It's nearly July! Each year I like (and encourage friends) to take part in Plastic Free July as our commitment to making positive changes for our health and our planet.
If you are at the start of your plastic free journey then my advice is to make changes over time. Choose 1-3 options to get started that will work for you and your family. It takes 21 days to form a habit, so be realistic in your choices for your plastic free journey to ensure you get the commitment embedded into your lifestyle. Once you get these down pat and have consistently made the switch, you will find it becomes the norm for you and your new way of life. Then each July (or sooner if you're ready), you can add to the great changes you have already made. I can’t say I have ever missed a single use product that I no longer use! It’s important to remember to keep it real and not be too hard on yourself if you forget, trip up or miss something one day. Pick yourself up, reset, and keep going.
Top 4 Changes
Did you know that 50% of the world’s plastic goes into items that are only used once. Wow! I have been on a plastic-free journey for a number of years now and still making changes, but my starters were these top 4 items that can make a huge impact locally in our community and globally.
✅ Say no to plastic water bottles. Take a reusable water bottle wherever you go. Have spares in the office, in the car, in your backpack. Make sure all the family gets onboard and makes this a positive habit. School aged kids will be doing this by default for school and sports activities. There are lots of public water stations (check your councils website) around, or just ask a cafe or sports club to fill your bottle with tap water.
✅ Say no to disposable coffee cups. Take your own coffee cup to your favourite coffee shop. I admit I forgot my cup several times in the early days, which meant no take away coffee for me that morning… uh! I learnt quickly! And stashed some spare reusable cups in the car and in my office drawer. We did also invest in a home coffee machine some time later, so we can enjoy barista made coffees from home. Remember that you can also slow down and dine in to drink your coffee. And please be kind and courteous to your local barista and make sure you wash your reusable cup. A lot of places are starting to refuse cups that aren’t clean…. and rightly so.
NB: Yes during the current COVID-19, some cafes are still not taking reusables. In this article, health experts push back against the plastic industry to declare safety of reusables during COVID-19. In the absolute worst case scenario, maybe refuse the plastic lid and/or collect up your disposable cups and drop them into participating Simply Cups partners.
✅ Say no to plastic bags. Yes, even those ones that claim to be biodegradable. Take your own reusable shopping bags and produce bags. The key is to have them ready and handy when you need them - a bunch in the boot of your car, one or two small rolled up versions in your handbag, some hanging by the door. If you really have forgotten your bags (again!) see if paper bags or a box is available for you. On many occasions, I have put my shopping back into my trolley and loaded them straight into my car boot, or made family members carry items to the car. Never a prouder moment when my son refused a plastic bag from our local shops when we popped in for some tissue boxes. “ No thanks” he says, “We can carry these, right mum?” Absolutely!
✅ Say no to straws. Do you really need a straw at all? If you must and genuinely have a need (I acknowledge that there are people in our community who require these), then take a reusable silicone or stainless steel straw with you.
Over the years, and in particular the recent War on Waste Series has spun me into action on doing more to reduce our impact on our environment. Here’s some more tips and ideas that you’d might like to try over time:
Around the Home
✅ Switched to Who Gives A Crap toilet paper - plastics free and comes in bulk.
✅ Buying cleaning products in bulk and refilling at home, or simply using bi-carb, vinegar and lemon!
✅ Stop buying cling film - replace with a mix of containers, silicone covers, beeswax wraps and fabric food covers / wraps.
✅ Stopped buying wipes. When my son was younger we aimed to use reusable wipes at home. You can make these from cut up older towels, linens and cotton clothing. Simply wash and re-use!
✅ Reduce the use of microfibre cloths and moved to natural fibres like cotton. Microfibre cloths aren’t the best because they shed micro plastics when you use them to clean and when you pop them in the washing machine. Microplastics are contaminants in our marine environment. As mentioned above you can use all sorts of off cuts for cleaning around the home.
✅ Following on the micro plastics front, I invested in a micro plastics wash bag like Guppyfriend to reduce micro plastics entering our waterways.
✅ Replaced plastic sponges with natural biodegradable coconut fibre items.
✅ Gradually moved pantry items to glass containers, and re-purposed / passed on plastic containers that were still in good nick.
✅ Take the time to plan and make a lot more food items from scratch - jams, preserves, sauces, biscuits, muesli bars, porridge etc.
✅ Using no bag at all in waste bins or if you must - certified compostable bin liner bags.
✅ All my plastic pegs degraded over time, so we invested in marine grade stainless steel pegs that are guaranteed for life!
✅ Switched to bamboo toothbrushes. And
✅ Made the switch to a menstrual cup and reusable cloth pads / liners. Life changing - wish I had done this one much earlier in my adult life!
✅ When that plastic razor comes to the end of its life, invest in a stainless steel one that will last you a lifetime.
Out and About
✅ Put together a BYO kit which mainly lives in our car for when we are out and about. It has reusable cups, cutlery, containers, drink bottles and napkins.
✅ Have some containers ready for when you order take away or want to take home leftovers from dining in. Many places will put your takeaway food in your own containers such as a glass Pyrex dish with a lid, or a stainless steel tiffin box.. Just need to make sure it’s clean, of course. Talk with your local favourite restaurants and encourage them to accept reusable containers. In the long run it will save their business money also.
✅ Events can create a lot of waste. Tap into your local community “share library” to borrow a kids or adults party kit. Perhaps you could start one up in your own community and list it in the Eco Party Network to share around.
I’m very proud of our achievements to date and getting our landfill waste down to one small bag every 2 weeks. We also have only ever had 1 council clean up collection since buying our first home - and that was to dispose of an old mattress, plus some other odds and ends hanging around our garage. We always try to find new homes for things we longer need or are surplus. Think creatively - preschools and schools in general love resources for arts and crafts, toys, books and games you may no longer use anymore. There are wonderful organisations such as Dandelion Support Network that can use a vast variety of your no longer needed baby and children’s items. Reserve Garbage also accepts donations in their mission to save materials from going to waste in landfill and to renew their value by making them available for reuse by families, students, artists and community groups.
And of course, there is always more we can work towards. Some of the areas I hope to improve in include:
📍 Soft plastics bin audit - we still take a fair bit to RedCycle. I’d like to really get this down, so we are choosing more package free items and cooking more from scratch for snacks and lunch boxes.
📍 Take BYO containers for deli items like cheese, meats and olives etc.
📍 Make more DIY beauty and cleaning products.
I encourage you to take the challenge and choose to refuse single-use plastics, for you, your family and our planet! There are lots of resources out there and I highly recommend these great sites and the people behind them as a starting source of great knowledge:
Plastic Free July – Be Part of the Solution
Low Tox Life
The Rogue Ginger | Zero-Waste, Plastic-Free, Sustainable Living Blog by Erin Rhoads
The Inspired Little Pot
Treading My Own Path
1 Million Women
Laura and a group of eco-warrior friends also run the community groups War on Waste Sutherland Shire and The Wheel - A Sustainability Hub (formally Library of Things Sutherland Shire) in the Sutherland Shire). You can follow us on Facebook for the latest information or ask a question within our community.
If you’d like to shop eco-friendly items with us, you can enter code PLASTICFREE10 at the checkout for 10% off your order from 1-31 July 2020 (min order $20, and does not include food items or shipping).