What is Plastic-Free July?
Plastic Free July® is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.
Plastic Free July provides resources and ideas to help you (and millions of others around the world) reduce single-use plastic waste everyday at home, work, school, and even at your local café.
It was started back in 2011 by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz (the founder of the Plastic Free Foundation) in Western Australia, and is now one of the most influential environmental campaigns in the world. Millions of people across the globe take part every year, and to date the movement has inspired over 100 million participants in 190 countries.
What is the aim of Plastic-Free July? To have a world without plastic?
It’s once been said that every piece of plastic ever made still exists, and while there’s some debate about the finer points of that statement, it’s definitely true that in the 60-70 years that plastics have been around, they’ve contributed to vast amounts of pollution.
Sadly, given the rates of decomposition of plastics already in the environment, and the fact that only 9% of plastics are effectively recycled while 22% are mismanaged, we’re unlikely to see a world without plastics for several hundred years.
The aim of Plastic Free July is to encourage and facilitate people to make small changes which collectively make a massive difference to our communities. Reducing the amount of plastics created and increasing the amount that’s recycled effectively will both contribute to an overall lessening of plastic pollution over time.
The situation for the planet isn’t completely irreparable, but we really need to make changes now if that’s to remain true.
Am I not allowed to use any plastics at all for the month?
Interestingly, I actually find myself using quite a bit of plastic during July – it’s just not the single-use stuff like bags, straws, wrappers or containers. Part of the process is to really focus on using what you have, so it forces you to come face-to-face with the items you have in your home already.
I’ve found over the years that I’ve reduced the number of new plastic items coming into my home, and I’ve been using the sturdy plastic things I had again and again. Containers, bottles, brushes.
When you’re forced to realise that these things just never seem to die, it does make you think more carefully about buying anything plastic new again!
But the main goal of the month is to realise how much plastics feature in your life, and to practise thinking more about plastics and how they are coming into your life. With the aim of changing that over time.
What can I do to reduce using plastics out and about?
Begin by Refusing single use plastics. No straws, no cutlery, choosing glass over plastic containers when you’re buying food out and about.
You can bring reusable containers (jars are great! You can never have too many jars!), or make your own travel cutlery kit.
Slow down – factor in more time. It’s usually the need for convenience and speed that creates a situation where plastic features. Be prepared to sit down for coffee, or make time to wash and bring your own cup.
There’s this concept called Bulk Food Shopping, and it’s becoming much more prevalent these last 5 years in Australia. Stores that buy consumables in bulk and then allow you to buy just what you need in your own containers.–
– dry goods like flour, rice, cereals, dried fruits, crunchysnacks, herbs, spices, tea;
– oils & liquids – olive oil, honey, soy sauce etc.
– cleaning products
– body products -shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste tablets
The leading franchise of bulk-food stores in Australia is The Source Bulk Food, and there are more stores opening every year all around the country. There are many other companies using the same model though, some of which are independent, so try doing a search for “bulk food [your town/city name]” and see what’s around.
Many supermarkets are now offering this method of shopping as well, and whilst they may not have the dedication to ethically, organically sourced products like The Source do, buying food with less packaging is a good start.
How do I start reducing my plastic use?
Start by doing a waste audit at home. What do you use frequently that comes in plastic packaging? Then investigate if there’s a better option for that item or product – can you find a similar thing in non-plastic packaging? Can you find it with no packaging at all? Is it something you could make yourself? Or perhaps buy from a local maker or producer?
Really accept feedback about your general plastic usage, and then apply self-regulation. When it comes to next time you need something that you’d normally obtain in plastic, stop and think about what you could opt for instead.
Rob J Greenfield has taken this to the extreme – for 30 days, he lived and ate like a typical American, but instead of discarding any waste he generated, he wore it! Created a suit out of plastic bags and stored every piece of rubbish that he generated for the month in them. In the end, he could barely walk!
You don’t have to wear a trash suit, but getting to know your waste habits is definitely the first step of making change.
Should I buy a new ‘green’ waterbottle and toothbrush?
Look, you can, but only if you don’t already have something that does that job for you. Throwing your old plastic toothbrush into landfill so you can buy a new bamboo one is pretty counterproductive.
If you genuinely need something, first of all, see what options are out there. Glass, metal and natural fibres are great, but beware of Greenwashing – where companies use marketing that makes things LOOK eco-friendly (brown packaging, green labels etc) but they don’t actually change anything about their products or processes. Look out for misleading or incomplete phrases – eco-conscious, green, natural. Remember that arsenic is ‘natural’ J
Once you know what the available options out there are for whatever it is you need, see if you can get it secondhand first. Buy, Swap, Sell groups online; trading post or Gumtree websites; local swap meets; Buy Nothing groups; friends – ask around to see if what you need already exists somewhere close to you, and opt for that one instead of buying new. Even if the item itself has no plastic in it, the processes used to manufacture pretty much everything these days takes a toll on the environment, so why not try to reduce that at the same time J
What do I do with old/broken reusable plastics?
For starters, take care of your things. Set yourself up for success – have a bag that actually fits your reusables – bottle, cup, cutlery, containers etc. Whatever you’d use during the day. Trying to juggle them if you have a small bag often leads to damage or breakages.
Check with your local council which materials they can recycle – check their info on curbside collections, but also find out which things you can drop off at the waste-transfer station. Most councils in Australia now have good info around this on their websites, and if not, you can always send an email and they should be able to help you out.
Look for a number in the ‘recycling triangle’ on any plastics – this will tell you what type of plastic it is & guide you in efforts to recycle it.
Soft plastics can now be dropped off at most major supermarkets in Australia for recycling through REDcycle – after which it is turned into solid plastic used for playgrounds, building materials, shopping trolleys etc.
There are programs for recycling all sorts of things now – plastic bottle lids, makeup and toothpaste tubes, bens, batteries, medication blister packs, light globes, fabric, electronics, old clothes, even paint!
Check your local hardware, office supply, bulk food store – they should be able to help direct you. Bunnings, Officeworks, Ikea, Aldi, Coles, Woolworths, Biome – these places all have various recycling collection points where you can drop things off.
Which plastics to avoid
Anything that’s really designed for single-use is the sort of stuff I avoid. Around 40% of plastics made are designed to be single use, which, given how little of that waste gets recycled effectively, is a pretty shocking number.
Plastic straws are obviously on the list of single-use plastics to avoid, as is plastic cutlery. Soft, crinkly plastic bags and wrappers like you get with bread, veggies, snacks and sweets: they’re all recyclable through REDcycle. Disposable coffee cups and lids are on the list too, and it’s a bit alarming that we still need to mention them there – surely we can acknowledge that we’ve known about these for long enough that they shouldn’t be around anymore??
Easy Swaps to ditch the single-use plastics
Really simple swaps are to stop using thin plastic bags at grocers and supermarkets. You can make your own reusable produce bags from old thin scarves or teatowels, or you could buy from a local maker. Again, avoid greenwashing – don’t buy plastic-based ones from the supermarket just cos they’re green!
Look into bread
My transition from supermarket plastic bread too 5 years, but now I make my own. Start transitioning away from mass-produced, plastic-wrapped bread by buying from a bakery and asking for a paper bag. Then you might like to bring your own cloth bag, and perhaps one day you’ll have capacity to make your own or join a community bake-group who does a weekly firing like Two Fold Bakehouse.
Investigate your local bulk-food store (if you have one)
Perhaps start by trying one new thing from there each month, and work up from there. Initially I was worried that my shopping would cost more buying from my local Source bulk-food store, because price-per-gram was higher than in supermarkets. But it didn’t take long to realise that because I was buying far less than the prepacked versions in most cases, the cost really levelled out, and I often ended up spending much less.
Start collecting jars
You can never have too many. Jars are excellent for storing things in an airtight space, so they’re great for:
– storing pantry goods
– for keeping things in the fridge like cut fruit & veg, cheese, milk, juice, salad… the list goes on and on
– using as transport vessels – great for picnics and packed lunches
– freezing food in. Yes that’s right – you can freeze glass! Just don’t overfill the jar, and take things out the day before you need them so they have time to thaw
– making preserves – jams, chutneys, pickles, ferments
– storing dehydrated food in
– keeping medication, sewing, or hardware supplies safe and dry
– storing and sorting seeds
– making and gifting ‘kits’: brownie, cake, muesli, risotto, curry etc
Consider your supermarket buys
Buy the most concentrated or largest versions of consumables and store them in jars so they last. Doing this means you won’t have to buy them as often, thereby reducing the amount of packaging you bring home.
Also consider whether the packaging of said consumables is the best option available. Does it contain excessive packaging? Is it made from recycled materials? Is it home-compostable or recyclable? Can it be refilled or reused in some way?
Schedule your life to allow for a bit more time around things like shopping, eating and working. It may take longer to buy your groceries because you visit a few different stores that allow you to use your own reusable sontainers. Grabbing a coffee may take a smidge more time as you ask to use your reusable cup. Preparing lunch for work may take a bit of extra time the night before rather than just buying a plastic-wrapped sandwich.
These types of things might take a little more time to achieve, but wouldn’t you rather spend a bit of time now so that we all gain a bit more time on a planet that’s not filled with plastic?
Sign me up!
If you’ve read this far and you’re keen to get on board this awesome initiative, head over to the Plastic Free July registration page and jot down your details. You’ll start receiving daily prompts and ideas of how to make small changes for positive outcomes, and you can find a whole stack of resources to keep learning about reducing your carbon footprint if that’s your jam. You can also use this handy list of challenge choices to get you started.
And stay tuned both here and on social media, as I’ve got a whole folder of simple swaps and tips to help you reduce your plastic usage in and around the home. I’ll be sharing real-life examples in line with the Plastic-Free July calendar over on Instagram & Facebook, and I’ve got a few more articles to pop up here: each one will focus on a different area of life and lists practical ways to reduce waste. Click the Subscribe button below to get notified as and when these articles come out.
If you’re on social media, check out the following people, which I’ve found incredibly inspiring and supportive over the years. If you’ve got other awesome waste warriors you think we should know about, please pop them down in a comment below!
The Urban Nanna – me!
Treading my own path – Lindsay Miles
Spiral Garden – Lauren & Oberon Carter
Less Waste, Less Worries – Laura
Rogue Ginger – Erin Rhoades
Going Zero Waste – Kathryn Kellog
Cornersmith – Alex & Jaimee
Zero Waste Chef – Anne-Marie Bonneau
These websites are filled to pussies bow with waste-hack recipes, plastic-reducing tips and tricks, and loads of other permaculture-based things to get you cruising along on your journey to reduce plastic waste.
These are some of my favourite books when it comes to learning how to think about waste differently. There are some that speak directly to the topic, and others that find there way in because they teach me how to live a life that’s less reliant on shops and commercialism. Foraging, growing food, preserving, fermenting, building, repairing, mending – it’s all in there, and I’m so thankful to have access to so many amazing books. If you don’t feel the need to buy books, check with your local library: if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they may be able to get it in for you!
Homegrown Homemade 2 – a recent bookazine I edited
Preserves & Pickles – Catherine Atkinson & Maggie Mayhew
The new complete book of Self-Sufficiency – John Seymour
Wildcrafted Fermentation – Pascal Baudar
Wild Fermentation – Sandor Elix Katz
Milk Made – Nick Haddow
Wild Mushrooming – Alison Pouliot & Tom May
Not Just Jam – Matthew Evans
Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability – David Holmgren
The Thrifty Gardener – Millie Ross
The Little Veggie Patch Co: How to grow food in small spaces – Fabian Compolla & Mt Pember
Use It All – Cornersmith (Alex Elliott-Howler & Jaimee Edwards
The Good Life – Hannah Moloney
Infuse – Paula Grainger & Karen Sullivan
A Family Guide to Waste Free Living – Lauren & Oberon Carter
The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen – also Less Stuff – Lindsy Miles
The Art of Frugal Hedonism – Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland
The Weed Forager’s Handbook – Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland
Eat Weeds – Diego Bonetto