Plastic-Free July: The First Installment

I’m a third of the way through Plastic Free July (PFJ) and so far it’s been a success and a failure in roughly equal measure.

Let’s start with the good news: I haven’t bought any new plastic!

On the other hand… I have generated copious amounts of plastic waste at home by using up products in plastic packaging that were bought before I considered doing PFJ, a grand total of 234 grams (and that doesn’t include the two meat trays that are living in the freezer until we put the rubbish out).

plastic waste

A pile of plastic bags, wrappers and containers generated by my husband and I in 10 days. There’s plenty of room for improvement here!

If I was being really strict, I could have tried to avoid using anything that came in single-use plastic packaging. However, I’m viewing PFJ as the start of a long-term reduction in packaging and waste, so it seems silly to pretend that the single-use plastic we’ve bought previously doesn’t exist for July because we’d just throw it away in August instead. So let’s consider this tally a baseline level of plastic packaging from my pre-PFJ life, which I can compare my later tallies against (and hopefully show a reduction in plastic!)

Good plastic-free things I’ve done so far

I started July 1st with a brand-new bamboo toothbrush. It’s not technically single-use plastic, but my old one needed replacing anyway so I figured I’d take the opportunity to switch to something with a smaller environmental footprint. Unfortunately, I’m not quite convinced about the decision. I actually used a bamboo toothbrush a few years ago but found it left my lips feeling raw and I’m having the same problem again this time. Does anyone else struggle with bamboo toothbrushes or is it just me??

My little household has switched to bulk-bin breakfast cereals and we’ve started using a bread-maker to bake our bread. These are both things we use a lot of, so eliminating the plastic bags that our bread and cereal previously came in should make a big difference over time. Of course, the yeast comes in a (recycleable) plastic jar — I’ve yet to investigate whether plastic-free yeast is a thing — but in the grand scheme of things I feel it’s good progress.

As I mentioned previously, milk and yoghurt were going to be impossible to source plastic-free so I gave myself special permission to keep using them, but I have made an effort to reduce my use of dairy products for PFJ. This week I stopped using milk on my breakfast (though I’m still using it in copious hot drinks during the current cold snap). Instead, I’ve been making a sort of bircher muesli by soaking my muesli overnight in water — which, as it turns out, is delicious thanks to the dried apricots in the mix.

As well as the actions I’ve started this month, there are a number of other waste-reducing measures I’ve been using on and off for several years now, such as baking my own muesli bars, making my own hummus, refusing plastic bags when shopping, buying fresh fruit and veges in reusable produce bags, and buying nuts, legumes, oats and dried fruit from bulk bins. I’ve restarted or continued each of these actions, and PFJ just means being more diligent about preparing for and making these decisions each time I shop.

Hurdles as yet un-hurdled

Trying to avoid plastic has thrown up some interesting hurdles. It turns out plastic is everywhere. In preparation for PFJ, I started to notice all the little bits of plastic that used to slip by unnoticed — produce stickers and pet food packaging, lids on jars and linings on tins, contact lenses and tampon wrappers — along with other questionable materials like thermal receipts (not plastic but coated in BPA) and waxed paper (the wax coating is derived from petrochemicals). Even the chocolate block wrapper that I always assumed was just paper appears to have a thin plastic coating; I simply didn’t see it until PFJ made me look really, really closely.

While I’m happy to choose plastic-free chocolate, I don’t relish the thought of relinquishing fruit in the name of plastic-free living… For now, I’ll continue to buy fruit loose and add the plastic sticker from each piece to my PFJ tally, but I’m hopeful that I’ll come across a source of un-packaged, un-stickered fruit.

The other hurdle I’ve come across is in the bathroom at my work, where the toilet paper and liquid soap come in plastic and the paper hand towels are sent to landfill. These decisions are not made by my employer, so at this point it seems the easiest solution may be to BYO. It’s easy to control what we buy as individuals (within the constraints imposed by what is available in local stores). It’s often harder to influence the purchasing decisions of those around us, including the companies and organisations we’re involved with.

Plastic on beaches

As suggested by The Non-Plastic Maori, I headed down to the local beach to pick up what plastic I could find. Turns out there wasn’t much at all and I picked up a mere 21 grams of plastic waste. I’m not really surprised, because I’ve had similar results on most of the previous local beach clean-ups I’ve done. Next week I’ll try collecting plastic rubbish from my local streets instead, which will prevent it from heading down the stormwater pipes and into the ocean.

Overall outcome so far

Plastic purchased: none
Plastic collected from beach: not much (21 g)
Plastic used in pre-PFJ life: a whole damn lot (234 g)

During the first week of July I was feeling rather daunted by the challenge I’d set myself (and wondering why on earth I’d told everyone so I couldn’t back out!) But blog posts from two waste warriors helped me regain motivation. The Zero-Waste Chef reminded me why plastic waste is such a huge problem, with her post on the insane amount of plastic currently floating in the Pacific Ocean and all the awful things it does while it’s there, while Lindsay from Treading My Own Path posted about an inspiring new bulk store that actively encourages people to choose reusable packaging.

Going completely plastic-free is hard, but reducing the amount of plastic in our lives is easy! Everybody can, and should, start making small changes in their lives to reduce the amount of plastic waste they produce.

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3 thoughts on “Plastic-Free July: The First Installment

  1. Like you, yogurt is the one thing that I have a hard time giving up. I don’t eat it all the time, but I do want to get the good bacteria and sometimes sauerkraut just doesn’t cut it when it comes to taste. I do keep all my food plastic containers and use them over and over until they crack.

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