Why You Can’t Fail at Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July started last Saturday, and enthusiasm for the challenge is everywhere! Yet a week or so into the challenge, we all start to see the cracks. We leave our reusables at home. We can’t find an alternative for that thing we really need. We forget to refuse a plastic straw. We return home triumphantly with cardboard packaged items, only to discover that the cardboard outer contains a sneaky plastic inner.

These things happen, and we think we’ve failed.

Even worse, we think we’ve failed…and we think there’s no point continuing.

Well I’m here to tell you, that isn’t true! There’s no such thing as “failing” with Plastic Free July. There’s every reason to keep going.

Here’s why you can’t fail at Plastic Free July.

1. Plastic Free July is about creating awareness.

If you’re anything like me, before you first realised that plastic is everywhere you probably didn’t notice it much at all. Plastic Free July was my wake-up call.

I’d never actually looked around me to see what plastic I was using, where it was going, or what all the litter I’d see in the streets or on the beaches was actually made of.

Plastic Free July is about changing habits. The first step in changing habits is realising that there’s a problem, and realising that there’s a better way. Plastic Free July does both of those things. It creates awareness, and that leads to changing habits.

Nobody can fail at “being more aware”. We might not be able to act on this awareness straightaway, but awareness is the first step to making change.

By being more aware, we’re starting the journey.

2. Plastic Free July is about changing habits – and changing habits takes time.

After creating awareness comes changing habits.

If you were going to learn the guitar, would you expect to master it after picking it up once? No. If you’re planning to lose weight, do you expect to have reached your target after eating one salad? No.

Plastic free July is no different!

A few weeks ago, our lack of success wouldn’t have even been on our radar. We might not have have thought twice about the plastic straw, or the plastic bag, or the plastic packaging. The fact that we are now means that we’re making progress.

Yes, change can feel uncomfortable and that is part of progress, too.

All these things will help us do better and make better choices next time!

3. Plastic Free July is not about all-or-nothing.

Plastic Free July is about attempting to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. ‘Attempting’ is the important bit! How can we fail at attempting, unless we give up?

There’s no “must”, it is simply about trying new things, exploring alternatives and changing habits.

Can’t find milk in glass? Or you can’t think of a practical way to pick up dog poo without plastic? Or the local council insists that we put our landfill waste in a plastic bag in the bin?  Each of these are just one obstacle, but there are plenty of other places where we consume plastic that are very easy to make a switch.

Don’t focus on the stuff you can’t change. Pick some of the other things that you can change, instead.

4. Plastic Free July is a journey, not a destination.

There are no awards at the end of Plastic Free July for who got there fastest. Of course, the less plastic we use, the better for the planet (especially single-use plastic). But change takes time, and honestly, if you’re completely new to plastic-free living and reducing waste, it takes longer than 31 days.

If you’re completely new to plastic-free living, you’ll likely have a lot of ingrained habits to rethink, and a lot of changes to make.

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, I honestly think it took me 18 months to reduce all my plastic. Some things I didn’t even need to tackle for the first year. For example, I had so many plastic-packaged products in my bathroom that it took me about 18 months to use them all up.

Time isn’t important. What was important for me was the journey –  all the things I learned, the missteps, the trials and errors and changes that I adopted to where I am now.

I have no doubts that some people can (and will) get there faster. Others will take much longer. Plastic Free July is about starting the journey (and hopefully continuing it) – not finishing it in 31 days.

5. There’s no such thing as failing.

What is failing, anyway? I looked it up, and I found this definition. “Failure is the neglect or omission of expected or required action.” What does that mean? It means giving up!

If you neglect to try, then you fail. Keep on trying and there is no way to fail.

Which means the only way to fail is to give up, and go back to your old ways.

That is not the same as not being able to do everything. It is not the same as deciding that some things are too hard, for now. It is not the same as slipping up, or forgetting.

Failing is not the same as having expectations of ourselves which come up slightly short against reality.

Success is never a straight line!

Plastic Free July is a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge! On the flipside, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if there wasn’t a little bit of difficulty. It wouldn’t feel like such an achievement if it wasn’t without trial.

So yes, Plastic Free July is a challenge, but oh so worth it. Success always tastes a little bit sweeter when we’ve had to work for it.

If you think you’ve failed at Plastic Free July, take it from me, you haven’t. We’re only a few days in! There’s plenty more time to look for alternatives, build on our experiences, refuse unnecessary plastic and do better.

No “get out of jail cards” or permission slips to give up from me! We’re all here to support each other, help with conundrums, and cheer along from the sidelines.

Believe me, you got this!

Okay, confession time – who here has been feeling like they’ve failed? Is there anything particular you’re struggling with? Please share and we may be able to help! On the other hand, who feels like they are “winning”?! What tips do you have to share? Any advice from seasoned veterans doing Plastic July for the second, third (or fourth or fifth) time? What would you say to newbies? Any other thought to add? Please share below!

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44 replies
  1. a zero waste warrior (Kristy)
    a zero waste warrior (Kristy) says:

    Love this, Lindsay…and very much aligned with my recent thoughts on how to make zero waste living less intimidating for those who are new to it. No such thing as perfection…just give it your best shot! And any perceived “failure” is just another opportunity to learn. Bring on the “failures”!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Kristy! Yes, it does not need to be intimidating at all – and big change is simply lots and lots of little changes added together! If we focus on small solutions and slow steps, we can get there. Looking at the end from the start, and it can feel much more hopeless – and it really isn’t!

      Well, maybe don’t “bring them on”, hehe! ;) But yes, agreed – failures and simply opportunities for next time.

  2. Jane
    Jane says:

    Brilliant post! I am joining in with the challenge but one thing which grieves me is the fact that I am having to use eye drops which come in single use minims each made of plastic and encased in a little plastic package. These I then return to the pharmacy for disposal but what do they do with them I wonder?! I am to have an injection in my eye next week and am hopeful that this will mean I no longer have to use the eye drops! However your post has made me realise how many other things I am succeeding with so I will not feel downhearted and as one of our ads (for a supermarket which I never visit!) here in the UK says “Every little helps”! I will keep trying to reduce what I had thought was quite a plastic free lifestyle but now see has much more plastic in it than I realised.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thank you Jane! Don’t beat yourself up about medical necessities – I think that’s completely fair enough! As you say, think of all the other things that you can do and will do and actually do. Like you say – it can be a little eye-opening… but with all those “problems”, many will have solutions. Keep going!

  3. Emma Frame
    Emma Frame says:

    Love this! I’ve been collecting all my plastic waste in a bin, and watching it add up despite my best efforts is a bit frustrating. I just goes to show how ubiquitous plastic is. But, to your point, how full would that bin be if I had no awareness of my plastic usage at all? Quantifying it is making me realize, however, just how much of a difference very decision makes. It all adds up very quickly! Knowing this will enable me to make better choices in the future.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thanks Emma! The first year we did Plastic Free July, we were encouraged to keep a “dilemma bag” of all the plastic we couldn’t avoid during the month. And despite our best efforts, we filled that bag! But the month before, we would have created many times more, popped most of it in the recycling bin and thought we were doing great.

      Change is a slow process, but it will happen if we persevere! Keep on, you can do it!

  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    This is my first Plastic Free July challenge though in reality I started about 2 months ago. Funnily tonight we went into Woolworths not expecting to, and I had shopping in my reusable bag that I keep in my handbag from shopping at lunch time, and we commented how I have failed Plastic Free July today. Of course I have not given up, and I did feel bad because I had been going so well. This is a great article and a good reminder that anything we do is a positive step to helping our environment.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      No failing, Jennifer! As you say, everything we do is a positive step towards helping the environment. And a backwards or sideways step is not the end (or the end of the world). These things are never straight lines. Next time you’ll remember, or be more prepared. Focus on the positive things you’ve done, not the one slip-up!

  5. Angela @ Setting My Intention
    Angela @ Setting My Intention says:

    This is my first plastic free July and it has already raised my awareness about how we consume plastics. I’m focusing on single use plastics but my awareness is growing! I’m a big believer in step by step changes and my motto on my blog is “progress, not perfection!” Thanks for your great tips and encouragement!

  6. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I needed this post. On my desk is a to go cup with a plastic lid and straw. Old habits are so hard to break. But, I have been using my reusable bags at the store and shopping the produce stand and package free-stuff at the grocery store in the produce section. What my daughter uses I cannot count since this is for me to do. I have a glass jar on the counter for the produce stickers and she asked me what it was for. I told her and she asked if she could put her candy wrappers in the glass jar. I said, “Yes”. It is the little things that I hope will make an impression on her. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Glad to have helped, Wendy! You are so right – doing something one way for years (decades even!) can be hard to undo overnight. It’s all about habits, and unlearning habits isn’t always easy. But know that with practice you get better and it gets easier. Sounds like you’ve already made some great changes, and with time you’ll be able to add more to your routine – and no doubt some of your new habits will rub off on your daughter :) We are all cheering you on from over here!

  7. Diane
    Diane says:

    I have stopped using plastic bags in green grocery section and only some veges. It’s great having loose fruit and veg. I have replaced my tupperware cannisters with wonderful glass jars that show me clearly what is in them and keeps my food fresher. When I shop I take a fold up shopping bag instead of using store plastic bags. Challenge is to use all of my plastic wrap them use glass jars or casserole dishes with lids to store food in fridge. I just change one habit at a time and I am from the ‘throw away’ generation!

  8. glenda pitman
    glenda pitman says:

    So so so true. I went through an “all or nothing phase” early on but then shifted to cementing one habit change at a time and I have stopped bashing myself if I slip occasionally. I can now look back over all the incremental changes I have made over the last few years and be pleased. With each change that becomes a new habit I am loving how simpler shopping choices become and how I become more ready for the next issue to solve. With each Plastic Free July I feel ready to take it all to another level still. So thanks Lindsay for all that you do to encourage and inspire

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Glenda, thanks for sharing this – you’ve put it so perfectly and I hope other newbies reading this can identify with your story, and see the wisdom too ;) I couldn’t agree more about looking back – it’s a great feeling, and it also feels kind of seamless when we look back, I find. Somehow all the struggles and frustrations have melted from our memory!

      And yes, the more we do, the more ready we are for the next challenge!

  9. geraldine Bagwell
    geraldine Bagwell says:

    I have failed already ! I do shop at Supermarkets bec of price; buying some things on special etc, allows me to spend more on other things, ie free range eggs. Bought carrots on special, pre-bagged! oh dear !! I do often buy carrots un bagged = higher price. on the plus side I started using my old fruit/veg bags years ago (kept them in old sock to take with me, not using new one each time). Now use homemade net vegie bags after buying huge net curtain for 50c form op shop !! so I’m good sometimes !!

  10. Janet Holttum
    Janet Holttum says:

    No bulk buys here. I get veggie from box delivery each week but even they send some stuff in plastic bags. I feel I can’t win. Try to make biscuits,pies and cakes myself but even then the marg comes in plastic tubs. Used to be able to get hard marg in greaseproof wrapper but everyone seems to have stopped selling it. Pulling hair out. Feel I’m going backwards!! But I’m not giving up, will keep trying.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Don’t pull your hair out, Janet! Some suggestion about the marg: how do you feel about butter? A few brands sell in paper. Or look up recipes that don’t use butter or marg. For example, lots of carrot cake recipes use oil instead of butter/marg, and other cake recipes do too. Olive oil cake is a thing! If you look up vegan cookie recipes, you’ll find that there are some great alternatives too, things like mashed banana, or tahini. I find it quite fun to experiment and learn about new ingredients. But be warned – hours can be lost on the internet, browsing! ;)

  11. sarahn
    sarahn says:

    SO I went to a talk to Thursday night in Sydney about reducing waste/plastic and they had one of your images (and credited). You really do keep popping up lately and I feel like I’m on the inner circle for some weird reason, cause I read your blog and you reply to comments. LIke… you’re famous now :p

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      You are in my inner circle, Sarah! You’ve definitely been there for all the trials and tribulations. And I know what’s in your kitchen cupboards (or do I mean your freezer?!) and you definitely know what’s in mine! Plus you’re gonna cook me dinner when you’ve nailed some recipes ;)

      Who gave the talk? Just being nosy, of course. Love how the zero waste / less waste message is getting more and more mainstream!

      Here in Perth we have an expression – Perthonality, hehe :p Probably because Perth’s fairly small and it often feels like everyone knows everyone. Actually, I did have a “famous” moment last week. The WA government announced that they were going to introduce a plastic bag ban, and Channel 9 news called me to ask me if I’d come in and be on the breakfast news, giving my opinion about it! It was a 30 second clip – on live TV… Pretty surreal experience, but pretty cool also. I don’t have the footage (and not sure I want to watch it – cringe!) but definitely a life experience I didn’t think I’d ever have!

      • sarahn
        sarahn says:

        Her name was Susana Sanmiquelcurtichs (or there abouts), and it was a free talk, she does one next Thursday too. I was a painful ‘guest’ or audience member, as I have read a lot, and experienced bokashi fails! I didn’t want to discourage anyone, but I also want to keep it real.

        You go, you Perthonality! So proud that it’s getting out there, it really makes it feel so much less niche! I can’t believe how long I’ve been on this journey – and like your post, you can’t fail (sometimes, I just fall back – but there’s many habits that are ‘for good’ now).

  12. Kaisa Hirvonen
    Kaisa Hirvonen says:

    It felt good reading this because I totally thought I had failed because I’ve used one unnecessary plastic bag and a disposable spoon. And because I realized that I need to get some food items in plastic so that my diet wouldn’t be too restrictive. But I thought that it would be stupid to just give up and this post made me feel even more sure about it! Thank you Lindsay, you’re a great support and an inspiration :)

  13. Sheree
    Sheree says:

    Thank you for this post, it’s all about keeping on going isn’t it. I felt like I failed because I didn’t make it to the bulk food store (40mins away) so I’m still shopping at the local supermarket. Also when we went to the snow we left our water bottle in the car & had to buy a drink for the kids to share in a plastic bottle. However, I have been to the local farmers market, been more aware of purchases such as buying olive oil in glass not plastic, using my own bags & reusing all veg bags I had or buying loose, just trying to continue with some changes & keep on making more as I go. Thanks for the boost! Love the journey not a destination.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Sheree, yes it is a journey, and such a rewarding and interesting and eye-opening and satisfying one. And it takes time. As soon as you have one habit tucked under your belt, start on the next thing. You will look back in a few months and marvel at how far you’ve come – even if it seems like a huge slog at the time!

    • Louise
      Louise says:

      Hi Debbie, Most Asian grocers sell loose Tofu in firm blocks, they are usually in tubs at the back of the store in the fridge, you just choose how many blocks you want. They supply plastic bags of course, but I take my own container as they sell it by the block not weight.

      • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
        Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

        Hi Debbie, I agree with Louise about the tofu. I actually went in on a big bulk order of tempeh with some others – we ordered 20kg in total, and I got about 2kg. I gorged on it! Especially when I discovered it could be eaten straight fro the freezer without thawing!

  14. Christine Anderson
    Christine Anderson says:

    Thank you Lindsay for your emails over the last month. I think I’ve probably been a little smug in thinking ‘” Oh yeah I’m doing that already”, but you have shown me other areas in which I can certainly improve. Now I need to also direct my attention to my workplace,which is an absolute minefield of single use and plastic items. This is going to be a challenge, to say the least.

  15. Rebecca Slaughter
    Rebecca Slaughter says:

    I’m reading this as I need some encouragement while traveling in Crete right now. There have been many failures, as when I’ve asked for water or coffee in my Kleen Kanteen and they put it in two plastic cups and hand it to me to pour into my bottle. And just how everything, EVERYTHING is packaged in plastic.


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