The ultimate list of swaps for Plastic Free July

If your looking for ways to ditch the single-use plastic, and look for ideas to lower your plastic footprint, this list is for you. As Plastic Free July rolls around for another year, you might be wondering where in your life you can make changes (especially if you’re limited by Covid-19 restrictions still in place).

Good news – there are swaps and substitutions to be made everywhere!

Before we begin – something important to know. We can’t shop our way to a more sustainable lifestyle. None of us need all of the reusables and plastic-free alternatives that exist in the world.

Please don’t feel like this is a list of things you ‘should’ have, that you need to go out and buy. Not everything on this list is going to suit your needs, and buying stuff you never use is the biggest waste of all. Wherever you can make do with what you have, or repurpose something, it’s the best outcome.

An item purchased thoughtfully and used often can replace a lifetime of single-use plastic, and might be worth the investment.

An item that sits in the back of the cupboard before heading off to landfill is not.

Be honest with yourself about you truly need. Rather than a shopping list, see it as a list of ideas. And don’t forget to check for second-hand options first!

This post contains some affiliate links. I do not post links to Amazon when making recommendations, ever.

Food shopping

Glass jars: my favourite are the ones I fish out of the recycling bin, or rescue from my local Buy Nothing group. They are great for both buying and storing groceries, transporting snacks and keeping leftovers.

Storage containers: there are so many options for these, and you need to consider what you’ll use them for. Many ‘bamboo’ containers use melamine as a binder, and are not recyclable, so I don’t recommend these. I find transparent (glass) containers are useful for storing leftovers, and prefer glass that is oven-safe – like Pyrex – so my containers are multi-purpose.

I find stainless steel more useful for transporting food. Some don’t have silicone seals meaning they aren’t leakproof, so consider if this is important to you before making a purchase.

A few options:

Seed & Sprout – make glass containers with bamboo lids that look beautiful (too bad I already have all the containers I need). Australian brand.

Cheeki – stainless steel lunchboxes with no plastic parts. Australian brand.

Lunchbots – make a range of stainless steel lunchboxes (some with plastic lids) including bento boxes and a kid-friendly range. US brand (website is for US orders only); they are stocked at Biome (AU) and Eqo Living (UK)

U-Konserve – large range of stainless steel lunchboxes with plastic lids (they also sell replaceable lids). US brand. Stocked at Biome (AU)

A Slice of Green – UK brand with a good range of own-brand reusable stainless steel containers. They supply other online zero waste stores: &Keep has a bigger range than you’ll find on the Slice of Green website.

Reusable produce bags: from cloth to netting to mesh, there are lots of different options. There are plenty made from upcycled fabric – check Etsy for an upcycler making them near you.

If you’d like the mesh versions, I have and recommend Onya produce bags – they will last a lifetime (mine are 8 years old and still going strong).

I’ve also seen people use laundry bags, so if you already have a few of these, they could be an option!

Bread bags: a cloth bag works fine, as does an old (clean) pillowcase. If you want a purpose-made one, the reusable bread bags by Onya get great reviews.

Food storage

All of the items listed above are good for food storage as well as food shopping. Here are some other ideas for making sure the things that you buy keep fresh for as long as possible once you get them home.

Silicone storage bags: take up much less space than rigid containers, and the best ones are dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and leakproof. There are lots of options with lots of price points, but this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. If you can afford it, I’d recommend the Stasher bags.

If you’re looking at a budget option, read the reviews before purchasing.

Fabric (cotton) storage: Fruits and vegetables stored loose (without plastic and not in containers) lose moisture quickly and wild/shrivel. The Swag are bags made of layers of unbleached cotton that are for storing fruit and vegetables. The bags are dampened down and keep produce fresh for up to two weeks.

A low budget option is to wrap our produce in a damp tea towel.

Silicone lids: two options are rigid silicone lids (the Charles Viancin range are available in many kitchen stores, often with flower or fruit shapes).

There are also flexible stretchy silicone lids (like these EcoFlexiLids).

Alternatively, put your leftovers in containers (or glass jars). Or (my favourite) you could just pop a plate on top of a bowl.

Wax wraps: If you’re trying to ditch the plastic wrap (gladwrap/clingwrap/clingfilm), there are a few alternatives. Beeswax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) or vegan wax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) are popular – don’t forget to look at Etsy to support local (to you) makers too. Or you can make your own.

Food preparation

There’s no need to replace things that you already have, but if you didn’t already know that there are plastic-free versions of products, you might find this interesting.

Ice lolly molds: Onyx containers make a great range of plastic-free stainless steel products, including lolly / icy pole molds in various shapes including rockets, paddle pops and popsicles.

You can’t buy directly from the Onyx website, but the following stores have a good range: Biome (AU) , Little Acorns Mighty Oaks (UK) , The Tickle Trunk (USA)

(If stainless steel is out of your budget, there are silicone versions available (such as these ice block push-up moulds by Avanti.)

Bathroom

Toilet paper: I switched to a plastic-free brand of toilet paper called Who Gives A Crap (it’s a social enterprise that donates 50% of profits to charity). They are an Australian company that now also sell their products in the USA and UK.

(They also make kitchen towel and tissues – not things I buy, but things you might.)

Bidet: Others switch to using a bidet to reduce toilet paper use. Haven’t tried it and can’t really comment, except to say I know there are kits you can install without a plumber.

Toilet unpaper: Some people switch to reusable cloth toilet paper (often referred to as ‘family cloth’) – not something I’ve tried either, but it’s an option.

If I did this, I’d probably use old cut up towels or sheets, but there are businesses out there selling purpose-made products like this, with cute designs (a well known brand is Marley’s Monsters, who are based in Oregon, USA, but you’ll find heaps of makers on Etsy – search for ‘toilet unpaper‘. If that’s your thing!)

Toilet brush: I’ve wanted (wanted, not needed) a wooden toilet brush since forever, but I have a plastic one that does the job. Should it ever break, I’m getting this. Probably.

Dental

Bamboo toothbrush: One of the first swaps anyone who starts a less-plastic life goes to is the bamboo toothbrush. I’d suggest Brush with Bamboo, because they were one of the first companies and I find them very transparent about their ethics and choices. Their bristles are predominantly plant-based, being 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon.

Replaceable head toothbrush: Personally, I didn’t get on with bamboo toothbrushes, and I use a toothbrush which has a replaceable head. I’ve had the same handle since 2014, and I just replace the head every few months.

The brand I use is Silvercare, which was what was available in my local store (the brand is actually Italian).

If you’re in Europe look up Lamazuna, who make similar brushes with a bioplastic handle, and also use cardboard (plastic-free) packaging.

Floss: it’s possible to buy floss in a refillable glass jar. Quite a lot of brands offer this product. If you’d like a truly compostable version, the floss is made of silk; if you’d like a vegan version the floss is usually bioplastic (not recycable or compostable). There’s also the option of peace silk (Ahimsa silk) which is considered a cruelty-free option: Geoorganics spearmint floss (UK brand) is made with this.

Interdental brushes: Piksters now sell interdental brushes in sizes 00 – 6 in bamboo (packaged in cardboard). They seem to be readily available, including at high street chemists.

Toothpaste: I’ve made my own for years (here’s my toothpaste recipe) but if DIY is not your thing, it’s possible to buy toothpaste in powder or tablet form, which means it doesn’t need the plastic tube. Again, there are now heaps of brands making these products: my suggestions would be Geoorganics (UK brand, sold in Australia by Nourished Life), or Denttabs (German brand, sold in Australia by toothtablets.com).

Denttabs also sell a fluoride version as well as a fluoride-free version. If you’re in the UK, &Keep has an excellent range.

Mouthwash: not something I use. There are plenty of zero waste mouthwash recipes on the internet (perhaps try this DIY mouthwash recipe by the Zero Waste Chef), but it’s also possible to buy tablet mouthwash.

Personal care

Shampoo: Solid shampoo bars do away with plastic bottles and there are now lots of options on the market. Whilst they can seem expensive, most are long lasting, so overall don’t end up costing more. It’s worth trying a few, as different hair responds differently to different products.

Having tried a few with less-than-ideal results, I settled with (and love) the Source Bulk Foods shampoo bar for my curly hair. Beauty Kubes (A UK brand, but stocked worldwide) are often recommended.

(Or, you could try the ‘no poo’ method and use bicarb or rye flour instead: here’s how it works.)

Conditioner: Solid conditioner bars are the solution to plastic bottles. Ethique bars are a popular choice and come highly recommended (they are a New Zealand company that ship worldwide).

Personally, I use a white vinegar rinse instead of conditioner, and it works as well as any conditioner that I’ve ever used.

Moisturiser: I make my own cold cream moisturiser, and lots of bulk stores sell the ingredients to make DIY products.

(Biome has an online range of ingredients that they pack without plastic.)

If DIY is not your thing, there are lots of products packaged in glass. Or you can buy solid moisturisers too (Ethique make a Saving Face serum bar that I often hear recommended).

I particularly like the Lush moisturiser bars (they are listed on the Lush website as facial oils), which can be purchased in-store with absolutely no packaging at all.

(When it comes to skincare and haircare products, a few stores sell a selection of these brands, and are also have occasional sales which make the products more affordable. Nourished Life have some Ethique bars at half price, Biome and Flora & Fauna also stock a good range.)

Safety razor: a metal razor with replaceable metal blades. There are lots of brands now selling these – I hear reports that cheap ones rust. One of the original and most-trusted brands is Parker; their products are sold in lots of stores.

Period products

Menstrual cups: the first zero waste swap I ever made (way before zero waste became a movement) back in 2003. Back then, there were two medical grade silicone options: the Mooncup (UK brand) and the Diva Cup (Canadian brand – and the one I bought). There was also the Keeper (US brand) ,which is made of natural rubber. These days there are plenty of options, but I prefer to support the brands that led the way.

In the USA and Australia, menstrual cups are regulated by government. These have approval in Australia (country of manufacture listed in brackets):

The USA has a slightly bigger range of registered products, including all mentioned except Juju.

Menstrual pads: reusable pads are a great option, and will last 3-5 years if looked after. Almost all brands use cotton with a PUL (plastic) liner.

A few better known brands:

  • Ecopads Australia – cotton, fleece and/or corduroy pads with PUL liner;
  • Hannahpad Au & NZ – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner;
  • Juju (Australia) – cotton and certified organic cotton pads with PUL outer;
  • Imse Vimse (Swedish brand sold in the UK) – organic cotton with PUL liner;
  • Gladrags (USA) – cotton and fleece, PUL-free*;
  • Hannahpad USA – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner.

*The only brand I’ve come across that are completely plastic-free are Gladrags (US brand). I have their night pad, and it’s never leaked.

Menstrual underwear: this is underwear that has a built-in liner. I have the Modibodi brand, and I use in combination with my cup on heavier days. They are incredibly comfortable. Some more established brands:

Cleaning

Cleaning products: I’m a fan of green cleaning, which uses mostly edible products like bicarb/baking soda, white vinegar, soap and a bit of elbow grease to get things clean. I’d recommend Clean Green by Jen Chillingsworth as a handy guide to recipes that work (there are lots of the internet that don’t).

Cleaning brushes: there are heaps of wood, metal and/or coconut fibre options. I use a Safix scourer (it lasts for ages and doesn’t smell, ever) and the Import.Ants range of brushes which are sold at my local zero waste store.

Unpaper towel: I don’t bother with kitchen towel or the reusable version made of cloth, but it’s a popular option. Look on Etsy to find local sellers to support (some also use upcycled fabric, which is a bonus).

Laundry

Laundry powder: I buy this from the bulk store. Another alternative is to use soap nuts/soap berries – slightly sticky berries that have a natural saponin content. (You pop a few in a small bag in your washing machine with your clothes, and they will last a few washes.)

Pegs: If you’ve been using plastic pegs, at some stage they’ll likely need replacing (plastic pegs break down in sunlight – bit of a design flaw). Wooden pegs are pretty widely available, but if you’re looking for an unbreakable, buy-it-once-and-it-lasts-forever option, metal pegs are now an option.

There’s different grades of stainless steel include marine grade if you live near the ocean. Pincinox are a French brand and the original stainless steel option, but lots of brands sell wire pegs that are more affordable.

Sock hangers: If you’re restricted to a balcony and don’t have a clothes line, it’s possible to buy stainless steel sock hangers (like this one from Biome).

Microfibres: Something else you light like to consider is a Guppyfriend laundry bag. It’s less of a ‘swap’ and more of an investment – it’s purpose is to stop microfibre plastic pollution in waterways.

You pop your synthetic fibre clothing (things like polyester and nylon) inside, then put the whole thing in the washing machine, and wash as normal. It traps the fibres and stops them getting into the ocean.

(If you’re in Australia, the cheapest place to buy one of these is – randomly – Kathmandu.)

One-stop shops

I’m a big fan of independent stores that sell zero waste and plastic-free products because they believe in the cause, rather than because they see it as a marketing tactic. I can only list the stores I’ve heard of – no doubt there are many more fantastic options:

Australia:

UK:

USA:

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the products that exist, but hopefully it gives you some options not only for useful swaps, but also for independent businesses to support. Just remember, when it comes to reducing waste, less is always more!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any obvious swaps that I’ve missed, or any products that you’d say you couldn’t live without? Any swaps you’ve made that you regret, and want to warn us about?! Any questions? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Join the ‘War on Plastic’ with Plastic Free July (+ 3 Ideas for Plastic Free Veterans)

Another year, another Plastic Free July – and the appetite for living with less plastic is stronger than ever! More and more of us are concerned about plastic pollution and more importantly, determined to do something about plastic use in our own lives.

Plastic Free July always swings around at exactly the right time of year. Never heard of it before? Plastic Free July is a free-to-join challenge that runs during the month of July. It encourages us to choose to refuse single-use plastic, and be part of a movement that is not only raising awareness but taking action and sharing solutions.

I first took part in my first Plastic Free July back in 2012, when I was one of about 400 participants. Since then the challenge has grown exponentially, and in 2019 it was estimated that 250 million people from 177 different countries took part.

If you’d like to be registered for this year’s challenge, you can do so via the official Plastic Free July website.

I’ve written about Plastic Free July every year since my first challenge, and this year is no different in that respect. But I always try to approach it from a different angle, and this year I wanted to reach out to the plastic-free veterans.

There are plenty of articles for plastic-free beginners; I’ve written a number of them over the years. Here is last year’s contribution: 5 Tips to Get Prepped For Plastic Free July (and Living with Less Plastic). (There are plenty more in the archive).

I also created this graphic and accompanying (free) eBook to give you more ideas to get started.

But for those coming back for a second, third, fourth or more year, getting those same beginner’s tips you received in year one can seem a little… well, repetitive.

So today’s post is for you.

3 Plastic Free July Ideas for Plastic-Free Veterans

Find Your ‘One More Thing’ Swap

You’re a pro at bringing your reusable bags to the store, you remember to refuse the plastic straw, you opt to dine-in rather than getting those takeaway containers and you’re a regular at the bulk store. Hurrah!

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still something more to do or somewhere else to improve.

  • Take another look at the contents of your landfill bin and your recycling bin, and see if there’s anything in there that could be swapped out for something plastic-free;
  • Consider revisiting something that you tried in previous years and decided was too hard – maybe times have changed and this year is the year you succeed;
  • Try to make something new from scratch: maybe a food item, a cleaning recipe or a personal care product. That doesn’t mean committing to make it from scratch forevermore! It’s simply about experimenting with change;
  • Maybe there’s something that is too expensive, impractical or time-consuming to become a permanent change in your life, but you can commit to making this change for 31 days during July to show solidarity with the movement and do your bit.

Plastic Free July isn’t just about refusing plastic. It’s about learning new skills, examining our habits and challenging ourselves to do better.

Take the Challenge Beyond Your Own Habits

Those first years, Plastic Free July is all about changing habits, making swaps and settling into new routines. Trying to remember our reusables and investigate all the alternatives takes up a lot of energy, and time.

But new habits eventually become ingrained, and the time we once spent figuring out all of this stuff is freed up again. Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the refuse single-use plastic message to people who haven’t heard of it before.

Maybe that means pinning up some posters at work, or persuading your local cafe and shops to get on board with the challenge.

(You can find the whole range of official Plastic Free July posters – free to download – on the Plastic Free July website.)

Maybe it means giving a talk to your colleagues or your community, organizing a litter pick-up or hosting a movie screening.

Maybe it means writing to companies expressing your annoyance with their packaging and suggestive alternatives, or writing to companies to tell them you love their commitment to reducing waste.

Maybe it means writing to your local councillor or MP to ask them what they are doing about plastic pollution.

Use your voice to speak up for what matters, and share what you know.

Be The Kind of Person You’d Have Liked Supporting You in the Early Days

Chances are, if you’ve been living plastic-free for a while, you’ve ventured down the rabbit hole and discovered a whole heap of twists and turns along the journey.

There are probably plenty of choices you made and things you did back at the start that with the benefit of hindsight, you wouldn’t do again.

Try to remember this when you see others making similar choices. You have the benefit of hindsight, and they don’t. Yet.

How would you have felt if you’d triumphantly shared your first plastic-free chocolate bar purchase that took you three weeks to track down, only to be told that a) didn’t you know that particular Fair Trade organic bar is made by a multinational company b) it’s probably not vegan c) haven’t you heard of palm oil d) you didn’t buy it in the supermarket, surely e) did you even look at the carbon footprint?

It’s unlikely you’d feel inspired to continue, that’s for sure.

Part of the journey is trying new things and making mistakes. If you see someone sharing a choice they made that you wouldn’t make, before diving in to “help”, ask yourself: how helpful will it really be for you to share your opinion right now?

This is particularly true on the internet, with people you don’t know. No-one wants to be berated in public by someone they’ve never met and who has no idea about their individual circumstances.

That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t share information. Just be sensitive about what you share, who you share it with and how you share it.

People need time to find their own way. That first Plastic Free July can be overwhelming. As someone who has gone ahead, we can try to remember that, be encouraging, inclusive, and celebrate the small wins of others.

If we want people to feel confident to take the next steps, we need to be supportive with the first steps.

Challenges such as Plastic Free July are not just for beginners, but we all start as beginners. If you are a beginner, I want to assure you that whilst change can be challenging, it is also fun… and very rewarding. Those ahead of you are here to help when you get stuck – we have all been stuck at some point! If you are a veteran, remember that part of our challenge is continuing to push ourselves, not get complacent and help keep the spark alight in those just starting out.

Happy Plastic Free July, everyone!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a plastic-free newbie? A veteran with one year’s service? Two or three year’s service? Four or more years of service? If you’re a veteran, what do you remember most about starting out? Do you remember?! And what advice would you give to someone taking the challenge for the first time? Any other thoughts or ideas? Please share your comments below!

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!

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!

7 Plastic-Free Alternatives to Food Wrap

I’ve always found cling-wrap (or glad wrap, or clingfilm, as you may call it) to be unbearable. Even before my plastic-free days, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I found that it was either unbearably sticky, and would stick to everything except the one thing I actually wanted to wrap, or the opposite: it was so ridiculous non-sticky that it would stick to nothing at all, and definitely not the thing I wanted to wrap.

It gives me great pleasure then, to share with you some alternatives for clingwrap. Let’s rid ourselves of the frustration, and the cursing, and the inner torment. Nobody needs that kind of stress in their lives! (Or is that just me?!)

Of course, the plastic is completely unnecessary too. If you’re not with me on the frustrations, hopefully you are there on the plastic-reducing ;)

As with all single-use plastic items, there are plenty of alternatives. Here’s 7 of my favourites.

7 Plastic-Free Alternatives to Food Wrap

1. The Bowl on the Plate

I love this option. I love it because it’s simple, doesn’t require any more stuff and suits my laziness. Provided whatever-the-leftovers-are can fit in a bowl, then a plate can go over the top. Job done.

I don’t believe that everything needs to be airtight in a fridge, and the plate-on-the-bowl method is good enough. We don’t have any problems with anything smelling in our fridge, but if that’s something you’re concerned about, popping a small jar of bicarb can help reduce fridge odours.

2. Silicone Lids

Silicone lids are a fancy alternative to putting a plate on a bowl, but have the bonus of being able to form a seal. They are also heat-tolerant so can be used on hot pans.

Silicone is technically not plastic, and seems to last much longer than plastic. It also seems to be more resistant to heating and high temperatures. On the downside, silicone isn’t recyclable. I’d only opt for silicone if I knew I’d use it regularly, and consider it a purchase for life.

I have 3 silicone lids of varying sizes that were a gift from my mum (similar to this lilypad silicone cover). I do find them useful, and I use them regularly, but I don’t think they are a kitchen essential unless you are a clingwrap fanatic ;)

3. Storage Containers (Tupperware, Pyrex, Glass or Stainless Steel)

Rather than wrapping a baking dish with cling-wrap, I prefer to decant my leftovers into glass Pyrex storage containers. Any storage container would work, but Pyrex is what I have the most of.

The great thing about Pyrex (and to some extent, stainless steel) is that it is oven-proof, so if you want to re-heat the leftovers the following day, simply remove the lid and pop in the oven. Putting the original container back in the oven tends to bake on the food, making it much harder to clean.

Whilst I don’t recommend buying new plastic storage containers, if you’re new to plastic-free living or zero waste, you might already have a heap of old ones – in which case, use them. Over time you’ll be able to repurpose and donate and they will eventually break, and you can replace with better alternatives.

4. Glass Jars

Glass jars are the mainstay of the zero waste movement, and for good reason – they are useful for almost everything! Glass jars are great for most leftovers. We use them for chopped veggies, roasted veggies, pasta sauce, curry or dahl, rice, sauces… anything that doesn’t have a structure (so layered lasagne might not work great).

The great thing about glass jars is there’s never a shortage, and they are easy to come buy for free. They also come in every imaginable size, and are particularly helpful for portioning food.

5. Beeswax (and other Wax) Food Wraps

Beeswax wraps, made by by neighbours at Vic Park Honey and sold by my friend Jo in her Urban Revolution store.

Beeswax food wraps are made from cloth that has been coated in beeswax, often with extra additives like jojoba oil and pine rosin (colophony) to make them supple. They can be used in place of cling wrap to cover bowls and wrap food.

Vegan food wraps that use soy and candelilla wax (rather than beeswax) are also coming onto the market.

With both types, they are only suitable for hand washing and not machine washing (the wax will melt at high temperatures). They are not suitable for meat or fish, or wrapping hot food. In time the wax may be lost but they are very easy to re-coat.

In my experience, beeswax food wraps are expensive to buy and cheap to make. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend making your own. By making your own you can choose the sizes that are most practical for your needs, too. However, if you’re not the crafty type or don’t have the time, supporting local independent businesses is just as good.

6. Sandwich Pockets

Sandwich pockets are made of fabric that has been coated to make it waterproof. In contrast to beeswax and other wax wraps, these are machine washable. The coating is often some kind of plastic, but on the plus side, they are reusable and will not need to be recoated.

The fabrics and coatings vary brand by brand. I would avoid PVC as this plastic contains phthalates, which are known to be detrimental to human health. Some use polyester and others use plant-based plastic which are stated to be biodegradable when they wear out. I’ve had 4myearth sandwich pockets (the ones in the image – which are cotton with a plant-derived plastic lining) since 2012 and they have lasted very well.

These sandwich pockets will help retain moisture and prevent food drying out, but they do not seal and are not airtight, so are better for short term use.

7. Parchment Paper and/or Foil

Not a zero waste option, but a plastic-free option nonetheless. Both can be used to wrap items individually, or they can be used together. Wrapping meat or fish in paper and then foil is recommended as a way to freeze these without getting freezer burn.

I use the If You Care brand of parchment paper – it is FSC-certified and unbleached. It has a silicone lining but is certified compostable, and I have successfully composted this paper at home. They also produce 100% recycled aluminium foil.

Aluminium foil can be washed and reused before being recycled. If you’re careful, you will be able to wash and re-use foil a number of times before recycling it. Yes, it can be recycled – save it up until you have enough to form a ball about the size of an Easter egg and pop it in your regular recycling bin.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Clingwrap: friend or foe?! Which of these solutions is your favourite? Any other solutions to suggest? Anything you’ve tried that didn’t work that you want to warn us about? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. The links are included to give you more information about some of the products that I own and use. As always, I’d always suggest making do and shopping second-hand before buying new.

Plastic Free July: I’ve Made My Pledge, What’s Yours?

When it comes to making a positive contribution in the world, nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. How big or how small that something is, well, that depends. It depends on so many things: the time we have available, our family commitments, energy levels, where we live, the resources available to us, and more.

Better to make just a single change than to do nothing, simply because others are doing more and we feel that our contribution is small and insignificant. Millions of small contributions add up to make a huge positive impact.

If we can only make one or two changes, then let’s go ahead and make those changes, and be proud of what we are doing.

But let’s not get complacent.

Usually I say: whatever we can do, that is enough. And I do believe that to be true. But I also think there’s a time and a place to re-evaluate and ask ourselves the question: is there something more that I could do?

I think Plastic Free July is the perfect opportunity.

I first took part in Plastic Free July in 2012. (The challenge, if you’ve somehow missed hearing about this great campaign, is to refuse all single-use – or even better, all – plastics for the month of July.) Of course, that first year was a challenge for me (but isn’t that the point?!). The second year wasn’t without its trials. But by the third year, I’d pretty much got my plastic habit under control.

I had two choices. I could sit there smugly, applauding myself on how far I’ve come. Or I could look at my current routines and habits, ask myself: is there any room for improvement?

Guess what?! Unsurprisingly, there is always room for improvement! Nobody’s perfect. Firstly there are always the exceptions that can be tackled. Then there’s the stuff that was too hard or not possible last year – maybe something has changed since then?

Even when things seem good enough, there is always room to adjust and do things slightly better.

When we fostered and later adopted our greyhound last July, I wrote about whether we could have a dog and be zero waste. My biggest challenge was and still is dog food. We have been buying the big 20kg plastic bags of dog food. I’d love to make my own, but when I first looked into it, I ended up feeling overwhelmed. I put it on the backburner.

On the backburner is where it is still sitting.

At the time, it wasn’t a cop-out. Having a dog was something completely new to both myself and my husband, and we needed time to adjust. But 11 months on, it’s fair to say it’s time to revisit this.

Buying processed dog food, made from industrially produced meat, produced overseas, and sold in a plastic bag; that pretty much goes against everything I believe in and everything I want to support.

It was a good short-term solution. But it’s in danger of becoming a longer-term one, because I’ve let myself get complacent.

So for Plastic Free July this year, I am setting myself the challenge to start making my own dog food. We are lucky that our greyhound is the least fussy eater on the planet. I’m a little bit terrified of the extra responsibility, but I can read and research – and I have enough common sense.

By the 1st July, I’ll have something in place.

It might not work. It might be a terrible disaster. Our greyhound might suddenly become the world’s fussiest eater, or it might not agree with him (greyhounds have sensitive stomachs), or it might take so much time to source the ingredients and make that it simply isn’t practical.

But I will never know unless I try.

Isn’t that what a challenge is all about?

Talking of challenges… now I’m going to challenge you.

If you’re new to living with less waste, then I’d recommend giving Plastic Free July a go this year.

If you’ve been pursuing the plastic-free lifestyle for a while, I’m going to challenge you to look at everything you currently do, and find just one more thing to try, to revisit, or improve. Plastic Free July is one month: that’s 31 days to give something a go. That’s 31 days to build a new habit, research alternatives and try something new.

At the end of the 31 days, you might decide that it was all a bit too hard, and you’re not ready. That’s okay, if you tried and gave it your best shot. However… you might find that these new habits aren’t nearly as hard as you thought, and you’ve made a change that you know you will stick to. How great would that be?

There’s never a bad time to embrace change, but the great thing about doing it in July is that there will be plenty of other people embracing making changes too. When I say plenty, I mean a lot. In 2016 over 1 million people took part, and 2017 is set to be even bigger. There’s nothing like doing a challenge with others to feel motivated, and being part of a movement only makes that even greater.

The other important step to making changes is to tell others what you’re planning. I’ve told you my Plastic Free July goal, and now it’s your turn. In the comments, take a minute to pledge your commitment for the month of July. Shout it loud and proud! Let’s see what positive changes we can bring about this July and onwards :)

Seriously, I want to hear from you! Is this your first Plastic Free July and if so, are you taking the no single-use plastics pledge or the no-plastics-at-all pledge? Are you returning for another year and what would you like to change this year for a month? Are there any sneaky bad habits you’d like to shake once and for all? Anything else you’d like to add? Declare all in the comments below!

Plastic-Free For Absolute Beginners: 7 Tips for Getting Started

When we’re new to living plastic-free or zero waste, just looking at the journey ahead of us can seem a little… daunting. On one hand, we’re eager to make changes, and excited to be making a positive impact on ourselves and the planet. But what first steps to take?

There are so many options it can almost feel overwhelming. If you’re feeling like that, don’t panic! I’m here to help.

If you’re keen to get going with plastic-free or zero waste living but don’t know where to start, here’s a handy guide to help you on your way.

1. Don’t throw anything away!

Before you begin, don’t just throw all your plastic in the bin, or dump it at the charity shop. Whilst it can be tempting to “begin again with a clean slate”, it creates a huge amount of waste. If your main motivation for embracing plastic-free living and zero waste is to reduce waste, this is completely counter-productive.

In time you’ll be able to decide whether you can re-purpose things, pass them on to someone who will use them, or use them up yourself. You’ll learn the best way to dispose of things responsibly. You’ll also know whether you need to replace them.

Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey, not a race.

2. Remember change takes time, and the more time you spend on it, the faster you’ll see results.

Going plastic-free or zero waste is about changing habits, and change takes time. Like any habit, if you practice every day you’ll get there faster. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

Yes, you can go plastic-free or zero waste and work full time, have children and pursue other hobbies. You will just make slower progress.

Take into account how much time to have to spend learning new habits, and set yourself realistic goals. If your expectations exceed what’s likely or practical for you to achieve, you’ll end up disappointed and disheartened.

3. Go to your regular stores with new eyes.

Bulk stores (especially those that have been established with waste-free and plastic-free living in mind like The Source Bulk Foods) are an ideal place to buy packaging-free groceries, but in the beginning, don’t rule out your regular stores completely.

Instead, take a little extra time, and go to your regular stores and walk up and down every aisle, looking at every single product. Look for products in glass, cardboard, or paper.

When we shop, we often operate on autopilot. We don’t browse the overwhelming choice of products. We tend to buy the one we always buy, or we choose what’s on offer. Now is your chance to look with a different parameter – plastic-free.

You might find there are more alternatives than you realised.

4. Get your reusables ready.

When you first go zero waste or plastic-free grocery shopping, take more reusables than you think you’ll need. As well as reusable shopping bags, take reusable produce bags, glass jars, and glass or plastic containers with lids of various sizes.

Almost everyone has reusable shopping bags; if you don’t, I recommend looking for natural fibres rather than plastic ones that will eventually end up in landfill.

There are many options for reusable bags, and if you sew you can make your own out of old net curtains or bed sheets. If you can’t sew, handmade reusable produce bags can be found via Etsy, an online marketplace for people who do know how to sew.

If you don’t have glass Pyrex or stainless steel food containers, consider using plastic in the short term until you know which sizes work best for you. Glass and stainless steel is an investment, so knowing what you need is helpful before you splash out. If you’re ready to invest, this directory of online zero waste and plastic-free stores might be helpful.

(There are other bits and pieces you might find you need, like cutlery, a water bottle and a coffee cup. You can find the day-to-day reusables I carry in my handbag here.)

5. Look for bulk stores, Farmers Markets and health stores in your local area.

Before you step out the door, it makes sense to look on the internet. Are there any bulk stores close by? Are there any cooperatives that might have food in bulk? What about bakeries or farm shops? Italian grocery stores often have dry goods in bulk, and well-stocked deli counters. Check when local Farmers Markets run, and where.

You can call places to find out if they have a bulk section, but nothing beats going to have a look. Even if bulk isn’t an option, there might be plastic-free and lower waste solutions. Just having a browse can open your mind to some of the potential.

6. One change at a time.

Rather than change everything at once, focus on one thing at a time. It makes sense to tackle things in the order they need replacing. With food, fresh produce comes first, like fruit and vegetables, milk, and bread. Then there’s longer life fresh stuff like yoghurt and cheese. Then there’s dry goods, and it might be a few months before you need alternatives for some of these.

The same will apply in the bathroom, the cleaning cupboard, the wardrobe and the rest of the house.

Work on replacing things as you need to.

7. Join the community!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a movement, and a movement needs people! You will find it so much easier and far more rewarding if you connect with others on the journey. You’ll be able to share ideas, vent frustrations, ask questions and guide others.

Not everyone has the support of family and friends, at least not at first. Finding a community of like-minded people will give you a strong support network to keep you motivated.

If you can find people locally to connect with, that’s awesome (if you don’t know where to look, the Transition Town movement is a good starting point). If not, there is plenty of opportunity online – and these groups will welcome you with open arms!

Remember, no-one has all the answers on the first day! Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey. Enjoy the process, have fun, and know that everything you’re doing makes a difference.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’re a beginner, is there anywhere in particular that you’re stuck? Anything you’ve been struggling with? If you’re a veteran, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Anything you think I’ve missed out? Any other comments? Please share your thoughts below!

Can You Live Plastic-Free without Bulk Stores?

One of the most common challenges I hear from people who would like to embrace plastic-free or zero waste living, is that they don’t live near a bulk store. Access to bulk stores definitely makes plastic-free living infinitely easier – but that doesn’t mean that without them, it’s impossible.

In fact, there are still plenty of things that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint, wherever you live, wherever you shop and however busy you are.

Here’s a list of my top 8 (as always, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below).

Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you cannot do everything.

This is so important! Just because there isn’t a bulk store near you, that doesn’t mean that you should give up before you begin.

Remember that every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today, so every single piece of plastic you refuse is one less piece entering our environment.

We just need to start where we are, with what we have, and do what we can. Even if you can only refuse a few things, or make a couple of changes, it all counts. If we all did the best we could, think how much better the world would be!

Don’t stress about what you can’t change, look for what you can change.

Eat more fresh vegetables!

Apologies for sounding like your Nan here, but seriously – food packaging accounts for such a significant amount of the waste we produce, and one of the easiest ways to reduce this is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or if you still need to buy in packaging, try to choose the bigger packs (there will be less plastic overall).

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a great high-carb alternative to pasta and rice, and are easy to find plastic-free.

If you don’t know how to cook something, look on the internet for simple recipes. This is where I’m going to offer different advice from your Nan – you do not need to boil everything for 30+ minutes! Plenty of veggies can be roasted (try carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), stir-fried, broiled, baked, sautéed – or eaten raw.

Zero Waste Vegetables Plastic Free July Treading My Own Path

My local veg box delivery comes mid-week and direct to my door (convenience shopping with a difference) and it’s an easy way for me to get produce that’s plastic-free and locally grown.

Also, many veggies can be frozen once cooked. If you live in a small household and don’t want to eat an entire pumpkin this week, chop into cubes, roast it as usual and freeze what you don’t need. Other vegetables, such as leeks and broccoli, can be blanched for 1-3 minutes, and then frozen.

This guide lists how to freeze a number of vegetables and might be a helpful starting point.

Bring your own reusable bags – not just your main shopping bags

As well as your own shopping bags, bring reusable produce bags for all your loose produce items, and a cloth bag for any bread you need.

You can find produce bags available for sale online (made of cloth or mesh, some pre-labelled and others plain) – or you can make your own using your own fabric or even old net curtains!

Fruit and Veggie Produce Bags Treading My Own Path

Reusable produce bags are a great way to buy loose products at the store without needing to take those pesky plastic bags!

If you forget, and you’re buying too many items to simply pop them in your trolley loose, you can often find paper mushroom or potato bags so use these as an alternative to plastic.

Look for packaging in glass, cardboard and paper, and adapt where you can

When I first started out with plastic-free living, I continued to shop at the supermarket. Whilst I found most of the pre-prepared products were packaged in plastic, I found many wholefoods and single ingredients that were packaged in glass and cardboard. For example, in my local store I could buy pasta and couscous in cardboard packaging, as well as oats and rice, but I could not buy quinoa or bulgar wheat.

I began buying more oats over breakfast cereal; eating porridge for breakfast and using more oats in baking. In glass jars I found passata so I began to buy this rather than chopped tomatoes in Tetra-Paks (which are difficult to recycle) or tins (which are plastic-lined and contain BPA).

After all, passata is just chopped tomatoes that have been blended! (Later I discovered that simply using fresh tomatoes and quickly chopping saved packaging dilemmas altogether.)

How far you take this will depend on whether you have dietary restrictions or fussy eaters in your household, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

Remember, you can still buy bulk within the store

I’m not talking about buying huge quantities of food you probably won’t eat here, I‘m referring to choosing one product over individual portions and single serves. Even if the bigger one still comes in packaging, it will be far less than all those individual portions added together.

Rather than buying individual pots of yoghurt, buy a 1kg tub (or bigger) and split into smaller containers at home.

Rather than snack portions of raisins or crackers, buy a big pack and divide up yourself.

Rather than buying individual slices of cheese, or grated cheese, buy a big block and chop or grate at home (tip – you can freeze cheese so there’s no reason why you can’t buy a big block and freeze what you won’t use straightaway for later).

Aside from saving the plastic, you’ll save a huge amount on your grocery bill. Check the price per kilo of the bulk items versus the “convenience” items and you’ll find that convenience comes at a price – and you won’t just be saving the environment with these choices!

Supermarket or not – bring your own containers!

It’s possible to take your own containers to the counters at the supermarket or your local stores: the butcher, fishmonger, cheese shop or deli. Make sure they are clean, and explain why you’re doing it as you hand your containers over.

Confidence is everything – act like you’ve done it a million times before, and it is the most normal thing to do in the world!

If you’re unsure that they will be accepted, or feel really nervous, you can always phone the store in advance and ask if they’d be happy to take your own clean containers (be sure to tell them why).

You may find the odd place that isn’t willing to help, but most are happy to support this kind of shopping. If they have restrictions, find out what they are. (They may be happy to use containers for pre-cooked products, but not raw, for example. They may be happy to fill your own containers, but only if you drop them off by a certain time, or on a certain day.)

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

If a staff member is unwilling to comply, it may be that you simply need to check with the manager (they may be fearful of losing their job, and a quick conversation can sort this out).

If the store is definitely against it, you could push higher up if they are a chain or have a Head Office, or simply take your business elsewhere. If you do receive a “no”, keep it in mind and try again in a few months – something may have changed!

If places aren’t willing to comply, there may be the option of the staff wrapping your item in paper and you putting the paper-wrapped product into your sealed container yourself. It’s always worth asking if they have paper behind the counter.

Refuse single-serve and single-use items

“Refusing” is such a big part of the plastic-free living journey, and we can remove so much plastic from the environment just by making this simple choice. Refusing bottled water and carrying our own bottle and refilling from the tap; choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway or bringing our own containers; refusing straws; refusing individual sachets of sauce, butter or those tiny little portions of milk… it all makes a difference.

Carrying your own water bottle or coffee cup and a reusable straw is a great alternative if you’re often out, and a great way to start conversations. Simply asking at the cafe if you can have a splash of milk directly into your tea or a little bit of butter cut directly from the block rather than the single-serve portions is a surprisingly easy way to avoid plastic and make a point.

Go outside and pick up litter

No matter where you live, what shops are available to you or what your budget is, or how much time you have to spare, you can do this. Simply go out of your front door and onto your street with a bag, and pick up all the plastic litter you come across.

You may prefer to go to the beach or alongside a river, if you have one close by, but wherever you choose to go, I guarantee there will be some litter. Whether you opt for a 2 minute beach clean, simply commit to pick up 3 things, or decide to take a 30 minute walk and see what you come across, it all makes a difference.

Pick up any plastic items that you find, and then dispose of them responsibly. You’ll be stopping that plastic getting ingested by wildlife or making its way to the ocean, and making your local environment a more pleasant place to be. You’ll probably feel a lot more determined to avoid single-use items afterwards, too!

Treading My Own Path 30 Minute Litter Pick Up Litterati Take3 July 2016

I picked this up in 30 minutes simply by walking around my local streets.

Whatever you can do, you really must know that what you do makes a difference. The smallest actions can have the biggest impacts, and choosing just one thing to change is better than changing nothing at all.

The planet, the turtles and the plastic-free community; we will all thank you for it. Don’t let a lack of local bulk stores stand in your way. It really doesn’t matter how far you take this.

What matters is that you try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you struggling to find bulk stores near you? What items do you struggle to find without plastic packaging? What have been your biggest dilemmas and challenges? What have been your best successes and greatest a-ha moments? What are you currently working towards changing? Any other suggestions for those who live far from bulk options? If you are lucky enough to have bulk options near you, are there still items that you struggle with? Do you have any others that you’d add to this list? Any other thoughts or comments? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!

5 Tips for Getting Started with Plastic-Free Living

Could you live your life without plastic? Your answer to this will depend on your lifestyle, where you live and the kinds of things you like to do, the places available to you to shop and how much time you have. Whatever your situation is, I guarantee that you will be able to live with a little less plastic!

How much you choose to eliminate is up to you, but it all makes a difference.

shopping trolley with plastic bags

If your grocery shopping looks like this, then just a few minor changes will make a huge difference!

Many people feel overwhelmed before they even start… and so they don’t start. Or they make a mistake early on and give up, deciding that plastic-free living is something for the “too hard” basket.

The truth is, there is no need to panic, or to feel overwhelmed, or to do nothing simply because we can’t do everything. Change takes time: months, or even years. There is no rule that says everything must be successful on the first day!

There is no all-or-nothing approach to living without plastic: it is a sliding scale, and we just need to find out where we are personally comfortable to sit on the scale. We need to find our happy place: where we’ve made changes we’re comfortable with.

With Plastic Free July approaching, I like to spend time reflecting on my journey and the lessons I learned. This year is my 5th year of supporting the challenge, and I love to share what I’ve experienced with those that are just starting out, or taking it to the next level. If that’s you, read on!

1. Don’t try to make ALL the changes on the first day

It’s unlikely that you are beginning your plastic-free living challenge with a completely empty pantry, fridge and bathroom cabinets. It’s far more likely that you’ll already have food in the cupboard and toiletries in the shower.

Even if they are overpackaged in plastic, this is a good thing (for now!). It means that you can make changes slowly, one by one: as items are used up you can replace them with plastic-free alternatives.

When I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012, the first things I had to buy were milk, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables. Cheese and yoghurt came later. Pantry staples like pasta and rice came later again. Condiments and specialist ingredients were further down the track.

I had so many products stockpiled in the bathroom (that I hadn’t really been aware of) that I didn’t replace anything here for a few weeks. In fact, it took me 18 months to use up every plastic-packaged item in my bathroom. Plastic-free living is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Don’t think about the money – for now

If you’ve signed up to Plastic Free July, then you’ve committed to 31 days of living without plastic. I’m going to challenge you for those 31 days, not to think about the money you spend on groceries or toiletries.

Or not to stress about it, at least – there’s enough to worry about for now without having extra stress!

Plastic-free living can seem expensive at first, because buying food from deli counters or Farmers markets or in glass often does cost more than their cheap, lesser quality, plastic-packaged supermarket counterparts. Wholefoods and vegetables are more expensive than processed junk food, but they are also far better for us.

For these 31 days, give yourself a free pass. Open your mind to the possibilities. If your budget is small, maybe tighten the belt somewhere else – reduce how much you spend on alcohol, movie tickets, eating out or takeaway coffee for the month.

The truth is, in time, you’ll decide which things are worth spending the extra money on, and which things you’re happier without. The things you buy will change as you start to find new places to shop with different products on offer.

You’ll adjust your shopping and eating habits, and most people who live plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles find they actually spend less. But again, it takes time: I think it took us around 6 months to notice that our food bill had reduced.

3. There’s no need to rush out and buy anything new

There’s something about starting a new challenge that makes us want to rush out and buy new “stuff”. It’s because changing habits is hard, and buying stuff is easy… and by making a new purchase, we can feel that we’ve started on the journey.

There are a few things in the plastic-free living “toolkit” that make things easier, but you do not need to go out and make a purchase on the first day. Or even the first week. Or even at all!

Before you buy anything, you need to figure out if you are going to use it, and if you have something suitable at home already that you can use or repurpose. Take your time so that you can make the best choices. (This especially applies if you are concerned about your groceries budget.)

Plastic Free Living Zero Waste

The only thing I purchased during my first Plastic Free July was a KeepCup (a reusable coffee cup), made from plastic.

A few weeks later I began to wonder whether buying a plastic cup for a plastic-free living challenge actually made sense (of course it doesn’t). I started thinking about combining plastic with hot liquids. I noticed the plastic started to absorb the coffee flavour.

Eventually I decided to replace it with a glass one (which I still have). Had I taken my time to think about it, I could have saved myself a wasted purchase.

4. Life from scratch…or not?

Homemade Sourdough Loaf Zero Waste Plastic Free Treading My Own Path

When I started down the plastic-free path, I had no intention of making my own bread or yoghurt or pickles. However, I began making all of these things, and for different reasons.

I used to buy bread at the Farmers Market, which meant I had to purchase my bread between 8am and 12noon on Saturdays. This meant that the rest of Saturday was put on hold until I’d secured the golden loaf of sourdough. Freshly baked artisan sourdough is delicious, but it’s also expensive. The Saturday morning stress and the money led me to ask myself the question – could I bake my own?

Once I tried baking sourdough for the first time, I was smitten. Freshly baked bread straight from the oven – there is no comparison. Now I have freshly baked bread whenever I need it, rather than just on Saturdays.

I started making yoghurt when I realised how simple it was. It involves heating up milk, cooling again, adding a small amount of culture (meaning old yoghurt) and placing somewhere warm for 12 hours (you can find yoghurt-making instructions here). Why was I buying it, carrying it home and taking the empty glass jars back when it took less time just to make my own?

I really enjoy cooking ,and baking, and making stuff from scratch. The more I’ve tried, the more I’ve got into it. But I don’t have time to do everything.

I don’t make my own pasta, for example. We can buy pasta from the bulk store, so why would I make my own? I tried making passata once, but it was so laborious I declared never again (or not for a long time). I don’t can my own tomatoes. I use the lazy person alternative – chopping up and using fresh tomatoes instead. It works well enough for me.

If something is impossible to find without plastic, or too expensive to buy, then I consider that I have three choices. Number 1: make my own. Number 2: find an alternative that I’m happy with. Number 3: go without.

Of course there is a fourth option – compromise – but I prefer to stick to one of the first three. That is enough choice for me.

5. The 80/20 Rule

I have a theory that 80% of everyday plastic is easy to eliminate, and the other 20% is the hard stuff. The easy things like plastic bags, plastic straws, takeaway packaging, disposable coffee cups, water and soft drinks bottles, multipacks, individual portions and serves can all be removed from our lives without too much stress.

It just takes a little bit of remembering, and maybe some practice, but not too much change.

The other 20% is the stuff that requires compromise, or bigger changes. Don’t worry about the hard 20%, at least not at first, and don’t give up on reducing the easy stuff just because you know the hard stuff will probably elude you.

Focus on the easy changes that have big wins.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

There will always be people ahead of us on the journey, who have achieved things that we can only dream about. We can learn from them, and speed up our own journeys. The truth is, they all started at the same place.

They all started at the beginning.

They chose to make one change, and purchase one less plastic item, and then one more, and they just kept on going. Small steps, in the right direction. That is all it takes.

As always, now I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you someone who has been on the plastic-free living or zero waste journey for a while, and if so, what tips would you give to someone starting out? Are you embracing the Plastic Free July challenge for the first time this year, and if so, do you have any concerns or questions? Which one of these lessons stands out most for you? Do you disagree with anything? Are there any other lessons that you’d like to add? Any other thoughts about plastic-free living or zero waste living, or the Plastic Free July challenge? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

Why Plastic Free July is Just as Important 5 Years On

Plastic Free July changed my life. A grand statement I know, but completely true. When I first signed up to the challenge of using no plastic in the month of July back in 2012, it was the start of a journey that I could never have imagined. (You can read about my experience after one year of plastic-free living here.)

From the very beginning it was about understanding that if I wanted the world to change for the better, I had to do something about it.

Not only that, but Plastic Free July showed me that this was possible: change was something that I could do. That we all can do. Starting today.

We all have the power to make a difference, and these little actions, repeated by millions of people, add up to mean real change. That’s why when July 2012 was over, I had to keep on going. There was no turning back.

Four years later, I’ve feel like I’ve got living plastic-free down to a fine art. It’s not something I really have to think about any more. Those new habits have become second nature.

I don’t have the dilemmas of the early days… I have new routines, and I’ve found solutions that I’m happy with. It’s taken time, and there have been many frustrations and learning opportunities along the way, but plastic-free is a way of life for me now.

Yet this year’s Plastic Free July challenge is just as important to be as it was back in 2012. Maybe even more so. Here’s why.

Plastic Free July 2016 Plastic Free Living Treading My Own Path

Plastic Free July is definitely about inspiring change on the individual level, but it is about far more than just us and our shopping habits. It about encouraging us to see things differently, to ask questions, to challenge ourselves (and others), and to find new ways of doing things.

It is about inspiring all of us, together, and creating a movement. That’s where the real change happens. Plastic Free July is the chance to get involved with something bigger than ourselves.

It is the chance to become part of a community with a united voice, saying that we want things to be different…and demanding change. Not only that, but demonstrating what that change looks like, and how it can be done.

I’m still very much a part of this movement, and every year, as July comes around again, I feel my excitement growing. I love the swell of energy that starts to build each June, as more people hear about Plastic Free July (and the idea of living plastic-free) for the first time, and latch onto the idea that they really can make a difference.

In 2012 I was there, feeling that it was possible but full of questions about where to start, or what to do, or how to do it. Now I feel like I’ve come through the other side, and I can share my story. So that’s what I do – I share my story. (I’ll be speaking at 6 events in Perth over the next month about plasitc-free living, so if you’re local please come and say hi! Details to follow.)

My message: yes, plastic-free living is possible, and you can do it do. I was just the same as you. There is nothing special or different about me. I simply believed in the ideals enough to work at it, and make it happen. It didn’t all happen at once; just one change at time. That’s all it takes.

You can share your story or your experiences too. Don’t feel like you don’t have a story to share, or that you’re just one person. That’s all any of us are.

There are many voices in the sphere, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. There’s plenty of room, and we want to hear you! You don’t have to be a blogger, writer or public speaker. You don’t need a website or a social media feed. You just need a voice…and you already have one.

Talk to friends. Talk to family. Talk to work colleagues. Talk to your local newspaper.

What can you do this Plastic Free July? Can you bring people together and start the conversation? Do you have useful or relevant information that you can share? Is there a local event that you can get involved in?  Can you even organize your own – a plastic-free morning tea, or a beach or river clean?

Plastic Free July starts with making personal changes, but that is only the beginning. Let’s not stop there. We all care about the world we live in – that’s what inspired us to make changes in the first place.

We start with us, but let’s not stop with us. Let’s make this about more than ourselves. This Plastic Free July, wherever you are in your journey, can you do one thing that helps spread the word, or starts the conversation, or builds momentum in your community? Can you add another voice to the movement?

Jane Goodall said it best: what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

You can find more information about Plastic Free July at their website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you been involved with Plastic Free July from the early days, or have you come on board more recently… or is this the first time you’ve heard of it? How has your involvement changed throughout the years? Are you still finding your way with making personal changes, or are you getting out into your community and sharing your story and spreading the word? What projects have you been involved with, and what positive impacts are they having? Are you thinking about the next steps, but are yet to take action? How has Plastic Free July (or living without plastic generally) changed the way you live? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!