By Freya Wrigley

While most people would jump at the chance to label themselves as Superman, April Seymour feels more connected with the identity of Clark Kent. Last week I caught up with April after hearing she had committed to reducing her plastic consumption over five years ago. I found someone who ‘models a sustainable life without compromising [her own] lifestyle’. I imagine you, like me, are keen to know how April has done this!

April is passionate about educating Victorians about pollution, big and small, which is threatening the health of our rivers and oceans. She has plenty of scope for this in her role as Executive Officer at the Port Phillip EcoCentre.  

In her efforts to live plastic free, April is confronted with the challenge of the normalcy of plastic in our society. While she takes action individually she also has a critical systems perspective, because there is a lot of plastic making its way into our food. Legislation and policy is the systemic level change we need to reduce current pollution levels. When you look at the evidence, I think we have a problem with plastic.

In the 2018 report to Product Stewardship Act Review documented 828 million pieces litter entering Port Phillip Bay via the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers. A staggering 74% of this waste is microplastics. Microplastics are tiny bit of plastic that are created by the breakdown of plastic products and industrial waste. That means we can’t see the teeny bits of plastic – nor can fish, ducks, turtles or birds. It makes sense that this and the other pollution entering Port Phillip Bay is having a detrimental effect on the ecosystems of our waterways. What a massive incentive to go plastic free – unless we do our beaches will eventually become unswimmable.

I asked April what influenced her to become the environmentalist she is today. She told me that as a kid her Mum was really focused on doing things the cheap way – this resulted in things being reused to the max. Although her mother’s behaviour was not a conscious decision to protect the environment April finds herself teaching the same practices to her students years later.

But is going plastic free enough? April expressed her frustration about our dependence on plastic. When it comes to non-food products “plastic is often the default material for products, leaving little to no choice”. So many things from clothing to an envelope stamp contain plastic that we don’t even realise and in many cases, the plastic isn’t even a necessity.

As a consumer you have power here. If we all stop buying products that contain meaningless plastics or demand alternatives from companies I bet they will change their practices! Plastic bottles for instance. In a place like Melbourne, we have access to fresh clean water. Why spend money on a plastic bottle of water that has taken 7x more water to create the plastic bottle than the water contained in the bottle?

There is still a strong “public perception that plastic is beneficial”, April commented. She found that unless she prefaced her request for no plastic with “I’m taking this challenge” people stayed on auto pilot and accidently gave her plastic. Taking part in Plastic Free July is a fantastic way of starting the movement towards change through raising awareness and becoming conscious of our own actions.

Our governments are beginning to ban single use plastic bags and products containing microbeads. That’s a start, but what else do we want to see changed? It is the Victorian election this November, so if you want more change and less single use plastic let your local member know. Since talking to April I have investigated my toothpaste and skin products for microbeads.

Bio: April Seymore is Executive Officer of the Port Phillip EcoCentre. She is keen citizen scientist and artist, with over 15 years of community development, tech projects, sustainability leadership and school teaching experience in Australia, Ireland and the USA. April is a member of the global Waterkeeper Alliance and serves on the board of Tomorrow’s Leaders for Sustainability Inc. Her regular volunteer work includes the St Kilda Repair Cafe and urban wildlife surveys. Follow her on Instagram @AprilSeymore