradable bags because they will inevitably end up in landfill. And actually, because they’re biodegradable, they will contribute to methane gas because it’s essentially like putting compost into landfill. There is no solution other than taking your own bag and using it again and again, and again, and again. Laughter

Allie: I feel like climate change and global warming and catastrophic effects potentially in the future for us all is just so large and overwhelming that people are like “I don’t even know what to do. I’m just going to keep living my life because I don’t even, I don’t even know what to do.”

And I feel like at least getting rid of plastic bags and trying to find other ways of transporting and packaging things and all of that stuff is something that’s really tangible for people.

Lucy: Yeah. One of the reasons that the plastic bags have been targeted by, I guess, the waste groups and other campaigners, is that it actually seems to be the low hanging fruit. It’s the stuff that can be achieved. So, it’s hard to sometimes not get frustrated when you think “Why is this not easier?”

Yeah. But you’re right. It’s something very tangible. And I think that it’s really important that we do have those small actions and bring it back to what we can do because I think you’re right that it is quite overwhelming. I think that it’s completely underestimated the mental health effects that the knowledge of climate change that, you know, this entire, well, many generations, has now and particularly ours and anyone younger, I think the stress of living with that knowledge is…

Allie: A looming threat that we can’t actually do much about because it’s global and it’s about industry and governments rather than our own little lives. 

Lucy: That’s right. Yeah. I think we can do things and I think we have to do things. I guess one of the things that keeps me involved in local and community projects is that belief that, you know, governments can’t do it and corporations won’t do it. And so, we’re the ones that have to do it and we have to lead from the ground. And I know that that’s, you know, that’s complicated and I have absolute admiration for people that can continue to work at a campaign level that’s dealing with government and policy.

I think it needs to come from both directions but I guess my own way of sustaining myself in the world is to, you know, to use it, that phrase “to be the change”. And I do think that’s the most powerful thing that we can do. 

Allie: So, I feel like, and I might be living in a little bubble, but I feel like a lot of people have just accepted that climate change is really a thing. I know there’s  sort of stalwarts of resistance in the community, like… Why do you feel like there’s so much resistance at the corporate and government level to doing everything we can to combat climate change.

Lucy: Because there’s profit in it. And I don’t think that there is much resistance to the knowledge that climate change is real.

I think there’s, that’s kind of the other edge of the 1%. It gets far more airplay than what it should. There really isn’t any question around climate change. That’s my well researched belief. But I think that there are definite forces at play that keep, you know, feeding that doubt.

I don’t really have any great theories about how that corporate dominance continues to be enabled but I guess I do think that it’s mostly about people’s brains being switched off. That it’s, partly, it’s too big. “How can we deal with it?” That stuff that you were talking about. So “actually I’ve just got to live my life”. You know, people talking about living in the real world. I think the real world in that sense is just our lives, what we can deal with. And so, I think that there are very clever marketers in the corporate world that keep us disempowered.

To be counter cultural, which is to step outside of the usual ways of doing business is, you know, takes energy. And when you fill up people’s lives with television and social media and all these things, then there’s not a lot of time left to do anything else. 

Laughter

It’s really hard to talk about the corporate dominance without people putting you in a box of you’re “one of them” that, you know, believes, you know, you’re a conspiracy theorist or otherwise, of dismissing beliefs around that.

But it’s the same thing. I don’t think that you actually find many people now that don’t believe in corporate dominance and that, you know, large corporations with a lot of power are making a lot of really fundamental decisions and clearly they’re not being made by people who feel a really strong connection to the earth and the suffering. 

Allie: So, at what point in your life did you start getting involved or did you start seeing that the environment was important and needs help, and that you would want to spend your time and energy trying to do what you can to help the environment and combat climate change and all that sort of stuff. What was your personal story? 

Lucy: I think it was after working in the public service in my… after I finished school. I had a really good job. I was a manager in the public service and I realised that I didn’t fit there. And the reason I think I didn’t fit was because I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how things could benefit people on the other end of the phone.

So, for example, you know, like back then we had paper files and you could just shuffle a file down if a person was annoying. I felt like I was surrounded by people who didn’t connect with the person at the other end of the phone as having a difficult story. That was the Motor Accident Board back then, or the Transport Accident Commission.

So, people were ringing up that had accidents and needed income support and sometimes it could take months to get that sorted out. And at some point I just thought “I can’t do this anymore” and not because I didn’t think the work was important or I enjoyed aspects of it, but I felt like I was surrounded by people that didn’t care or who were switched off somewhat.

And so, I went overseas for a number of years and then I came back and did a social work degree and it was probably… It was a combination of traveling overseas, I guess I kind of got to see other places and I didn’t even necessarily spend time in wild places, but I guess I felt connected to a bigger sense of the world after that.

I can’t say that there’s any point in time where I suddenly became, you know, like a “greeny” or an “environmentalist”, and I still probably don’t see myself as that. I probably see myself more as, you know, connected to people, and then recognizing that people are really dependent upon the Earth. So that’s probably something that I’ve connected with much more, probably only in the last 10 years, even though I’ve done a lot of environmental work before then, it was connected to seeing what was good for people.

If that makes sense. I’m not sure it does make a great deal of sense. 

Allie: No, it does. Do you feel like we can still do an awful lot to change things?

Lucy: I can have very dark moments, and I think that I have had an increasing realisation that those moments are about grief for a future that I believe is about catastrophic circumstances.

And particularly when I connect that to, you know, having children and wondering what their future will be. You know, a number of the things that I’ve done over the last few years when I haven’t been well, and I think not being well is, you know, part of this very thing that we’re talking about; working really hard and knowing that in the background that maybe… 

It’s not that I don’t think there’s a point, because I think we all have lives and we need to make sense of them somehow and want to create meaning of our lives. And so, I think the only way that that can be done for me is to work in an area that I think where my life has some integrity and meaning.

And I don’t absolutely have a sense of knowing about the future. It is very fear-based. I know it’s not irrational fear either. And I think it’s important that we do actually come to terms with the grief of that so that we can be as alive to do what we need to do.

I attended something recently where it was put very plainly that the world really needs us now to be awake and to make changes as quickly as we can, and to also bring our children into that connection. Not to the catastrophic future, but in connection with the earth and connection with themselves. Because if they don’t do that work now, in the future it may be, if they’re dealing with survival, there’s not necessarily the luxury of connecting to themselves and to their community.

So that sense of building community and supporting our young people to be connected to a strong sense of self is the luxury that we have right now. And so I feel quite passionate about that as well.

But it was a real wake up moment when I had this person that I really respect, you know, just name that, that the young people today or you know, maybe their children are not sure, you know, may well be dealing with survival. So, there’s some stuff they need to sort out before then.

Background music with Allie speaking over the top. You’re listening to An Environment for Change on Main FM 94.9. This morning, I’m talking to Lucy Young about her campaign to make Castlemaine a plastic bag free town.

We’re going to have a chat to Lucy about what the best options are for replacing the single use plastic bags, and also, where to rom here for the campaign.

Allie: Can you talk to me about a lot of the reusable long-life bags that are actually made of plastic? Can you talk about whether they are actually more sustainable than using single use bags in terms of how much plastic is used and what happens? Because I’ve heard people say that they’re not more sustainable in the end because they don’t actually last that long and they do get holes in them and degrade, and you only get maybe 50 uses out of them and the amount of plastic used in them is the equivalent of 50 plastic bags anyway, so… 

Lucy: Part of the problem in deciding what is the most sustainable choice or the best choice in terms of bags is that the studies I’ve looked at, I’m not comparing and not using all of the data, and the data analysis that they don’t seem to take into account is the effect on the natural environment. They do in terms of CO2 emissions in production, the problems with the end of life, whether or not they break down, how many times they can be used, what water is used in their manufacturing, and calico bags use a lot of water compared to everything else. But they can also last a lot longer.

So, the biggest difference for me, and what we promote is the calico bags, or actually the absolute best option is the boomerang bags or any bags made out of upcycled fabrics, reclaimed fabrics. Yeah, not fabrics that are used new. So they’re either destined for landfill or they’ve been old bedsheets, something that’s upcycled is the best option.

And from our point of view, the next best option is something like the calico bag or the hessian bag or something that breaks down without causing problems at the end of its life cycle. Because the data that I see that governments have relied upon all over the world have not got any way of quantifying the effect on the natural environment.

And that’s something that actually is not in anyone’s bottom line for many of these decisions that, you know, what is the effect on the ecology if we destroy our marine wildlife? What is the effect on the ecology of this plastic everywhere on the environment? It’s a really big question that I, we know in our gut that the effect is terrible, but I don’t see it being reflected in the research about what our options should be.

And the thing with cotton is of course, where you grow it has a large determinant on how bad, shall we say, that it is. Water is a problem worldwide, even though some places like Bangladesh, we would struggle to think about water being a problem there because they have those massive floods, but the research says that water is the biggest problem.

And so you certainly can’t think of the cotton-based bags as a replacement for single use, they are a different item. They are multiple use bags. And I think the research says something like they need to be used over a hundred times to make up their shortfall. And most of them will, that’s not even a third of a year.

And most calico bags will last at least that long. The fact is that a lot of the bags that Woolies and Coles and now switching to that are a thicker micron plastic bag, which is what we moved away from. And they’ve gone backwards in producing thicker plastic bags that take longer to break down, use more resources, and they’ve now put printing on the side saying “this is a reusable bag”. And they charge anywhere between 10 and 20 cents for the bag is hardly any disincentive at all. So, it’s very disappointing and I’m quite cynical about it. I do believe that they’ll be making profits from the sale of those plastic bags.

Allie: I was at Green Goes (Green Goes the Grocer, Castlemaine organic specialist store) the other day and I’m pretty sure they haven’t had plastic bags in years. 

Lucy: They’ve got a box somewhere. They have, but they never give them out. 

Allie: But what I found interesting was when I was up at the counter, she didn’t say, she didn’t just assume, or she didn’t ask. She just said “And how would you like to carry this?”

Lucy: Yeah!

Allie: And like, that’s a great way because it makes me go “This is my problem to solve. It’s not the shop’s problem to solve. How am I going to carry this?” And I asked for a box and she had a box and that was great.

What’s the future of this project? How long do you see it going for? How far along are you in the, in what you think the process is?

Lucy: Yeah. Well, it’s not been a linear process by any stretch of the imagination because, probably because plastic bags, as I said, were seen to be the low-hanging fruit. So, we haven’t achieved that status yet. But we do know from anecdotal feedback from a number of retailers that they’re only giving out about a third of the amount of plastic bags. And it’s not only about our campaign, it’s become very much something that’s in the media, but we’re also, you know, we’ve gone sideways into soft plastics. 

Allie: You mean soft plastics, recycling?

Lucy: Yeah. And also just bringing awareness. So that’s all the packaging that, you know, your pasta pack, everything that food is wrapped in.

We know now it’s much more well known that that is recyclable as well. Having said that, we very much focused on the reduce aspect of things, because whilst things are recyclable plastics, unlike aluminum or glass, it’s only ever down- cycled. Glass and aluminum can keep going forever, whereas plastic degrades, and usually recycled plastic can’t be used for food again. So, it’s not really a very recyclable product, but it’s still better than going into landfill to recycle it.

Yeah. So, we’re doing a lot of stuff with the soft plastics. We recently supported the container deposit scheme and we’re working on issues with, just generally around waste. Working with the local council, for example, to get them to try and change over their doggy bags to be biodegradable, but not only biodegradable, if you use a biodegradable bag or a compostable bag, it’s really just like a plastic bag unless you compost it. So, it’s not just a matter of switching to compostable bags, it’s a matter of setting up a compost system to deal with them.

We keep kind of going in anything that’s to do with resource recovery or waste minimisation have kind of got the green light to go into.

But having said that this is an issue much bigger than an individual foundation and the Hub Foundation has been supporting it to date as they’ve supported so many projects over the years. So, we don’t have an end date at this point, but if a really good ban comes into Victoria, that could be a good exit time. Yeah, We’re not sure if that’s going to happen.

The ideal is that Victoria does introduce a container deposit scheme and a ban that includes bags, microbeads, straws, and single use plastics. And that there’s a really strong educational campaign behind that to support retailers and consumers to easily make that change.

We don’t really think that’s likely. So, yeah, it comes back to that cultural change. And as we know, it’s already had some effect in Castlemaine.

Allie: So, the verdict is the cloth bags that use upcycled or repurposed fabric are the only truly sustainable solution to disposable plastic bags. You’ve been listening to me, Allie Hanly speak to Lucy Young who has been managing the Plastic Bag Free Castlemaine campaign for over a year now.

Tune in next week to hear me chat to Ginny, who is the founder of the Castlemaine branch of Boomerang Bags who do use repurposed and upcycled fabric to create reusable shopping bags.

Theme music for An Environment For Change plays.

You have been listening to An Environment for Change, an eight-part sustainability series made possible by a community grant from the Mt. Alexander Shire Council. You can listen to this and other episodes of this series on the Main FM SoundCloud page. 

My name is Alison Hanly. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

Transcription by Robyn Walton

Note: Saltgrass is produced to be heard. Some elements of the podcast may not translate easily to the written word. We have also chosen readability over strict fidelity to the actual words spoken. Human speech relies on tonality, rhythm and emphasis to give meaning to phrases that may seem fragmented on the page. Some mannerisms of speech are also perfectly acceptable to hear, but awkward on the page, eg. repeated words, filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘you know’. As such, we have not transcribed every word and have sometimes altered the text to keep the meaning true, but also be as readable as possible. 

Our transcripts are created using both speech recognition software and human transcribers, and though we do our best to avoid errors they may occur. Please check the audio before quoting in print.

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