In July, our household attempts the Plastic Free July challenge. I can’t say the whole house (comprised of myself, my daughter, my partner, and our boarder) embraces the challenge with the same level of enthusiasm or commitment, but we do try.
There are a number of variations of the challenge, with our (ahem… my) goal to be avoiding all single-use plastic. I shall say it straight away – we were not successful. It is darn hard avoiding plastic. It is sneaky and pervasive, and sometimes it seems to just take a moment of distraction for it to find its way in.
Here are some of my reflections from the challenge:
It gets easier with time. This is our third year doing it, and now that many plastic free habits (started in previous years) have become part of our everyday routine, the change required for the July challenge is not as major as before.
- There are sometimes ethical compromises. I found that sometimes going for plastic free options conflicted with other ethical factors we take into consideration when purchasing. For example, we usually buy a fair trade organic coffee but it comes in packaging containing plastic. During the challenge we bought a different (non-fair trade, non-organic) brand in a glass bottle, but this is not a change we have kept up beyond the challenge because overall for this product we prefer supporting fair trade and organic over plastic-free-ness. But we find we assess each item/conflict on a case-by-case basis, because there are often multiple considerations to factor in.
- Not being prepared can contribute to plastic sneaking in. A number of occasions when ‘plastic happened’ was when plans changed or I wasn’t prepared. For example: leaving the house without snacks for my daughter; not doing groceries and having to use something containing plastic that was already in the cupboard/fridge from before the challenge. Having said that, I am not one for meal plans and organisation when it comes to food, and mostly I was still successful with the plastic-free lunch boxes and snacks. And even a few take-aways!
Sometimes things are more important than the challenge. For example, I am on medication and it comes in plastic packaging. I need to take the medicine, and my health comes before the challenge. Basta. Another example is one night when my partner prepared a ‘home date night’ for us which involved a film and (plastic wrapped) popcorn: I could have rejected the popcorn and avoided the plastic, but it was more important to accept his gesture. The popcorn was delicious.
- During a plastic free challenge is not a great time to get a tattoo. I did try to say I didn’t want to wrap it up, but it was company policy to cover it before I left.
Plastic-free eating seems to lead to healthier eating. By eliminating plastic, suddenly lots of packaged, more processed food is eliminated. We ended up eating a lot more fresh, simple food, with less sugar, salt and other additives. Meat might be the exception to this though, see below!
- It can get you thinking outside the box. My partner eats meat but his usual choices weren’t options during the challenge. Yes, there was some compromising on the free-range front 😦 but all in all I was very impressed at what he managed to find!
- Being conscious of the things we buy and consume is part of ‘the solution’, but it doesn’t solve all the problems. The article Conscious Consumerism Is A Lie Here Is A Better Way To Save The World is probably one of the best articles I have read recently, and definitely puts everything into perspective. In a good way!
So how did we actually do? Well, as our boarder and my partner we ‘less actively involved’, I didn’t rigidly monitor their plastic. My daughter and I generated this much:
Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had planned better.
Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had more energy/patience/will power.
Yes, there is plastic I could have avoided if I had more time.
But actually we tried really hard. We did our best at the time. And something I started telling my daughter when she started worrying about any plastic we happen to get, which I now also tell lot of people I meet who ask about ‘living sustainably/ethically’, and I even remind myself on a fairly regular basis:
We do what we can, when we can.
We can only do our best. And sometimes our best-at-that-time is super, and sometimes there is room to improve/learn 🙂
Some of the things I have found relatively easy to do in order to reduce the plastic in my life:
- Purchase food in glass, paper, tin or no packaging whenever there is the option.
- Not buying food that is in plastic packaging (or only buying the item occasionally).
- Not using plastic wrap/Glad Wrap/cling film (beeswax wraps make good alternatives for sandwiches, for covering food I use a tea towel, and if all else fails I use baking paper).
- Using a bamboo toothbrush
- Using reusable items instead of disposables, for example cloth face wipes, handkerchiefs, menstrual products, and cloth nappies when my daughter was little.
- Avoiding disposable items in general and especially ones that are/have plastic (straws, cotton buds, bags, cutlery, bottles, containers). For most items there are plastic-free alternatives.
- Bringing my own containers, bags, coffee cup and/or refillable bottle.
Things I changed this July that I will be continuing throughout the year:
- Using loose tea instead of tea bags.
- Getting homemade soya milk from my colleague (in a glass bottle) whenever I can.
- Making my own toothpaste.
- Making my own deodorant (which has incidentally been the most effective deodorant I have ever used!).
There are some really great resources for going plastic-free. Some of my favourites are:
- The Lifehacker’s Guide to Living with Less Plastic (The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to a Plastic-Free Life)
- 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life
- My A-Z Plastic Free Guide