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Plastic Free July is almost upon us!

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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!

How to…Line your Rubbish Bin without a Plastic Bag

Australians use nearly 4 billion plastic bags per year, using each for only a few minutes. When you think that plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, it seems pretty crazy to be using such a valuable resource to make something that’s only going to be used for such a short amount of time, and then thrown away.

A common argument – or even justification – for using these plastic bags is, oh but I do recycle my bags, I use them to line my rubbish bin. Thing is, that’s not recycling. It’s barely even re-using.

It’s still sending to landfill, just with other rubbish inside.

I have to confess, before I signed up to Plastic Free July I used to take the odd plastic bag from the shops when I needed to line my rubbish bin. I certainly wasn’t going to pay for virgin plastic to line my bin in the form of fancy bin liners. And what is the point in buying compostable corn starch liners when you’re sending them (and their contents) to landfill, where they won’t break down? Landfill sites essentially bury the waste and prevent exposure to air, moisture and light – and also the microbes that can break them down.

And then someone said to me, why don’t you line your rubbish bin with old newspaper? Such a simple and obvious solution! I really don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

How to Line a Rubbish Bin Without a Plastic Bag

All you need is a few sheets of old newspaper. I use three sets of two sheets, and sometimes I’ll fold some additional ones to put in the base. It takes about a minute.

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When the bin is nearly full you simply roll over the tops to make a parcel and dump in your outdoor rubbish bin. The great thing is that newspaper is usually made from recycled paper so has already had a previous life (or several lives) before you send it off to landfill.

What are you waiting for?!

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