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Christiane Brunner, AT

Member of Parliament

A life without plastic – is that even possible? Christiane Brunner – a member of the Austrian parliament, spokesperson for the Green Party in environmental, energy and animal welfare issues, chairperson of the environment committee of the Green Party’s parliamentary club – tried it out for herself and found that, to a certain degree, it is.

Goodbye PVC – hello plastic-free living. You conducted the experiment on yourself to find out whether this can be done. What conclusion did you come to?

First of all, it must be understood that the best way to deal with waste is to avoid it. That’s the chief principle in dealing with waste, but is it actually put into practice in real life? I don’t think so. Increasing numbers of plastic bottles on the shelves of supermarkets, a plethora of waste incineration plants – these are the results of lacking or misguided waste management policies. Austria boasts a large number of environmentally conscious consumers, but it’s certainly not easy for them. I conducted the experiment on myself and tried to avoid buying any plastic for 30 days. My conclusions: Living without plastic is hardly possible. Certain applications – such as medical equipment, certain pipes, etc – do make sense. Nevertheless, we are caught in a tidal wave of plastic and cutbacks are necessary/obligatory in many areas. And it is indeed possible to do without plastic in our day-to-day shopping, but a change of habits is necessary. Someone quickly doing some last-minute shopping will find it hard to avoid plastic, as not all of us have a wholefood shop or a natural cosmetics store around the corner. And that’s exactly where politics comes into it!

Not only politicians, surely, but also consumers?

Yes, consumers can make quite a big difference – by always having their own shopping bag at the ready and a glass bottle for drinking in between, and by taking along their own container for their purchase in order to avoid packaging. But plastic is also used for rather unnecessary applications that consumers can’t really avoid. Books that are wrapped in plastic film; CDs in plastic cases, which are in turn wrapped in plastic film; biscuit boxes in which each biscuit is wrapped individually; magazines that are sent by post and also have additional plastic packaging – who hasn’t found all of this maddening?

What are your specific political demands?

Did you know that each Austrian citizen throws away one to one-and-a-half times his/her body weight (82–85kg) in plastic and rubber waste? We must curtail this flood of packaging, and in order to do so, political framework conditions are necessary. We need a waste prevention plan! It must be our top priority to produce as little waste as possible. It is vital to reduce the volume of non-returnable packaging and disposable items. As far as I’m concerned, it is unacceptable that people are allowed to use as much packaging material as they like. A clear framework is necessary . First steps  could be a CO2 footprint or a resource tax. More work is necessary to carve out the details. Another possibility is waste prevention legislation. Waste prevention must be put back on the agenda in Austria – as a top priority.

Speaking of packaging …

Just as the best available technology is prescribed when it comes to production facilities, a law could be passed prescribing the most environment-friendly packaging possible. We will also be talking to experts on a regular basis about a possible solution and continue to work on it. And of course my former demands still stand: a mandatory quota of reusable packaging, needs tests with regard to waste incineration, labelling of packaging materials and accountability of manufacturers. The producers of packaging materials must assume responsibility for the effects of the substances they use. And consumers must be informed of what is in the packaging and what effect these substances have. It is common knowledge that plastic is highly detrimental to our health. For me, it is a matter of course that people have a right to know and to decide whether or not to buy a certain product. In the foods sector, in particular, labelling is desperately needed!