Shall I buy a cow? A Plastic Free July update

We’re a little over halfway through Plastic Free July so I thought I’d review my progress so far. 

Let’s start with the lady elephant* in the room: Dairy. Everyone I’ve talked to about the challenge wondered what on earth I was going to do about milk and cheese. Neither are easy to source plastic-free in Auckland (though not completely  impossible). My simple solution was to go without. 

I knew giving up dairy would be hard for me, but I didn’t expect to struggle with it so much! I miss the creamy sweet tartness of yoghurt on my breakfast. I miss the burst of cheesy flavour in my lunch. I miss milky cups of tea and hot chocolate. Every time I prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack or a hot drink I am reminded that I’m not allowed to have these tasty things. 

It is getting easier as the month goes on and I grow accustomed to a new normal (and as I’ve found alternative ways to get a melted cheese fix on these cold winter nights) but at this stage I expect I will go back to buying plastic-packaged milk, cheese and yoghurt once July is over. 

And then what? I’ll probably eat/drink less than I did before, but I can’t forget that every time I buy these items I’m introducing brand new plastic to the environment, which will take hundreds of years to break down and may never truly be gone. 

So I’m left pondering the question: how much plastic waste am I comfortable leaving in my wake? Should I put my faith in some as-yet-uninvented technology that can chemically break down old plastics into harmless and useful substances, or bacteria that can eat microplastics, transforming them into energy and carbon dioxide? Or should I just buy a cow?!

PFJ trash halfway

In other news, I’ve acquired a bunch of extra plastic in the past fortnight from new board games, gadgets and magazines. While none of the purchases were strictly necessary (and I’m of the opinion they all arrived rather over-packaged), I do expect the new items to bring joy into my life. I would also rather focus on eliminating plastic from regular purchases, like food and cleaning products, because that will have a bigger long-term impact than being super strict about one-off purchases. 

The other new plastic items I bought include toothpaste to replace the empty tube, two meat trays (which someone else dutifully bundled off into the recycling bin before I could photograph them), a few fruit stickers, and the plastic label on a glass jar of coconut yoghurt. 

I have to admit that last one was a bit disappointing! I bought the yoghurt last week after going “cold turkey” for a week, and I’ve really appreciated the added creaminess on my oats. But I subsequently realised the packaging wasn’t quite so plastic-free after all, so I won’t be buying it again. 

The photo also includes my plastic waste from things purchased pre-July, including chocolate wrappers (a gift), and a ziplock bag that fell apart after several years of use.

While the start of July brought a lot more plastic waste than I’d expected, I’ve also managed to successfully avoid plastic in tricky situations like work functions. If you’re doing Plastic Free July this year, how are you finding the challenge?  

*Because female elephants are also called cows! Sorry for launching that pun at you without warning… 


Plastic Free July: Over Halfway

We’re now two thirds of the way through Plastic Free July and again it’s come with some achievements and some not-so-successful moments.

Small victories, small frustrations

I’m afraid to say that my husband and I have bought some new plastic since I last posted (a whole 80 grams worth). The first plastic purchase came in the form of packaging for several items from the hardware store. We were able to purchase a few screws and washers from the bulk bins, but plastic-free alternatives for larger items were either non-existent or way out of our price range.

The second plastic purchase was due to a miscommunication and came in the form of plastic bags wrapped around meat from the butcher. I take solace in the fact that we’ve avoided several polystyrene meat trays, but next time we buy meat I’m hoping to use our own containers or repurposed plastic bags.

The third plastic purchase was a straw in my drink at a bar… Fail! Not using straws is meant to be one of the basics of Plastic Free July, but as I said in my intro post it’s something I encounter so infrequently that it didn’t occur to me to say “No straw, thanks” until it was too late.

We’ve also generated more plastic waste from pre-PFJ purchases. About half of it came from food, most of which we can replace with low-plastic alternatives from bulk bins or in glass bottles and jars. The other half was packaging from kitchenware and other household items purchased before July, and like our experience at the hardware store last week I suspect that finding plastic packaging-free versions would have been very difficult. Our pre-PFJ plastic weighed in at 200 g, of which 50 g came from a can of tomatoes — did you know cans are lined with plastic? The stuff gets everywhere! (See this post from blog My Plastic Free Life for a quick list of items you may not realise contain plastic).

My small victories for the week include buying a solid shampoo bar at Lush (and taking it home wrapped in a handkerchief to avoid all disposable packaging), bringing a bar of soap to work (no more liquid soap in a plastic bottle), taking our own drinks to the movies instead of buying drinks in plastic cups, buying bulk bin golden syrup (yum!) and gluten flour (so we can make wholemeal bread), and continuing all the little actions I mentioned last time.

So, the stats for my husband and I in the past 10 days:

Plastic purchased ~ 80 g
Pre-PFJ packaging disposed of ~ 200 g
Plastic salvaged from the street ~ 230 g

But now onto the really interesting stuff!

Getting out of the kitchen…

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