So, the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory, yes? There is a movement around the world (although this particular one originated in Western Australia) to address the plastic overload on this planet. This is nothing new – I am sure that every single person reading this knows that plastic lasts for a very long time and is causing huge environmental problems. We know that every single bit of plastic ever made is still with us. We know about the huge floating rubbish islands in the global oceans, and we know that animals are dying of starvation with their tummies filled with plastic. This issue has been high in the public consciousness for at least a decade.
Even so, with all of the things that we know, plastic use is growing every year. I’m not talking about your solid, reusable plastics, although that is a conversation for another day; I’m talking about single use, throw away plastics – plastic straws, takeaway coffee cups, plastic bags and drink bottles. These are known as the big 4 because they make up 60% of plastic waste.
I’m not sure if it was watching the ABC’s War on Waste, or if some mysterious personal tipping point has been reached, but when I came across the concept of Plastic Free July a few weeks ago, I saw it as an opportunity to up the ante, and to get real about mine and my family’s plastic consumption.
For a couple of weeks, I just watched how we use plastic. I watched how, even though I have a travel cup, when I didn’t have it on me, I went ahead and had a coffee in a takeaway cup. I watched how I used plastic bags when I left my reusable bags in the car. I noticed how we used those plastic bags at home as bin liners and to store our fruit and vegetables in the fridge. I noticed the butcher and the delicatessen wrap my food in plastic. I observed how Thai takeaway at work on Fridays comes in plastic containers with plastic forks. Above all, I noticed how thoroughly and completely plastic in entwined in our lives, and I noticed how defeated I felt by the size of the problem.
I also read. I went to the Plastic Free July website, and read about the campaign and why they are doing it. I went to the One Million Women website and read their blog posts on how to reduce our reliance on plastic and live more sustainable lives. I went to the Nourished Life website, looked at their plastic replacement products and read their blogs on how to replace plastics with more sustainable materials. I listened to the Slow Home podcast on practical ways to reduce plastic. I began to realise that the key to this whole #plasticfreejuly thing was not to try to eliminate all plastics in your life from the 1st of July, but to start where you are.
So, I signed us up. I decided to focus on the big four, particularly takeaway coffee cups and plastic bags, while reaffirming my commitment to stay away from plastic straws and bottles. I also decided to invest in some replacement products – I bought a beautiful glass keepcup that comes with me everywhere. I bought some of these calico fridge bags, and some of these reusable produce bags. I also bought some of these beeswax wraps to replace plastic wrap. I made sure that the Bear had a set of bags in his car so that he had plastic free options. I bought some of these cornstarch bags to use as bin liners – and, I learned to my joy, that our local supermarket is now a drop off point to recycle soft bags.
But the biggest thing I have done for this July is to commit to the 5R’s:
Rethink is first, because we have to get our brain on board. We need to think about alternative options, we need to make a commitment, and we need to stop giving ourselves back door options. Our brain is a handy ally :). We think of creative alternatives, we research and we are aware.
Refuse is our next option, when our brain fails us. If we want a coffee, and we don’t have our keep cup – we skip the coffee. If we go into a shop and we don’t have a bag, we carry the goods to the car balanced precariously in our arms, like I did yesterday. We buy carrot, potatoes and onions singly rather than in a plastic net.
Reduce comes next – we actively reduce plastics in our life. We make choices that reduce our plastic load, like buying carrots, potatoes and onions singly instead of in plastic nets, taking containers to your butcher and calico bags to your baker, making muesli bars instead of buying individually wrapped ones, and buying flour and other staples from your bulk goods store.
Reuse and recycle are last – if we do use plastic, reuse it or recycle it. As you can see from the pyramid, we do these things when the first three have failed. They are good options, but the best option is not to bring it home in the first place. That way, we are not only training ourselves, but we are training retailers, suppliers and manufacturers as well.
So – are you in?
Think about what you can focus on this month – even if it’s just one difficult to shift mindset, one deeply embedded plastic source, like takeaway coffee cups, coffee pods or plastic bags. Let me know how you go 🙂