After a month of the Plastic Free July challenge (and many years of inching towards a more sustainable way of life), here are my tips for those of you who want to have a go but are intimidated by the idea of trying to eliminate plastic from your life.
1. Start easy!
If you try to go completely plastic-free all at once, the enormity of the task is likely to make you give up before you even begin. It’s better to reduce some plastic waste than not try at all. So figure out what’s going to be easiest for you, then start introducing new habits into your everyday life. To give you some ideas, here are the things I’ve found easy:
- Using reusable shopping bags for everything — not just at the supermarket but at every store; it helps if you always keep a small/foldable shopping bag (such as a canvas or string bag) in your bag or car.
- Likewise, using reusable produce bags for fruit and veg (you can buy produce bags made of cotton or tulle or make your own from a light material).
- Carrying a reusable coffee cup and water bottle (I use a stainless steel bottle to avoid plastic additives leaching into my water).
- Packing sandwiches and snacks in a lunchbox instead of glad wrap (aka cling film).
- Covering bowls of food in the microwave or fridge with plates instead of glad wrap.
- Buying Earthcare tissues, which are made from recycled post-consumer paper and have no plastic insert in the box.
- Better still, replacing single-use tissues with handkerchiefs — I scored eight for 20c each at an op shop the other day!
- Using solid shampoo and conditioner (e.g. from Lush). Another alternative is bulk shampoo (e.g. from bulk stores or ecostore).
- Buying bars of soap packaged in cardboard or paper.
- Using a wooden dish brush and bamboo clothes pegs (from ecostore, organic stores, and some supermarkets).
- Buying dried goods from bulk bins in my own bags or containers (e.g. Bin Inn, most organics stores, or even in the small bulk bin section at most supermarkets if you don’t mind paying the weirdly high prices).
- Making my own hummus, muesli bars and bircher muesli.
- Using cloth menstrual pads (check out this detailed guide to reusable menstrual products by Use Good Stuff).
- Using an old-fashioned safety razor — I don’t use one (yet) but my husband does.
Feel free to take it slow: I introduced all these changes over time, so don’t feel like you have to overhaul your life in one go.
2. Start big!
I know this appears to contradict the previous tip, but what I mean in full is: Identify the areas of your life where you can make the biggest impact, and start there.
For my husband and I, bread and cereal bags were a regular source of plastic waste, and we identified plastic-free alternatives with relative ease so that’s where we started. Plastic packaging from cheese, milk, and meat is also a big source of waste for us but we’ve found it difficult to source alternatives, so that’s something we’ll keep working at.
On the other hand, the plastic pottle of honey I finished during July or the plastic spray bottles from bathroom cleaner are both things we replace just once or twice a year, so finding plastic-free alternatives for these items has a lower priority.
3. Look at the bigger picture …
Plastic Free July is all about attempting to live without single-use plastic. Plastic waste is a huge issue in the modern world, but it’s certainly not the only issue we’re facing. So while you’re figuring out the best way to live a low-impact lifestyle, consider all the (big and easy) changes you could make. For example, I try to avoid single-use paper items too. Recycling or composting paper packaging just doesn’t feel as good as knowing I avoided unnecessary packaging altogether.
4. But go easy on yourself
Sometimes thinking holistically will throw up tradeoffs: Milk in recycleable single-use plastic bottles, or bulk bin milk powder that was dried using coal-fired furnaces? Walking to the local shop or driving several kilometres to the nearest bulk bin store? Buying the fair trade, organic coffee or the bulk bin coffee beans? Don’t beat yourself up when this happens; just make the best decision for you at that point, and remember that simply being aware of the dilemma is more important than being the ‘perfect’ ethical consumer.
Thankfully, more often than not buying ethically will actually allow you to make a positive difference in multiple ways: Eating less meat and dairy products because they’re difficult to source plastic-free and they generate higher carbon emissions and create more water pollution than eating a largely vegetarian or vegan diet! Buying fresh, seasonal, locally-grown fruit and vegetables because they’re easy to find packaging-free and they have a smaller carbon footprint and they taste better and they’re usually cheaper too!
Now that you have a few ideas under your belt, go get started! I’d love to hear how you get on.