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Published July 21st 2017
Are you up for the challenge?
You could be a mindful consumer who takes reusable bags shopping. You might recycle, which is good too. Some people compost which breaks down and returns to the earth. But have you ever wondered what happens to plastic after you throw it out? Well, plastic lasts for hundreds or maybe thousands of years, but it's often used just once!
How did we become so reliant on plastic bags that last longer in the environment than we do?
Australians throw away an estimated 10 million plastic bags a day. Considering that many of those bags are in use for less than an hour, sometimes only minutes, it's no wonder they've become such a problem.
But can one person using a little less plastic, really make a difference?
Yes absolutely! The more people that are mindful of the plastic they use, the better it is for the environment. When looking around at the checkout, I find it more common to see others who have brought their own bags to use too. The more people that do this the better.
7 Plastic Free tips to get you started. As you read through them, choose a couple to begin with. Some people will charge through and take it all on at once, but it's okay to start with a couple on the list, then add (or should I say remove more plastic) at a pace that suits you. Every piece of plastic that doesn't turn into waste counts and ideally you'll continue on with the changes if they work for you. Once you build up to the full list, you'll be well on your way to making a real difference to the environment and the planet.
1. Plastic Free July website is a useful resource with good information to support this challenge. And the good news is it doesn't matter what month it is, you can do this anytime you like - the best time to get started is NOW.
2. Take your own bags when you go shopping. This is a simple thing to do but could test your memory and organisation, as it does for me. To make it easier, once you've unpacked your bags, put them back in your car or at the door ready to go for next time. Then do your best to not to forget them when you shop. But if half way through shopping you realise they're in the car, ask the store to hold your items while you get them. Trust me, after doing this a few times, your bags should be much easier to remember!
Leave your reusable bags in the car or at the door to help remember them
3. Disposable coffee cups are deceivingly not recyclable due to their inner plastic lining and even the bio cups don't cut it, because they end up in landfill, as most councils don't have the facility to recycle or compost them. So take your own mug Ė it can be one from the cupboard at work or home, or you could invest in a reusable cup with a lid. I was shocked to learn that 1 billion coffee cups end up in landfill each year, in Australia alone. Find out more from One Million Women
Choose to reuse, be it a mug you pinched from your kids, or buy a reusable takeaway cup
4. Do you really need a straw? We don't use them at home, so there is no need for them when out. But often drinks are served with a straw, so try to remember to ask for no straw when ordering. If you can't live without straws, and I'll admit my kids like to use them, then you can get metal reusable ones to take with you.
If you can't live without them, then get reusable straws
5. Plastic bottles Ė Water is one of the easiest culprits to avoid because you can get it from the tap and it's FREE. If you don't have a drink bottle then just reuse the last plastic bottle you bought and change its crushing destiny. Ditch the soft drink too, because you're better off without it in so many ways. But if you must drink the stuff, then aluminium or glass is a better choice, because they're easier to recycle than plastic.
Plastic bottles shouldn't be crushed after one use, they can be refilled many times
6. Watch the War on Waste. It shows the challenges of real people, a group of neighbours, who were shown how to make simple changes to reduce their waste. It also shows you the waste behind the scenes in supermarkets and fashion, which is a real eye-opener. Why not get together with family or friends so they can watch it too.
7. Get family and friends on board Ė motivate and support each other. This can take time, so don't worry if they make you go it alone, once they see that you're serious they might realise it's not that hard and that they can do it too. But if you want extra support or ideas there are many groups on facebook which can be a great help. Look up "Plastic Free", "Zero Waste" or "War on Waste" to find a group that suits you. There are too many to link them all here!
For those who've been moving towards plastic free for a while, you've probably got this list covered. So you can move on to the next level of plastic free challenges such as using your own containers or bags with fruit & veg, the deli, butcher, bulk pantry or even take away meals. For more ideas and inspiration you can check out The Rouge Ginger Gippsland Unwrapped My Plastic Free Life
If you have any plastic-free tips or stories you'd like to share, you're welcome to do so in the comments below This list is a start the start of a challenge which could become a journey where together everyone can achieve more!
Everything that's on the list!!! I've been composting for a while (I love my compost!) but the War on Waste really changed how I saw consuming.
I truly can't believe how easy it is to implement the changes listed here.
Good article. Single families CAN see a difference; since taking what soft plastics I do use, and composting even some of my stuff (and points to TTG council which takes kitchen organic waste in the green bin) I rarely need to put out the general bin. I don't drink soft drinks but friends who do like the "Soda Stream" which uses glass bottles and CO2 canisters. BTW sux to Qantas who never listen when I tell them "no sugar so I don't need a plastic stick/spoon."
Some Councils run Recycling Tours which bus interested people to visit waste and recycle facilities to show the process from household collection to recycle process or landfill.
VERY interesting! I recommend it.
Great article. Changing one action can do a lot over a period of time. I'm involved in Toy Libraries which promote borrowing, which of course reduces consumption, because you are less likely to be tempted to buy more and more plastic stuff for your children, when you can offer them variety and quality play through a usually inexpensive membership. Because they are not for profit they don't run advertising campaigns or get lots of publicity, but they really save a lot of plastic consumption!!
Hi Kirsty. To begin with I began shopping at local markets, if you've got a good one near you it often ends up cheaper and most things are loose and not prepacked. Then step by step I have eliminated my most used plastics by checking what ends up in my bin. Eating more fresh food, making things from scratch. My latest is homemade soymilk! Really great. Also homemade beauty products like deodorant and toothpaste and gradually phasing out the plastic everywhere. Now I don't even really have a bin. Happy to discuss more detail if you or anyone else is interested ‚ėļÔłŹ
Change things one thing at a time, as and when they need changing. Don't throw away old plastic things, it is better to hang onto them and use them for as long as possible. My first and easiest changes were Bamboo toothbrushes and solid bar soap and shampoo and saying no to straws. :)
Yep I was up for the challenge! I practised in June in anticipation for Plastic Free July to be really ready.... or so I thought! Once July started I pretty much froze in the supermarket as I couldn't buy 99% of the products.
Iíve since stopped buying yoghurt, nori sheets, supermarket cheese, bread, wraps, shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, dish wash soap, etc. and started making my own - the amount of plastic I saw all of a sudden was overwhelming. Just by cutting out our plastic alone it felt we were making a huge difference.
The biggest compromise I've made is time 1) planning ahead and preparing the containers, 2) visiting lots of little shops rather than supermarket 3) preparing food. I bring my own containers to the deli, butcher and bulk shop and only buy loose vege and fruit at the farm. I've also read up properly what I can and can't recycle - well on my way to get a PHD on the subject ;-)
July is coming to an end and Iíve realised that once you start the Plastic Free July journey you donít really want to go back - itís a one way ticket towards zero-waste (or thereabout). Itís definitely easier now than at the beginning of the month and I expect to get it easier still. Apart from the occasional hurdle shops have been very accommodating!
The great thing about jumping on in July is that there are many more people like you doing the same thing.
Iíve taken things quite a bit further and set up a Boomerang Bags community in Rosebud (sewing bags to reduce plastic bag usage), Iím actively inviting cafes to become Responsible Cafes and ask friends to do the same.
I had a great day the other day in the supermarket where I approached a lady putting apples in a plastic bag. I saw she'd brought her own bags so thought I had a good chance. I offered my GreenSack in exchange for the plastic bag. She was so glad I approached her as she really wanted to get some of these GreenSacks (or similar). She took the website to order some. Yey! And at the check out the girls in front of me... all GreenSack, double yey!
There are walls to break down but at least we are not alone :-)
Find your local CSA! CSAs stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and its the future (and the past) of resilient food communities!
You can get a weekly vegetable/fruit packet from LOCAL farmers, you can volunteer and GET INVOLVED in the ordering and facilitation, and you can ELIMINATE packaging from the supply chain.
The supply chain is completely cut out, no shipping food around the world, and you will learn whats in season in your area for the whole year round!
Change the world by changing where and how you eat!
Hi Kirsty most points in your great article are already true for me. Perhaps the biggest changes for me in reducing plastic are changing my shopping habits (shopping at more diverse shops, for fewer, but more specific items= Costing NOT much more money in the end), becoming less introverted and always asking places what plastic free options they have, and being prepared to have my own or go without if there aren't suitable unpackaged items. I don't have children so my options are probably easier, but I know of plastic-free families who have chosen not to compromise their unpackaged preferences.
Great article! All very helpful tips! We've also started to collect our soft plastics to redcycle at the supermarket. I'm trying to reduce them all together to eventually have none. But it's a good temporary option for the transition!
I love this Kirsty! In addition to a separate recycling bin inside my home, I've recently started collecting clean soft plastics and bringing them along with me for plastic recycling at the local supermarket's bins (which I have noticed are becoming very full of late) I can't wait to see local councils implementing this in their recycling program in the future