The Last Day of Plastic Free July…and a Debrief!

Phew. It’s the 31st, and that means Plastic Free July is over. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief! Whether this was your first attempt at going plastic-free, or whether you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s still a tough challenge. Even as someone who has boycotted plastic for two years, I find it tough.

Why? Because it’s confronting. It makes you question your habits, your decisions, your values – and then puts you up to the test. It’s that feeling of compromise that I mention so often…wanting to do the right thing, knowing what the right thing would be, but when faced with a decision in that moment, it doesn’t seem so black-and-white.

Maybe it’s the cost. Overall I’ve found that quitting plastic has reduced my food bill, but when you’re starting out it often isn’t that way. You probably make choices for the products you buy based on cost – so when you start basing your choices on packaging, the cost can skyrocket. If you’re still shopping in your regular shop, and for your regular items, this is likely. Slowly though, as you start finding alternative places to shop and start choosing different products, your costs go back down.

Maybe it’s the time. When you’re in a routine, and you buy the same things week in, week out then you can shop without thinking. Most of us could navigate round our regular shop with our eyes closed. But suddenly we have to start again. We have to make new choices, look for alternatives, maybe find new places to shop. The time spent shopping increases (and who wants that?!). It’s easy to write it off and go back to your old ways. Remember though, habits take time to form. If you stick with it, you’ll end up with a new routine that is just as painless as the last, and one that you can do without thinking too. Give it time.

Maybe it’s your morale. At the start of a challenge, we feel excited and ready to go. As time goes on, slip-ups happen, we struggle to find what we want, we feel drained and it all feels too hard. When we feel like this, it’s tempting to give up. Remember, though…change is never easy. However, it will get easier over time. Don’t dwell on what you can’t change, focus on what you can change. Celebrate your successes. If you need time out then take it, and come back when you’re feeling ready to give it another go.

Maybe it’s your ego, resisting. I’m not talking morale here, I’m talking about your ego, your mind, your inner voice. You know the one. The voice that persuades you to eat that extra piece of chocolate cake, even though you’ve already eaten two bits and you’re really far too full! (Or is that just me…?) Plastic Free July is going really well, you’ve had no slip-ups, you’re feeling pleased with yourself and all of a sudden you have an overwhelming desire to go and buy something completely smothered in plastic. Not because you need it, or even want it necessarily: it’s your ego trying to take back control – coaxing with “why shouldn’t you?” “who cares?” and “what does it matter?”. It’s a feeling of defiance and of rebellion. At some stage, we’ve all been there. Give in, if you have to, but don’t give up. Keep persisting, and these feelings will pass.

Whatever it is, remember we are all in this together! You’re not alone. There is a growing community of people who are going plastic-free, who have ideas, tips and suggestions, can listen and offer support when you’re struggling and can celebrate with you when you finally find something you need that’s plastic free and your regular friends think you’ve gone crazy. We understand!

If you want a bit more encouragement, check out how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better; it’s a summary of my first year of living without plastic, and all the good things that came from it!

To everyone who took part in Plastic Free July – congratulations! It doesn’t really matter how well you did or how many slip-ups you made, the most important thing is that you took part. (Hopefully you had fun, made some new friends and learnt a thing or two, too!) After all, recognising that there’s a problem, and deciding to do something about it, is the first step. The first step is always the hardest. It will get easier from here!

Now I want to hear from you! Did you take part in Plastic Free July? What was the hardest thing for you? What was the easiest? Do you have any tips for people who have yet to take part – things you learned from the experience? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Plastic Free Tea: Let’s Start a Campaign!

My discovery during Plastic Free July that teabags contain plastic made me mad. It made me really mad. Why, I wondered, when I generally drink loose leaf tea anyway? I came up with two reasons. (Well, three reasons. ‘Generally’ means I do drink tea made from teabags occasionally.) Firstly, the information I read stated that all teabag producers use plastic in their teabags…except one. That is the key. If one company can make plastic-free teabags, then it’s obviously possible – so why don’t the others? The second reason was that the Sustainability Officer for Teadirect (the Sustainability Officer, no less!), was quoted as saying this: “Most consumers don’t notice [the polypropylene] and probably don’t care.” Don’t notice?! Don’t care?! I think what’s more relevant is that consumers probably don’t know. What’s more, I care, and I know plenty of other people who also care…including Plastic is Rubbish and WestyWrites who have also been raising awareness, contacting tea companies to find out what their teabags are made of, and complaining about this use of plastic! Whether we’re in the minority or not, we still exist! So we’ve decided to do something about it, and we’d love you to join us!

The Campaign for Plastic-Free Tea

Taking that quote that made me so cross, and turning it round, I want all these tea companies to know that actually, people DO notice, and what’s more, they care, too.

teabagjpg

I’d love you all to tell these companies that you don’t like plastic in your teabags, and you want them to change. I want to make it as easy as possible for you, so I’ve done the legwork and got all the contact details I could find for some of the more popular teabag companies. If you have another you’d like me to add, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

Even if a company doesn’t sell products in your part of the world, don’t feel like you just have to stick to your little corner! Complain away!

Your Mission…Should You Choose to Accept it…

Choose how you prefer to contact each company. I’ve listed email addresses, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, if they have them. Use the hashtag #plasticfreetea on social media so we can find your comments!

Clipper Tea

Clipper tea use plastic in their square bags, but not in the individual string bags, as found out by The Snail of Happiness who wrote a letter and received this response:

“We can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.

Contact Clipper and tell them we don’t want plastic in our teabags!

By email: help@clipper-teas.com

Twitter: @ClipperTeas

Clipper Teas on Facebook

Yorkshire Tea

Yorkshire Tea informed @Westywrites via Twitter that:

“There’s an incredibly fine plastic mesh woven into the teabag for strength and structure.”

Contact Yorkshire Tea: contact form via their website

Twitter: @YorkshireTea

Yorkshire Tea on Facebook

PG Tips:

PG Tips informed Westywrites via phone that:

“There is a small amount of plastic in the tea bags to hold the bag together.”

Contact PG Tips: contact form via their website

Twitter: UK @PGtips or USA @PGTipsUSA

PG Tips on Facebook

Nerada:

Twothirdswild contacted Nerada about potential plastic in their teabags, and was told:

“There are cellulose and thermo-plastic fibres in the bags which are necessary to seal the product! Their bags are however, made from manila hemp, which has been oxygen whitened, not treated with chlorine or chlorine based compounds.”

Contact Nerada: contact form via their website

Nerada on Facebook

Twinings Tea

The information I read from 2010 stated Twinings use plastic in their teabags, but I’m yet to discover if it’s still the case. Chances are, it is.

Twinings operate in 100 countries. Find your local contact information here.

Contact Twinings UK: contact form via their website.

Twitter: @TwiningsTeaUK @TwiningsAU

Twinings UK on Facebook and Twinings Australia on Facebook

Tea-Drinking Not Your Thing?

You don’t have to be a tea-drinker to join in, just a plastic-hater! Most of us have accepted that to drink tea and avoid plastic we’ll have to switch to loose leaf tea, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be letting companies know our disappointment – if they don’t know, they won’t have any reason to change.

We can all do our bit to reduce our plastic waste through our consumption, but we can also take things to the next level and speak out about plastic in our products. Maybe teabags didn’t make you mad – but I bet something else did! If you kept a dilemma bag during Plastic-Free July, have a look and see what companies produced these products – and send them a message. I’ll be joining the Plastic Free July team on Thursday night for the Plastic Free July finale, and as well as a celebration there’s gonna be a letter-writing frenzy as we all contact these companies and tell them what we think!

Have you complained to any companies about plastic in their products? What was their response? If you haven’t already – it’s not too late to join in! Please make sure you share who you wrote to and how they replied. Any other thoughts? Leave a comment below!

And so it begins…Plastic Free July!

Yep, it’s the 1st July, and that means the Plastic Free July challenge is upon us once again. Someone asked me recently how my preparations were going. Thing is, they’re not..because every day is already plastic-free for us. Whilst I still get really excited about Plastic Free July, most of that excitement is directed towards encouraging others to take up the challenge, to spread the word and support plastic-free living with ideas and suggestions  – things that have worked for us.

This will be our third Plastic Free July challenge, so I feel we know a thing or two now about ways to reduce our plastic consumption by now! I thought to celebrate the start of the challenge, I’d trawl through my blog archives and share some of the most popular plastic-free blog posts that I’ve written; things that I learned along the way that have become a way of living.

If you’re new to the challenge, that’s great! Hopefully these posts will provide some ideas to get you started. If you haven’t signed up yet, go for it! There’s no minus points for starting late!

Plastic Free July: 5 “How-To”s for Getting Started

1. How to Line Your Bin with Newspaper

One of the arguments I always hear in favour of plastic bags, is “but what will I use to line my bin with?” The answer for us was the free community paper we receive each week. After we’ve read it, we line the bin. You can find step-by-step instructions by clicking the title above.

2. Make Your Own Deodorant

This recipe is really simple, uses ingredients that you’ll find in your pantry and most importantly, it actually works!

3. Make your Own Toothpaste

I even checked with my dentist that my toothpaste recipe was safe and effective, and she gave it her seal of approval. I use glycerin or coconut oil as a base, sodium bicarbonate as the abrasive, a drop of clove oil for its antimicrobial properties and peppermint oil to make it taste like toothpaste. Sort of. You may find it an acquired taste to start with, but it;s gets better with time!

4.  Make Your Own Nut Milk

cashewmilkfinalWe have found milk in glass bottles, but I also make my own nut milk. It works great on cereal and in smoothies and hot chocolate (yes it does!), and also for baking. If you can’t find milk in glass it’s a great way to reduce the amount you consume. This is the recipe for cashew nut milk, but you can try with all nuts (you may have to strain them) and even seeds!

5. Make Your Own Yoghurt

I started out making yoghurt with cow’s milk – it’s really simple and so much cheaper and tastier than buying it from the shops. Once I found out I had to cut out dairy, I had a go at making coconut yoghurt, which is a little more complicated but equally delicious! I’ve never tried with nut milks, and I still need to master making my own coconut milk for a completely waste-free experience, but I’m on the case and it’s a work in progress!

If you drink cow’s milk, try this recipe for natural yoghurt.

If you’re dairy-free, here’s the recipe for coconut yoghurt.

Are you taking part in Plastic Free July this year? Is there anything you feel stuck with? Or are there any great plastic-free tips and solutions you’d like to share? Join the discussion and leave a comment below!

As seen on Ethical Superstore and Plastic Free July…

If you don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have missed some exciting news… I’m spreading my message and expanding my writing beyond this site! I’m currently writing a series of blog posts for the Ethical Superstore. So far three have been published, and there’s a few more in the pipeline.

If you want to read them, here are the links:

Treading My Own Path, Rethinking Waste and the Two New Kids

Not Just About the Chocolate…Can Electronics Be Fair Trade too?

Plastic Free July: Will You Accept the Challenge?

Whilst the messages are something you’ll probably recognise if you visit the site regularly, the content is completely new – no rehashing of old material from me!

In addition, I’m also writing a couple of posts for Plastic Free July’s 2014 campaign. They’re not ready for publishing yet, so keep your eye out!

Whilst I’m on the topic of Plastic Free July, I thought I’d mention the other exciting thing about this year’s 2014 campaign: the Bring One Get One Tree initiative which features my other half as poster boy extraordinaire! It is a local campaign to try to encourage more cafes to participate in reducing their packaging consumption.

You may remember I wrote a few weeks ago about him taking part in a photoshoot. Whilst I write away furiously about whatever hair-brained scheme I’ve concocted for the week ahead (zero-waste week anyone?), Glen is behind-the-scenes putting up with it all – and quietly taking his own bags, his own reusable coffee cup, his reusable cutlery set, and refusing straws and other plastic.

Plastic Free July asked him to feature as their “suited businessman” for the campaign, so now is his chance to shine! Bring1Get1tree posters-shopsI’m not sure he’ll thank me for sharing, but I am in a sharing mood this afternoon it seems!

If you get a chance to read any of my Ethical Superstore blog posts I’d love to hear what you think! You can comment on their site or comment here. Also, if you have any thoughts for future blog posts I could write for them I’d love to hear your ideas!

One year on: how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better

On Wednesday night my boyfriend and I spoke at the Plastic Free July closing ceremony about how our lives had changed since taking part in Plastic Free July last year. It was lovely to be asked to speak, and great to be able to share with the community what it had meant to us. It was also a chance for us to reflect on how far we had come.

Whilst it’s still fresh in my mind I thought it would be good to share on the blog too.

One Year On from Plastic Free July

When we signed up for Plastic Free July in 2012, I have to confess, I thought it was going to be easy. I thought that we were pretty sustainable already – after all, we took our own shopping bags to the supermarket! I figured we’d buy a few more things in jars, a few more things in cardboard packets, and it would be a breeze.

Then I saw the movie Bag It.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I beg you to seek it out. It’s a documentary that’s funny, clever, down to earth and it gives out so much information without overloading the viewer. I think I’ve seen it five times now and each time I get something new out of it.

I know others who have seen environmental movies and claimed it changed their lives. An Inconvenient Truth is one. The End of Suburbia is another. I haven’t seen either of these, but for me, Bag It was one of those movies. After seeing it, I knew there was so much more I could do. I also knew it wouldn’t be something we just tried for a month. After July was over, we intended to carry on.

July 1st came around, and the challenge began.

Our first couple of supermarket shops after starting Plastic Free July looked like this:

We realised that if we weren’t going to starve we would probably have to make some big changes to our shopping habits.

So we started shopping at markets and bulk food shops like these:

bulkInstead of taking bags at the shop, we re-used old bags – both plastic ones that we already had and also paper bags – and also went to a workshop and made our own washable cloth bags. We also took our own containers to the deli counter and got reusable cups which we carry everywhere with us.

Another simple change we made was to buy bar soap rather than shower gel and liquid handwash that come in plastic. We choose soap made with natural ingredients and without chemicals or additives so we can avoid all that nastiness too, plus it’s made locally by a woman with her own natural skincare and aromatherapy oil business. Wins all round!

soapSo what else? We started buying more of our stuff second-hand. When we moved into our flat we had committed to buying all our furniture second-hand, but after Plastic Free July we started buying second-hand kitchen appliances, and now we always check to see if we can get something we need pre-loved rather than getting a brand new version from the shops.

We make great use of our local library. As well as the obvious books, our library also lends magazines, CDs and DVDs free of charge. This is great if it’s something we just want to flick through, watch once or have a quick listen, as we can then return it for someone else to use. It’s a great way of cutting down on plastic, but also less wasteful of resources and takes up less space in the flat. After all, how many times do you watch most of your DVDs or read most of your magazines?

We also started switching plastic items with non-plastic alternatives as they needed replacing. This cleaning brush on the right is made by a company called Full Circle (their Australian site is here). It has a bamboo handle and the heads can be replaced so you don’t need to throw the whole thing away. The head is made of bioplastic and the bristles are a mix of natural fibres and recycled plastic fibres. I’m not quite at the stage of knitting my own dishcloths yet (I don’t know how to knit, for a start) so this is a good compromise for now. The brush on the left is wood and natural bristles.

brushesI also bought my boyfriend this awesome little stainless steel lunchbox for Christmas, which he really likes. It generates a fair bit of conversation at his work, too. The plastic fork in the picture came from a pre-Plastic Free July long haul flight – I kept my initial set of cutlery and reused it for

IMAG0360 (2)the entire journey, and then my boyfriend used it at work for several months until the prongs finally snapped. Wouldn’t have happened with a metal fork though, would it?!

After Plastic Free July was over, the Earth Carers, that fantastic group of people that came up with the Plastic Free July challenge in the first place, ran a 5 session course on waste. Having been inspired by Plastic Free July we went along. One of the days was a trip to a rubbish tip and a recycling facility.

One of the big changes you’ll probably have found if you took part in the Plastic Free July challenge is that you ended up with a lot more glass bottles and jars. This happened to us, and we continued to recycle them diligently until we visited a recycling facility.

RecyclingThis massive smelly heap is the recycling collected from just a few suburbs of Perth in one afternoon. I also found out that a lot of recycling is actually shipped to Asia for processing, and glass is often trucked thousands of kilometres to be processed in a different state. The glass that is recycled in Perth is often used for road base – not shiny new glass bottles.

Even with the pantry heavily stocked with bulk items stored in glass jars, we were still accumulating more and didn’t have the space to store them indefinitely. To cut them out I decided to make more food from scratch. We committed to try to avoid buying as much as we could in any kind of packaging.

So I learnt how to make yoghurt, labne cheese and sourdough bread, amongst other things.

I also learnt how to make deodorant and toothpaste. I hope eventually to make most of my own cosmetics and skincare, but I haven’t got round to it yet.

The other interesting thing that happened, and arguably the best thing, is that we became a lot more involved in our local community. After the Earth Carers course we also enrolled in a 10 topic, 7 week sustainability course called Living Smart. It focuses on individual behaviour change and goal-setting, and has been a great way to meet like-minded people who live in our area. My boyfriend and I have both completed the Living Smart facilitator training course that allows us to run our own Living Smart courses. So far I’ve had the chance to present at a few courses and we’re looking forward to running our own by the end of the year.

Finding the Balance

One of our biggest achievements over the year has been finding the balance between wanting to consume as little plastic as possible whilst still wanting to stay sane, be happy and remain part of society! There’s no point in depriving ourselves of things if it’s going to make us miserable. After Plastic Free July I thought we’d become plastic extremists and never buy a single thing in plastic ever again. Over time we’ve come to realise that emergencies happen, sometimes we have to compromise and sometimes, plastic can actually be useful. So we do still end up with plastic – here are the main examples.

Firstly, there’s sneaky plastic. If you took part in Plastic Free July, did you buy something thinking that it was plastic free, only to find that beneath the deceptive cardboard outer, some plastic was lurking inside? Yep, us too.

Secondly, there’s the unavoidable plastic. Despite our best efforts to buy second hand, we sometimes need to buy new things, and these often come with all the little bits and pieces wrapped in unnecessary plastic bags. For example, when I decided to make my own yoghurt I bought a wide-neck flask and a milk thermometer new because I couldn’t find either second hand. Both of these had stupid unnecessary plastic, but it helped stop waste further along. Another thing I’ve found impossible to avoid is plastic lids on glass bottles, or plastic linings inside metal lids, although I buy as few as I can and refill where possible.

Finally, there’s guilty pleasures. These are the things that contain single use disposable plastic but we continue to buy anyway. My boyfriend’s top example is beer bottle tops. Maybe when we have our own place he can try his hand at homebrew. Hopefully he will turn out to be a master brewer; otherwise I think these are likely to stay.

capsBirthday and Christmas presents to each other are excluded from the plastic-free rule too – although we keep it for gifts we give to everyone else in the family! We never go crazy though. The stainless steel lunchbox purchased last Christmas actually came in a plastic bag, and I received a board game with various bits and pieces packaged in plastic. Still pretty old-school, really!

If you’d asked me a year ago how Plastic Free July would have affected me, I wouldn’t have guessed anywhere close to where I am now. I think the main lesson has been to take things slowly, and keep at one new thing until it becomes a habit before starting the next thing. A lot of this is now second nature to us, but it took a bit of work to get there.

The other important lesson has to be not to berate others for their choices. Everyone is on their own journey and if you want to inspire your friends and family to change their habits too, it is far better to lead by example than berate them for what they aren’t doing! Once people see you quietly getting on with things, hopefully they will be inspired to try things out for themselves. Everyone needs time!

As a thank-you for presenting we were given a copy of Beth Terry’s Plastic Free book. Despite being so committed to plastic free living I’ve never actually read this book, so I’m looking forward to any new inspiration that it brings!

book

The JOCO cup: a reuseable coffee cup made from glass

It’s not often that I see a product that I think is worth raving about. After all, we can’t save the planet by buying more stuff, no matter how great the eco credentials claim to be. But when I came across the JOCO cup I thought it was worth sharing.

I’ve talked before about how takeaway coffee cups are made from fossil fuels (yep, that’s where plastic comes from) and are creating a huge landfill problem. The same goes for those biodegradeable ones that actually need commercial composters to biodegrade (you can read that post here).

The way I see it, there’s two simple solutions. Dine in, or bring your own reuseable cup.

I bought a KeepCup, which is made of durable plastic. I’ve used it countless times. I was torn between buying the KeepCup, which appealed to me because its cups are standardised sizes (8oz, 12oz and 16oz, the same as disposable coffee cups), and buying a non-plastic alternative. I would rather have purchased a stainless steel one (or even ceramic) but they all seemed to come in bizarre and impractical sizes. (If your takeaway coffee cup is too tall to fit underneath an expresso machine, it rather defeats the point of having it, don’t you think?!)

The downside of the plastic KeepCup is that it does retain the taste and smell of the previous drink. No matter how many times I wash it out. Soaking overnight with a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate does a pretty good job of removing it, but wouldn’t it be better if I could wash it once and be done with it? The plastics used in the KeepCup are polypropylene for the cup (type 5) and LDPE (type 4) for the lid, which are both considered safer types of plastic. They thought that about plastic with BPA and phthalates once though. This type of plastic isn’t easily recycled either, so disposal will be an issue at the end of its life. Reuseable plastic is better than disposable plastic, but the best would be no plastic at all.

So I’ve been quietly waiting for KeepCup to bring out a stainless steel alternative.

It seems like JOCO have beaten them to it. Not with stainless steel, but another non-toxic material – glass. I wish the JOCO cup had been around when I was in the market for one. It truly seems to be the best of both worlds. The JOCO cup is made out of glass, with a silicone band so your fingers don’t get scalded. It’s the only glass coffee cup I’ve ever seen. Plus they come in proper barista sizes: 8oz and 12oz. And they’re easy on the eye, if stylishness is your thing.

JOCO cupThe other thing I love is that they sell replacement glass, bands and lids so if you lose any of the bits (or the glass breaks) you can replace them without having to buy a whole new one. This may seem obvious, but often companies make it very hard to buy replacement parts. If you’ve ever broken the glass in a coffee plunger and tried to buy a replacement you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I don’t have a JOCO cup, and I haven’t tried using one. I won’t be getting one either, because my KeepCup still has plenty of life left and to get rid of it would be wasteful. Discarding old products to buy new ones, however green they may be, is not the sustainable option.

But I know there’s a few people out there who are taking part in Plastic Free July, and maybe haven’t got round to buying a reusable coffee cup of their own yet. In which case, here’s another option for you to consider.

I was on the radio for Plastic Free July!

plastic-free-july-logo-banner-lgeWhen I spoke at the Plastic Free July launch back in April (I wrote about it here) about my experience of Plastic Free July in 2012, I was also asked to record a brief interview with radio station RTR FM.

Well, this week my interview was aired!

Quite exciting, as I’ve never been on the radio before.

I have no idea how to add media files to the blog – or if it’s even possible – so I’m just going to share the link. If you’re interested, click here to hear the Understorey Plastic Free July programme recorded by RTR FM.

Happy listening!

A month without.

Today is the 1st July. I quite like that it also happens to be a Monday. It feels like an even better day for the start of new things. Plastic Free July has started, so it’s a month without plastic. As we don’t buy anything much in plastic these days, it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it’ll be good to keep us on our toes and keep track of anything that does come our way, which we will put in the dilemma bag. The dilemma bag is for all the plastic we just can’t do without, or the sneaky plastic that thwarts our attempts to buy plastic-free. When we first gave up plastic, we kept everything in a dilemma bag but we had nowhere to keep it so after a few months we decided to stop. But we’ll resume it for the month and see how much (hopefully none!) we accumulate. Read more

Plastic Free July is almost upon us!

plastic-free-july-logo-banner-lge

This year’s Plastic Free July challenge is almost upon us, with just a little over two weeks to go. Plastic Free July, in case you don’t know what it is, is a challenge that runs every year which encourages people to give up disposable plastic for the month of July. (If you think that sounds too hard, you can also commit to a week or even one shopping trip instead.)

What do I mean by disposable plastic mean anyway?

This is the stuff you use just once, or a couple of times, and then throw away. Obvious items include plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, plastic food packaging in general (cellophane wrapping, polystyrene trays, plastic tubs, bottles and yoghurt pots, even tetra-packs) and a lot of cosmetics and toiletries packaging. But there’s loads of less obvious stuff out there too. Like, for example, when you buy a new pair of socks and they are hanging on the rack with a little plastic hook? That little hook is gonna go straight in the bin.

What’s the purpose of Plastic Free July?

Well, there’s actually a few. On an individual level, it makes participants vastly more aware of how much disposable plastic is in our lives. It also encourages people to look at what plastic they use and see if they can find alternatives to any of it, so maybe after July, some new habits are formed.

But also, by bringing your own bags to the shops, or taking your own containers to the fishmonger, or refusing a straw, people can also send messages to retailers and businesses, and also their staff and other customers. This sends the message to the wider community that there is another way, and create awareness at this level too. The more people that demand change, the more businesses will listen.

Of course, it also means vastly less plastic is consumed in the month of July, which means less plastic going to landfill and less plastic ending up in our rivers and oceans where it harms wildlife. And less fossil fuels are wasted making new disposable plastic that is destined for the same journey.

Plus it’s a great way to find out about businesses that are already doing great things to help the environment – either cafes with zero waste policies, or companies that make stainless steel water bottles or reusable cloth vegetable bags – and also charities, community groups and other organisations that are campaigning for change.

So Plastic Free July is about creating awareness, reducing waste and inspiring change.

Why am I so passionate about Plastic Free July?

I took part in Plastic Free July last year for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience. Seriously. I always thought of myself as pretty green and sustainable, but once I started looking at how much plastic I was consuming, I realised there was so much more I could do. So after July I committed to permanently avoiding buying disposable plastic packaging.

But it wasn’t just that. Once I started looking at all that plastic-wrapped food, I realised that it’s all processed, and mostly junk. The more processed the ‘food’, the more plastic packaging. Once I stopped buying that stuff, I instantly felt better and healthier, and it made me start to look at what I was eating to make the connections between food and health. We all know that you need to eat well, but often we choose to ignore it when we’re busy, for the sake of convenience. Taking part in Plastic Free July made me reconnect with the issue. I also learned to cook new things so I could make fresh, wholesome versions of the things I could no longer buy, so I didn’t have to go completely without.

The same goes for skincare. I used to buy products that were readily available in the supermarkets, and never really considered that they contained preservatives, irritants and carcinogens. Yep, carcinogens. (If you wanna see what’s in the products you’re using, check out the Skin Deep database here which contains 64,000 products. It’s an eye-opener.) Once I started looking for cosmetic products in glass I began to find natural products that didn’t contain any of that nasty stuff. Now I know the alternatives I wouldn’t dream of buying those mass-produced synthetic chemical cocktails to put on my skin. (I’ve also started learning how to make my own.)

The Plastic Free July challenge also led me to small, independent businesses and local producers, and changed the whole way I shopped. Which is great because I’d much rather be supporting these types of businesses rather than the big multinational companies with their inferior products and questionable ethics. I just needed that extra push, I suppose.

What else? Well I learned a great deal about waste and pollution, and found out about a number of charities and individuals doing amazing work, including 5 Gyres, who campaign against plastic pollution, and the fantastic Beth Terry, who gave up plastic completely in 2007, and whose blog contains a wealth of information regarding plastic-free living.

Through Plastic Free July I was also able to really connect with my local community, and meet so many people who live just down the road and have the same concerns as me. It’s great to know I’m not the only one that cares – and sometimes it can feel a bit like that!

So there’s a lot more to Plastic Free July than giving up a few plastic carrier bags!

Want to get on board?

Sign up! You’ve still got two weeks to prepare for it, and if you want to know more have a look at the Plastic Free July website which has loads of information, links and suggestions for dilemnas you may have. You can choose which challenge you want to sign up to, and if there’s something that you absolutely cannot avoid that comes in plastic (like medication!) just keep the packaging in a ‘dilemna bag’ for the end of the month.

And if you’re still not sure, have a look at the website anyway… you’ve still got a couple of weeks to change your mind!

Plastic Free July 2013 Breakfast Launch

This morning I was invited to the breakfast launch for the Plastic Free July 2013 campaign. Not only that, but I was asked to share my story about my Plastic Free July to the group, as a participant from last year’s challenge.

Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Perth, WA, developed by the Western Earth Carers, and this year will be its third year. The challenge went from just 40 local participants in the first year to a few hundred last year, mainly due to the hugely successful Plastic Free July facebook page and other social media.

This year, we’re hoping it’s going to attract thousands of participants, and there’s been considerable interest from people in the States and Canada as well as across Australia. The challenge is simple: go without single use plastic for the month of July.

I’ve talked before on the blog about how the movie Bag It and the Plastic Free July Challenge were big motivators for me to make some changes to the way I live, and what really started me on the sustainability journey I’m currently treading. So to be able to talk about my Plastic Free July journey to a packed audience, and hopefully inspire some others to take up the challenge this year, was pretty exciting!

It was really well received, which was fantastic, and I also had the opportunity afterwards to be interviewed by RTR FM for a radio programme that will be airing in June, although I don’t know the day or time yet. I’ll make sure I find out though; I’ve never been on the radio before! I thought it would be great to share what I talked about here on the blog too.

Before Plastic Free July

Looking back, my awareness of my plastic consumption was pretty low. I would take my own shopping bags to shops and generally refuse bags at the checkout, only taking a plastic bag if I needed to line my rubbish bin at home. I also used to buy fresh produce loose, rather than in bags, but everything else came in packaging.

My plastic-free consumption today

I would say that today I am pretty much plastic-free! I don’t buy food products in plastic packaging; I don’t buy cleaning products, cosmetics or toiletries in plastic packaging. Pretty much, if it comes in plastic, I don’t buy it. The main things I have issues with are plastic lids that come on glass bottles, which I cannot always avoid. Medicine comes in plastic, but I avoid anything excessive like boxes wrapped in cellophane.

What I did during Plastic Free July

The big message from Plastic Free July is that the challenge isn’t about going without, it’s about finding alternatives. One simple alternative to using a plastic bag to line your rubbish bin is to use old newspapers. I found a local dairy that sells milk and yoghurt in glass bottles and jars that can also be returned to the dairy for re-use. I started taking my own re-usable fabric produce bags and containers when I went shopping, and I started shopping more at markets and bulk food stores.

I also changed some of my habits. I now take my own reusable takeaway coffee cup when I want to grab a takeaway coffee, and if I’ve forgotten it, I’ll dine in (provided they use proper cups of course!). I also opt to eat in more than takeaway now to avoid all the unnecessary packaging. If I’m buying an ice-cream, I’ll always chose a cone rather than a tub, and avoid the little plastic spoon.

What I found difficult

The hardest thing at the start of the challenge was knowing where to find these plastic-free “alternatives”. But as more people took up the challenge it became a lot easier. The Plastic Free July facebook page was a great resource for seeking knowledge and support, and a useful tool to share great finds. At the Plastic Free July 2013 launch today, WMRC announced their new website www.plasticfreejuly.org, which is full of useful information.

What I learned

The biggest thing I learned was how much plastic exists in our lives. It’s quite scary when you think that every single piece of plastic that has been created since plastic was invented still exists in the world today. This stuff takes hundreds of years to break down.

The second biggest thing I learned was how, with a little bit of effort, you can eliminate a lot of it from your daily life…because it’s unnecessary. So much of the stuff we buy is completely over-packaged. As I mentioned before, going plastic-free isn’t about going without, it’s about finding alternatives. And I learned that there is a plastic-free alternative to almost everything.

Some people who talked about going plastic free told me that there is nothing that you can buy from your local supermarket. But that’s not true. Alternatives come in glass jars, bottles, tins. In my local supermarket I can buy pasta in cardboard boxes, cordial and fruit juice in glass, toilet roll wrapped in paper. The one thing that you can’t buy plastic-free is junk food. If it’s filled with synthetic ingredients, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, it’ll come in plastic packaging. So if you stop buying plastic, your diet improves straightaway.

I also learned that most people react positively. At the deli counters, even the supermarket ones, the staff are more than happy to use my containers rather than their plastic bags. I just have to remind some of them to weigh the container before filling it so I’m not charged for the weight of the container too! People are interested in why you don’t use plastic, and most people think it’s a great thing to be doing.

The other thing I learned since going plastic-free is that I spend less on food. Some things do cost more. The milk and yoghurt I buy in glass bottles is more expensive than milk in the supermarket, and cheese from the deli counter will cost more than the mass-produced cheese that’s vacuum-packed. The quality, however, is infinitely better. And these expensive items are offset by shopping more in markets and bulk food stores which are cheaper than the supermarkets. But the biggest saving comes from not buying junk.

Why I’d recommend Plastic Free July

There are so many reasons why Plastic Free July is an amazing experience, but I’ve kept it to just a few.

  1. It’s a real eye-opener in terms of the amount of plastic in our lives, especially UNNECESSARY plastic.

  2. It’s a great way to create awareness of the issues surrounding plastic, simply by doing your shopping.

  3. It’s fun! It’s a great way to try new things and change old habits.

  4. You’ll eat much more healthily.

  5. You’ll probably save money.

  6. You’ll be supporting local businesses and local producers rather than buying mass-produced rubbish and lining the pockets of the big multi-national companies.

If you’re interested in signing up to Plastic Free July, or even just finding out a bit more information, check out the new WMRC website at www.plasticfreejuly.org.

“Think about it. Why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away? What’s up with that?”

-Jeb Berrier, Bag It Movie