Plastic Free July, or, how I thought I was an eco-warrior and then failed miserably at Plastic Free July Every Single Day.

By now I’m sure most of you have at least heard of Plastic Free July – it’s where you give up single use plastic every day for the month of July to drastically reduce plastic consumption and to become more aware of your consumption habits. I took the challenge up on a whim, thinking it would be interesting but mainly because I didn’t think it would be hard – I already use canvas bags, a keep cup, a reusable water bottle, frequent the wholefoods store, go plastic free with amazing toilet paper and recycle like a pro. Despite all this (or maybe because of it) I wasn’t very organised about initiating PFJ. I didn’t do any forward planning (or research) and so the first day (and most days thereafter) produced a huge shock to the system. I was caught off guard – how could someone like me produce this much plastic waste? I decided to keep a record of my discoveries each day, documenting my shock, changing world view and the hacks I found along the way.

Sunday 1st July
At the shopping centre nearest our house I was greeted with signs on the walls acting as a visual reminder that NSW have just banned single use plastic bags. What a salient time to be doing plastic free July – as the whole state is forcibly pushed towards becoming more aware of our mark on the planet.

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My first shock was bread. I couldn’t find a plastic free loaf anywhere. However, as I looked around the supermarket I also wondered how we were supposed to buy yoghurt, berries or any kind of dairy without plastic? Meat seemed positively evil in plastic tubs and polythene covers that don’t even pretend to be recyclable.
We needed new lunch containers- we prepare 99.9% of our food at home and take it to work throughout the week for breakfast and lunch. It saves money and cuts down on plastic and food waste… even as I was justifying the purchase to myself I couldn’t help but notice the (non-recyclable) plastic they were wrapped in. First fail.

Our second stop was at the farmer’s market – usually a paradise of environmentally friendly options. With my new plastic free agenda however, I noticed plastic everywhere. Bargain packs of green beans and mandarins were all packaged in plastic bags. And still the problem of bread. There were a few artisinal, fresh baked loaves, not already wrapped in plastic, but at $7 a loaf that’s more of a treat than a viable or lasting option.

Third stop was our local Wholefoods shop (you know – the big bins filled with rice, dried beans etc which you fill your own containers with). I chatted to the owner about plastic free July and my bread conundrum (his wonderful advice “you don’t just go waste free, just like you don’t just go vegan – it has to be gradual). He mentioned that they sold reusable bread bags which you could take to the bakery – at $20 a pop I could see why this whole ‘environmental’ thing is seen to be only for the privileged or for hardcore greenies. I left wondering if there were another alternative I could take to the bakery – maybe I could reuse one of the 3 million single use plastic bags sitting under the sink.

Fourth stop was our usual grocer – round the corner from our house it is a small independent. Again, I was shocked by the realisation that there was no way of getting our usual cherry tomatoes, berries, or ANY dairy products without some form of plastic packaging. Instead of grabbing the big bargain packs of onions, carrots and green beans, we picked these out individually to avoid the plastic. Needless to say the contents of our shopping bags were vastly different this week – we were officially on a plastic free diet.

Monday 2nd July
The first hurdle was met by 8am. How do I have my breakfast? Until now, I had been using the milk provided at work. Yes it’s plastic but my justification is that they would be getting the milk anyway, whether or not I use it, so I’m not REALLY contributing to plastic waste, right? Plastic Free July is already framing everything in a new light.

Black coffee and toast it is.

Tuesday 3rd July
I went to the pharmacy to pick up a script and whilst waiting, went to find some make-up wipes. As I reached for my favourite brand I looked at their plastic packaging and sadly realised I would have to forfeit them. Guess I’m using soap this month (or making my own). I paid for my purchases and gleefully canvas-bagged my medication and face cream (which comes in a glass container). As I got home I realised that not only is the lid of my cream made of plastic, there is also a lot of plastic throughout the packaging of my tablets. This is more pervasive than I realised. And complicated – my health is far more important to me than the environment (is this selfish or realistic?)

The other problem is that packaging for both of these tends to be complex and therefore harder to recycle – as well being accompanied often by a lack of knowledge about where to recycle these products and whether they can be recycled at all. Generally for cosmetics I tend to use brands which encourage you to take the packaging back to the store for in-house recycling(like MAC and Lush). Still, this left me with a lot to ponder. Especially that I was on fail # 5 by only the third day.

Wednesday 4th July
Realised that our local cafe has a keep cup washing station. Feeling galvanised as I can see a movement of change and adaptation. Mentioned this to my colleague who is also doing PFJ and we discussed the importance of supporting businesses who try to be plastic free themselves.

Thursday 5th July
Looking in the fridge I realised that when my partner grabbed the groceries for a dinner we would be hosting he must have been on auto-pilot – carrots, mushrooms and green beans all came in their plastic bulk bags rather than individually. Can’t believe the response I felt – I used to think there was nothing I could do about it as they just came that way but already I feel as though we ought to do better.

Friday 6th July
Forgot my lunch and rather than getting a takeaway in a plastic container I dined in at a restaurant near my work. Nice and relaxing as I sat to read but less so when I lost track of time and had to rush to get back to work on time.

Saturday 7th July
Just read about my new favourite single use plastic reduction. Switching from lighters to matches. I had never even considered lighters as single use plastic waste! I feel that this is a great alternative as it is so easy and wouldn’t negatively affect your life/ inconvenience you (everyone who struggles to remember a canvas bag, keep cup or bottle – this one’s for you!)

Sunday 8th July
Didn’t give ANY thought to chocolate packaging before grabbing two slabs of chocolate for an afternoon movie sesh. Afterwards, when I realised what I’d done, I started to ponder my decision. A bit of googling shows that most chocolate packaging is made from polypropylene plastics and isn’t widely recycled. It seems as though there are some smaller and more ethically/ environmentally conscious brands which come wrapped in completely compostable packaging. However, when looking for ‘ethical’ chocolate I was soon sidetracked by companies promoting FairTrade and ‘Cruelty Free’ chocolate and I soon forgot about the packaging… Who knew chocolate was such an ethical minefield? Starting to doubt everything.

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Where to even begin?

Tuesday 10th
Bought a new mascara today. Everything in Sephora is so covered in plastic packaging that I felt wasteful just going in. Ended up researching makeup recycling and feeling grateful that my usual routine doesn’t involve a large amount of makeup.

Wednesday 11th
While dog sitting my boyfriend offered to go and pick up some gelato. I felt so proud for getting vegan that I neglected to think about the container. I noticed my mistake when I received my (vegan) gelato in a little plastic cup with a plastic spoon. I clearly suck at this (or maybe, there’s plastic everywhere and it’s so hard to avoid which is the whole point of PFJ). Should I just get cones? Campaign for my local gelato place to get bamboo spoons and compostable cups? Go in each time I’d like to get gelato and tell them I’d like gelato but can’t support them until they have more environmentally friendly containers? Or take my own spoon and containers with me everywhere I go for takeout? Seriously, when are we not producing waste?

Thursday 12th
No single use plastic used today! (except for a pre-existing container of almond milk which I’ve been having in my coffee – which I found strange at first but am slowly getting used to)

Friday 13th
A friend sent me this link about a woman living almost completely zero-waste and I ended up down a rabbit hole, looking at all the cool things she does. Am I seriously geeky or is going waste free kind of a cool hobby? Also, the biggest objection I hear is time, whereas I think the main change is adjusting your mindset and planning… after that, everything else falls into place.

Saturday 14th
Keep thinking about the ‘plastic attack’ I remember reading about in the UK. With Australian supermarkets currently backtracking on their commitment to go plastic bag free, I wonder whether the solution is to show our support for what they’re doing already and to encourage further action?

Or should I just open up a zero waste supermarket?

Sunday 15th
Beautiful sunny day made all the more beautiful because, for the first day this month, I actually went completely plastic free.

Monday 16th
Had a friend over for dinner and we had olives and hummus (in plastic containers – fail). Wondering whether you could go to the deli in the supermarket with your own containers and get the olives in there? Hummus we could definitely make ourselves (but I never do – what a drag).

Tuesday 17th
Plastic Free date night. We went for dinner and drinks (no straws thanks) and then stopped by the Whole Foods store (open til 8:30 on week nights) for dried pineapple and peaches, coconut roughs and freeze dried strawberries coated in dark chocolate – a plethora of tasty, plastic free snacks to take to the cinema.

Thursday 19th
My plastic eschewing colleague brought home-made almond milk into work in a reused glass bottle. So many wins here! It still separates a bit in coffee but we did some research on how to prevent this and will try this myself.

Friday 20th
Starting to actually love almond coffee. Second totally plastic free day.

Saturday 21st
My housemate came with us to the whole foods store and, in the way of the newly initiated, was absolutely amazed (which reminded me how cool this can actually be). We discovered that they accept cosmetics containers, including shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes and send these off to be recycled.

Later we went to a birthday party in the park – took snacks (veggie chips, nuts and soy crisps) from the whole foods store in containers from home.

Third plastic free day.

Sunday 22nd
Another trip to the Farmer’s Markets and we now have bees wax wraps to use instead of cling film! This afternoon I went guilt free for chocolate – bought a bar of 82% dark chocolate from Whittakers. The wrapper feels like paper and I will dispose of it in the compost bin. Day four!

Monday 23rd
Trialed out some new vegan, packaging free snacks – roasted chickpeas. I used to think that buying dried beans was unnecessary effort as you had to soak them first… but now when I use some I just put some more in water and leave them in the fridge to have the next day. Can’t believe I always thought this was so much effort.

Day five of actually being plastic free with bonus points for being completely zero waste.

Tuesday 24th
I have wondered for a while whether the contents of our recycling bin actually gets recycled. I don’t know if this is just me being a crazy plastic fanatic but I decided to look into it. I found some really heartwarming articles suggesting that everything we throw out can become a useful part of society once again. and that 60% of what we consume has already been recycled. Unfortunately, everything written this year (since China stopped taking our rubbish) seems more cynical. A common claim is that Australia’s waste doesn’t have anywhere to go. The general consensus seems to be that there are solutions but that in Australia, as well as the rest of the world, there is a pervasive lack of desire to do anything innovative or to overcome any hurdles. For me, this is all evidence that recycling is only a bandaid solution- we need to drastically cut dow what we throw.

Wednesday 25th
Experimenting with various cosmetic plastic reduction methods. I have a shampoo bar and use conditioner from Lush (who do a lot of in-store recycling). I have also been keeping a jar of coconut oil in the shower and using that instead of moisturiser. My hair has been pretty dry and I rubbed some of the coconut oil in the ends to try and help… it did not go as planned and today my hair is dry and greasy. I am not deterred. Next up will be to take my own containers to the local wholefoods store and try their shampoo and conditioner. Luckily you can take as much or as little as you want so I can just get enough for a week and see how it feels.

Saturday 28th
We’re nearing the end of the month and at this stage I’m a little obsessed with plastic. I had a long debate with friends over ethical dilemmas such as meat and plastic consumption. “We are not the problem” kept coming up – we being educated, suburbanites who have already significantly reduced their plastic use and meat consumption. I find myself feeling that I need to do more but not sure how to express this when, to most, my actions already seem extreme. My outlook has changed too – small slip ups now seem much bigger – the pack of chips and bag of mushrooms we ate this weekend (through sheer lack of planning) sit guilty in my mind

Monday 30th
Discussing PFJ with my housemates and the question of time came up. For someone with a busy job and long hours, a zero-waste lifestyle is virtually impossible. Along with this we talked about the change and decisions that needs to come from the company, not the individual (such as moving to using more environmentally friendly packaging materials). However, if there’s one truth in life (besides death and taxes) it’s that companies will continue to do what brings them the most profit, not what’s ‘right’.

Tuesday 31st
Not sure how I feel about being at the end of this month. My thought process about so many things has changed. I can no longer see excessive plastic use and waste as something we just have to accept.

Conclusions
What a weird and wonderful time to have attempted a plastic free month. With uproar over attempts to ban single use plastic bags in the supermarket to uproar over plastic covered beaches on the other side of the world, everyone has been talking about plastic.

If it’s possible for one month to completely change your life and outlook then this has been that month for me. Apart from having to change my routine, I ended up discovering a lot of information from people who had done this before me, learning so much about what nearby resources are available to me and having so many interesting and thought provoking conversations. Needless to say, I did not succeed in my challenge. I still used plastic almost every day. Which was probably the real lesson – plastic is everywhere. We have become so desensitised to packaging that we assume we can’t do anything about it.

I can’t recommend highly enough that everyone attempt one plastic free month. You will be shocked by what you discover and it will change the way you think about yourself, the world you inhabit and the choices you make subliminally every day. You may even discover that there are many small sustainable changes that you can make to your lifestyle which are not as hard as you thought.

I discovered that everybody has an opinion on waste and unfortunately, the vast majority seem to have the opinion that cutting out waste from their lives won’t make a big enough impact. I beg to differ – if everyone in the developed world made a small change to their routine (getting snacks from the whole foods store/ refilling their bottles of oil/ jars of honey instead of buying new/ using bars of soap instead of bottles of shower gel/ boycotting takeaway restaurants which use plastic containers… the list goes on and on) there would be an incredible impact on how much waste we produce. We can always argue that there’s no point in changing when America or India or China are the problem but as educated people who know better, I believe we have a duty to start at home. Ultimately I think that change does need to happen on a larger scale and from the top down but that this will happen primarily because of pressure from us.

If you have done plastic free July or are thinking about cutting down on your plastic use or waste, please let me know! I would love to hear about and have included links below that I found helpful and informative.

Further reading:
Calculating your carbon footprint:
https://www.carbonfootprint.com/plastic_waste.html
Chocolate:
http://www.packagingoftheworld.com/2017/09/green-blacks.html
http://www.divinechocolate.com/uk/about-us/frequently-asked-questions
http://www.packaginginnovation.com/eco-packaging/biodegradable-chocolate-packaging-eat-bar-grow-plant/
http://www.greenerpackage.com/compost_biodegrade/compostable_wrapper_chocolate_supports_company%E2%80%99s_eco-vision
Clothing waste:
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-your-fast-fashion-addiction-affecting-planet/
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/i-didnt-buy-any-new-clothes-year-and-it-was-totally-fine/
Precycling:
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/precycling-what-it-and-how-you-can-do-it/
Single use plastic:
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/2-common-questions-about-kicking-the-single-use-plastic-habit/
Store finder:
https://app.zerowastehome.com/
Sustainable living:
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/beyond-plastics-next-steps-towards-sustainable-living/
Takeaway:
https://trashlesstakeaway.com.au/
Tetrapak:
http://www.tetrapak.com/au/sustainability/local-recycling-information
recyclingnearyou.com.au/about/tetrapak.cfm
https://treadingmyownpath.com/2014/09/11/why-tetra-paks-arent-green-even-though-theyre-recyclable/
http://heartofgreen.typepad.com/heart_of_green/2009/03/tetra-paks-recyclable-green.html
http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/in-defense-of-tetrapak.html
How can I compost? What do I do with my food waste?
http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/10-good-food-scraps-youre-probably-throwing-away/
Zero waste blogs/inspo:
https://tinytrashcan.com/category/zero-waste-living/
https://www.instagram.com/plasticfreemermaid/?hl=en
https://zerowastehome.com/

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Plastic Free July, or, how I thought I was an eco-warrior and then failed miserably at Plastic Free July Every Single Day.

    • Amazing! As for your plastic/ meat loving housemates, I’d recommend getting new ones 😉 In all seriousness, it’s a really tough one! My housemates and I don’t cook together but despite best intentions at home there is a lot of plastic waste that I hate seeing. Doing all our meal prep at home and not cooking meat has actually inspired a few of our housemates to follow suit but I know this won’t always be the case. Perhaps you could try lentil Bolognese one night, a curry and dahl another and a Thai green curry packed with veggies? If you have a conversation with them about it and make sure your vegetarian cooking is on point perhaps you could even reach a point of having one meat free day a week! I think the most important thing is not making them feel judged or like you’re forcing your values on them. And taking pride in the baby steps. Good luck and let me know how you go!

      Liked by 1 person

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