Plastic-free July is becoming more and more well-known and as the years roll on. But every year, many of us are struck with a sudden pang of guilt when we hear the words. There are those horrible feelings of, "where do I start?"; "is it bad if I use plastic?"; "it's hard to change what I am used to"; and "am I doing enough?". The short answer is, every little bit counts, and all is not lost if you do use plastic in some parts of your life. In fact, some plastic inventions even, in a way, reduce effects on the environment. For example, plastic reduces food waste by keeping food fresher, longer, and it has made animals like elephants safer, in that the ivory from their tusks is not as highly sought-after. The convenience and cost of plastic also reduces time, effort and money in both commercial and personal life. However, a "throwaway lifestyle" can mean harm to ecosystems, stress on our landfills and hazards to our own health.
The good news is, you can make a change. Just one little choice can make a difference, and these choices can become habits that stay with you for life.
It is not always easy to know where to start, so we have put together some suggestions to get the ball rolling.
1. Plastic is not the Devil. As much as plastic can be detrimental to the environment, we also have to consider how products are created and used. Many products that are designed to be used several times can also have a negative impact if thrown away after one use. Likewise, if you have plastic products at home, reusing them or re-purposing them is often a better alternative than purchasing a new product to do the same job.
2. Embrace reusable cups. Take a reusable coffee cup and/or a water bottle with you when you go out. These can both be refilled on the go, and they limit the need/impulse to buy drinks (win for the hip-pocket, too!)
3. Take your own produce bags to the supermarket. We are mostly getting the hang of taking grocery bags with us, but what about those little plastic bags for fruit? If you have one or two (or several) of them at home, pop some back into one of your reusable shopping bags for next trip, or purchase or make some small fabric or mesh bags to use. While I am talking bags, stash them in different places to make it harder to forget them all (some in the car, some in the kitchen, some in the pram, some in your handbag - whatever works for you).
4. Reduce packaging. Where possible, choose products that do not come wrapped in superfluous plastic. In a supermarket, an example might be loose apples versus a plastic container of apples wrapped in cellophane. Sometimes buying in bulk (and decanting into smaller containers, if you like) can also help reduce plastic waste. Farmer's markets and the like usually have "nude" food you can put in your own bag, container or box.
5. Carry your own utensils. When out and about, it is easy to grab take-away food to eat, but it often comes with an array of plastic cutlery, including straws, forks, spoons, etc. If you are able to, carrying some of the utensils you think you might need can cut down on the need to use and dispose of plastic ones.
6. Use covers or wraps instead of cling wrap. One of the most frequently used plastic products in a home would surely have to be cling wrap. Cover your food with bowl covers, lids, or beeswax wraps to limit the amount of cling wrap you use.
7. Ditch the sandwich bags. You know the ones. Those zip-lock life-savers that get used for everything. Whilst you may find it handy to still have some around just in case, there are many times where a container or fabric bag (even a mini wetbag) can step in to save the day. There are even reusable zip-lock silicone pouches you can buy now to do the job.
8. Limit plastic toys. Although they can sometimes be more expensive, wooden toys often allow for more creative play (and less electronic noise). When plastic toys break, they are usually sharp and can be difficult, if not impossible, to mend. Steel, fabric and "plastic" toys made from plant fibres, along with real-life objects are also options for lots of fun play.
9. Choose powdered laundry detergent. Liquid detergent commonly comes in a thick plastic bottle (albeit usually recyclable), whilst powder comes in a cardboard box. While you are in the laundry frame of mind, also consider purchasing a detergent that does not come with its own plastic scoop. A cup; container; or scoop from an old box can work just as well. Metal or wooden pegs round out the trifecta here, and can be more durable than plastic, too.
10. Change your toothbrush. We should swap our toothbrushes over regularly, but have you ever thought about how many of them go into landfill? Bamboo or cornstarch toothbrushes are two alternatives that are a bit more friendly on the environment.
What other things have you done, or would you like to do, to make a difference in your life?