5 Tips to Get Prepped For Plastic Free July (and Living with Less Plastic)

Plastic Free July comes around on the 1st July and for the entire month of July, millions of people across the globe try to avoid as much single-use, unnecessary and wasteful plastic as they can. It’s a pretty amazing movement, built on the idea that we can all do something, and if we all do something, that can bring about huge positive change.

To say I’m a fan of Plastic Free July is a bit of an understatement. I first took part in 2012 and I’ve written about it every year since. It changed my entire world view and led me down the path to zero waste and working in the waste education space. (And in a wondrous circle of events, led me back to working on the Plastic Free July campaign and being on the Plastic Free July Foundation board.)

Who knew refusing a few plastic bags could have such a considerable life impact?!

To get ready for Plastic Free July this year, I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

First Up – Sign Up!

If you’re taking part in Plastic Free July this year, sign up to the official campaign! You’ll find the form over at www.plasticfreejuly.org. (If you haven’t done so, head over there and do it now. I’ll wait. Yep, I’m still here. Done? Great!)

Signing up means that you’re counted, and that matters. Plastic Free July works with businesses and government organizations across Australia and beyond, and being able to say “people care about this issue. This is how many people signed up to Plastic Free July this year” is powerful in influencing future policy.

The recent WA plastic bag ban here in Australia came about in part because of the success and interest in Plastic Free July.

We all want positive change, and when we join together we create a movement… and movements drive change.

Don’t Stress About the “Stuff”

Over the next 31 days there will be lots of plastic-free wares on display, as people share things they find and companies share things they sell. Be careful not to get too overwhelmed in the “stuff”.

If we will use something often and can see the value in owning it, it is a good purchase. If it is shiny and plastic-free and on sale, that isn’t such a great reason to buy the thing.

Of course, reusables are the way we avoid the single-use disposables. I have reusables that I love and carry with my every day. But I didn’t buy them all in the first four weeks.

There is no such thing as a standard plastic-free “kit”. The things I carry around with me won’t be things that everyone needs. There are other things that other people consider a necessity that I don’t.

Pay attention, see what is around, check out different products but don’t feel like you need to buy anything today. (If you’d like to see what’s in my handbag, I’ve shared it – but only to give you ideas. It is not a shopping list!)

The thing about change is that it’s hard, and buying stuff is easy. Yet we buy things and feel like we made progress. It isn’t about the stuff. It’s about new habits.

If you do decide to buy something, ask yourself honestly: do I need it? (This is not the same as want!) Will I use it? Is it worth it?

Get one thing, make it a habit and then move onto the next thing. The less money you spend during Plastic Free July, the more you’ll enjoy the challenge. Promise.

Be Gentle with Yourself

In the same way that we don’t learn to play the guitar overnight or lose 10kg overnight or learn Spanish overnight, we do not go plastic-free overnight! Finding solutions take time. Creating new habits take time.

Allow yourself time… to look, to learn, and to make mistakes. When you go to the supermarket, allow extra time to walk up and down the aisles with new eyes and see what is there that you never noticed before.

Take time to look and find out if there are bulk stores, farmers markets or health food shops locally, and go see what they have to offer.

When you’re leaving home in the morning, take a few extra minutes to check you’ve planned for what you’re doing… will you need a reusable coffee cup? Water bottle? Shopping bag?

f you run out of time, or forget, don’t beat yourself up. Change is a process.

Be gentle, and give yourself time.

Set Yourself Reminders

We don’t remember everything in the beginning. We haven’t developed those habits. They will come in time – in the same way that you never leave your house without your shoes or keys, eventually you’ll add reusables to the list.

But in the short term, help yourself out! Write yourself little notes and pop them by the front door, or by your shoes, or the keys. Put them on the dashboard of the car. Put reminders in your phone.

Create visual cues whilst your subconscious is still working on memorising your new habits.

See Mistakes or Problems as Opportunities and Dilemmas

When we start, we make mistakes. (Hey, 7 years down the track I still make mistakes! Just less, hopefully!) Don’t see this as failing.

See it as an opportunity to learn and do things differently next time.

In the old days of Plastic Free July we used to encourage people to collect all their mistakes and plastic purchases and keep them in a “dilemma” bag. It’s not something we talk about today, but many people still find it useful.

The dilemma bag is a way to keep your plastic during the month, and rather than feeling bad about it, use those items as where to try to implement change.

Keep what you accumulate, and then one thing at a time, begin to look for alternatives. Whether it was because you got caught out unawares (how could you plan differently next time), or a product you couldn’t find plastic-free (are there other shops you could investigate) or it was simply because you had a bad day (and we all have those too!), use these dilemmas as clues for doing things differently next time.

Want More Tips?

There’s plenty more about living with less plastic in the blog archives, but to stop you feeling overwhelmed at where to start I’ve put together a brand new free eBook with 9 tips for living with less plastic. I’ll also send you my latest posts (published weekly) with more thoughts on living with less waste.

I’ve talked about reusables a little in there, but I’ve also talked about some other simple swaps you might not have considered.For the last couple of years, I’ve also run a free daily challenge over on social media where I share a tip a day. If you’d like to follow over on instagram or Facebook, I’d love to see you there. Plus if you’d like the tips to keep, I’ve packed them all into a mini PDF eBook.

If it’s your first Plastic Free July then I wish you a fun and enjoyable challenge, and if you’re returning for another year then I hope that this year is your best yet. As always, be sure to share your tips and tricks and wins and a-ha moments with us!

We are in this together! Happy Plastic Free July 2018!

A Guide to Plastic Straw Alternatives (+ Encouraging Venues to go Straw Free)

When it comes to reducing our personal plastic use, and also tackling plastic pollution, it’s not a case of targeting everything at once. For most people that’s overwhelming and a recipe for giving up.

A more realistic approach is choosing one thing to focus on, or maybe a couple of things, and work towards making these changes before embarking on the next thing.

Rethinking single-use plastic items (and particularly plastic packaging) is a great place to start. These kinds of items always feature in the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups and litter pick-ups. They create a litter problem because they are lightweight and easily escape into the environment.

They are also items that are easy to avoid or replace. There are usually multiple solutions.

One of the top 10 items found in litter pick-ups and beach clean-ups is plastic straws. When we are trying to reduce our plastic footprint – and encourage others to do so – tackling plastic straws is an easy first step.

Plastic Straws are Not Recycled

One plastic straw might seem small, but it’s the quantity that is used that causes the issue. It is estimated that Americans use 500 million plastic straws daily.

Typically plastic straws are made from polypropylene (PP, plastic #5) or less commonly, polystyrene (PS, plastic #6). Polystyrene isn’t always the white, fluffy looking stuff – that’s actually expanded polystyrene. Straws use the non-expanded type, which is also used for coat hangers and bread tags, is coloured (or black) and looks nothing like the white version.

Plastic straws aren’t easily recycled. Partly this is because they are made from a plastic that isn’t commonly recycled. They are also too small and light to be separated successfully with machinery at the Material Recovery Facilities.

Even when polypropylene and polystyrene is recycled, it’s generally mixed with virgin (new) plastic to maintain the quality, so it’s not a closed loop.

Plastic Straws Can Be Refused

The great thing about plastic straws is that they can be refused. It’s literally as simple as ordering a drink and saying “no straw, please”.

Reusable Straw Options Exist

Reusable straw options exist, in glass (toughened glass that is similar to that used in Pyrex), metal (usually stainless steel) and bamboo. Different lengths and widths are available; which one is best is personal choice.

Personally I like the feeling of glass over stainless steel, but I do carry a stainless steel straw in my reusable cutlery set as it fits.

Cleaning brushes are just as readily available to remove debris.

(If you’d like to invest in a reusable straw, you might find my worldwide list of independent ethical online stores useful.)

Increasingly, venues are providing reusable straws for their customers rather than single-use disposables. These tend to be glass or stainless steel which can be sterilized. As with all kitchenware, these will be cleaned thoroughly and sanitized between customers.

Venues Can Provide Single-Use (Plastic-Free) Straws

Banning plastic straws is not the same as banning straws altogether. Banning plastic straws does not mean discriminating against people who need to use straws because they are elderly, frail or have mobility issues.

Banning plastic straws doesn’t mean that those few drinks that really work better with a straw (frozen drinks or fresh drinking coconuts) are off the menu.

Single-use alternatives that are plastic-free include FSC-certified paper straws, bamboo straws and straws that are literally made from straw. (Straw – that’s what straws were made from until plastic took over. Hence the name!)

Some venues provide multiple options: this cafe in Paros, Greece offers both bamboo and stainless steel reusables for its customers, as well as single-use straw straws.

Single-Use Straws by Request Only

Many venues are beginning to recognize the waste and litter created by straws, replace their plastic straws with non-plastic alternatives, and/or offer straws by request only. Venues deal with hundreds or thousands of customers every day, so one venue deciding to go straw free can have a real impact.

As individuals, we can change our own personal habits, but we can also try to encourage our local cafes, restaurants and food vendors to join the movement. Consider approaching your favourites and asking if they’d consider removing plastic-straws.

There are a number of groups working to encourage more businesses to get on board. Three that map out participating vendors are:

The Last Plastic Straw (USA)

The Last Straw (Australia)

Straw Wars (UK)

Tackling Plastic Straws is a Conversation Starter to the Wider Issues of Plastic

The thing I love about the plastic straw problem is that solving it really requires very little effort on our part. It doesn’t require changing habits or even remembering to bring reusables. It starts with saying “no thanks”.

But at the same time, it’s a powerful way to begin the conversation with people who might not know about the plastic pollution issue, or who haven’t given much thought to the burden of single-use plastic.

Every time we say “no thanks”, we have an opportunity to talk about why. We can talk about why we are avoiding single-use plastics – whether it’s to use less resources, to reduce litter, to protect the oceans, for health reasons, or because we simply love a challenge. We can talk about the alternatives to single-use plastics. We can share success stories and examples.

We have the power to change our own habits, and we have the power to influence others. We can influence by leading by example, and we can influence by beginning conversations. That’s how we spread ideas; that’s how ideas become movements; and that’s how we bring about change.

Plastic straws are just the beginning. That is exactly where we need to start.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you use a reusable straw, or simply go without? If you prefer reusables, do you have a favourite type? Are there any cafes near you that offer straws only on request, or offer reusables for customers? Have you noticed the awareness rising over the last few months? Please share your thoughts below!

5 Ways to Line a Bin without Plastic Bags

With plastic bag bans increasing, and the awareness around the issue of plastic pollution growing, it seems that plastic bags are on the decline. Which is great news, except it begs the question… what is a good alternative to use to line the rubbish bin?

How to line a rubbish bin without a plastic bag is one of the questions I’m most frequently asked.

As with many of these plastic-free dilemmas, there is more than one solution.

How To Line a Rubbish Bin Without a Plastic Bag

1. Use No Liner At All

This might not work for everybody, and it usually isn’t the first step, but have you considered not using a liner at all, and simply rinsing out the bin between uses?

The first question to ask is: what is actually going into my bin? Is there food scraps and stinky stuff? Or is it just dry, clean non-recyclables like plastic packaging and mixed-material products?

Typically the average household bin is made up of 40% food waste. That’s the wet, gross bit that makes our bin icky. If you can separate your food scraps and dispose of them separately, there might be no need for a bin liner.

If you’re not ready to set up a compost bin, find out if there’s anyone in your area who already has, and who is willing to accept their neighbours (i.e. your) food scraps. There’s a free directory at sharewaste.com.

If you’d like to set up a worm farm (these are great for small spaces and can be kept on balconies or indoors) you can DIY your own with old polystyrene boxes or invest in a purpose-built version like the Hungry Bin.

If you already compost or worm farm, but still produce meat and fish products that you don’t want to compost, you can actually bokashi them (here’s some info about how bokashi bins work). The resulting fermented bokashi contents can go in the compost.

Whilst you’re getting a food waste recycling system set up – or if you just don’t have the energy for this at the moment – and you have space, consider using a large yoghurt tub with a lid / lidded bucket to collect food scraps and keep in the fridge or freezer until bin day, and empty these directly into the external bin.

2. Line Your Bin with Newspaper

When I first went plastic-free in 2012, I switched from using plastic bags to line my bin to using newspaper. I received a free community newspaper in the letterbox every week. If you don’t get the newspaper yourself, ask friends and family, neighbours, workplaces or cafes.

This is how I did it:

Using old newspaper means repurposing something already in existence, and no new plastic is consumed.

(This is how I started; next I focused on how to recycle my food waste to reduce the wet stuff, and then I went liner free.)

3. Line Your Bin with Other Repurposed Materials

If you have large paper bags, old cardboard boxes or other packaging, consider using these to line your bin (or to replace your bin). You might find it possible to empty the contents into an external bin and reuse the vessel again.

With all paper and cardboard, it is better to recycle than to compost, and to compost rather than to landfill. However, repurposing something that has already been used is better than buying something new.

4. Line Your Bin with Certified Compostable Bio-Based Bags

Something I often wonder about purchasing brand new bin liners: why would I buy something brand new with the sole purpose of putting it in the bin?

But I did it myself in the past, and we all start our journey somewhere. If you’re not ready to compost your food scraps, don’t think the newspaper method will work for you, and really want to use a purpose-designed liner, then certified compostable bio-based bags are worth considering as a transition step.

The labels “certified compostable” and “bio-based” are important. Plenty of products exist that say “eco friendly” and “green” but don’t (or can’t) back up their claims. If you want a better option than fossil-fuel based plastic, look for these two terms:

Bio-based means made from plants, not fossil fuels. Sometimes they are called plant-based, cornstarch or PLA. They are still plastic, but not made from fossil fuels.

Certified compostable means that the product has been tested and is proven to break down in hot composting conditions. Certified home compostable means the product will break down in a home compost bin.

To ensure the bags you pick are certified compostable, look for these logos:

However, certified compostable does not mean they will break down in the environment, or in landfills, and no compostable plastic has been shown to break down in the marine environment. They are just as capable of creating litter and harming wildlife as regular bags. As with all single-use items, they use a lot of resources to manufacture versus their useful life. Their main advantage is that they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Avoid oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable bags, as these are plastic bags made with fossil fuels that have an additive which means they break down more quickly than regular plastic bags – into microplastic. These are considered by many to be worse for the environment than regular plastic bags.

5. Line Your Bin with Recycled Plastic Bin Liners

If you really need to use plastic, then consider using recycled plastic. The higher the recycled content, the better.

There is so much plastic already in the world, and only 10% of it has ever been recycled. The more we can do to re-use what exists, and stop producing new plastic, the lower the environmental burden will be.

Plastic bags were only actually invented in the 1960s. We managed before, and we can manage again.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you use to line your bin, and how has that changed along the years? Do you have any other tips to add? Or another challenge you’d like some tips dealing with? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!