Plastic Free July – how we got on

It’s been interesting to check in with the Plastic Free July movement and hear about the challenges others have found as I’ve tried to refuse all single use plastic for a month. You don’t realise how ubiquitous plastic is until you start looking for products without it!

So what’s the problem with that? Well, plastic doesn’t go away – it ends up in landfill, eventually buried in the ground where it still doesn’t break down. It also breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic which threaten our marine life and even end up in fish which is then consumed by people – not a good record for packaging which is very often only needed for seconds. As the movie ‘Bag It’ said: “Think about it. Why would you make something that you are going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever? What’s up with that?”.

And yet, most of us feel good about recycling – I know I make sure to recycle every piece of plastic I can, yet the fact remains that very little plastic is fully reusable so recycling really should be the last option. Reducing the plastic going into the waste in the first place is a more sustainable plan, and this challenge really opened my eyes to that.

You can read more about the challenge and why I decided to take part, in our original blog post.

So what challenges did I find while taking part?

My first gripe came while innocently visiting a family-owned coffee shop. Avoiding the regular high street chains I thought this could be a less wasteful place to have a drink, but was stunned when I was served an ice tea in a plastic smoothie cup, complete with plastic lid and plastic straw! The reason I was surprised was, I was sitting in and not taking out. So I explained the challenge and politely asked why they don’t serve smoothies or iced drinks in a proper cup like the rest of the drinks are when sitting in. It turns out they “hadn’t thought about it”, and took the easy way out to serve a set measure in the same type of cups. (Yet, that wasn’t an issue for serving coffee in proper cups?)

As others suggested on Twitter etc, I started a ‘dilemma box’ and stored all the plastic I couldn’t find an alternative for.

I decided to stock up on drinks in glass bottles, to make sure I had plenty at home I could mix up and carry with me instead – my favourite is the Rocks Organic and Belvoir brands! Tins of pulses and tofu formed the staple of my meals.

My next hurdle came as I decided to work with a personal trainer in the middle of July – which is undeniably a good thing, but you try finding a protein shake mix that’s not in a plastic container or a protein bar not wrapped in it! So annoyingly, I ended up with vitamin and supplement bottles – all in plastic apart from the Terranova glass ones – and a huge plastic container of protein powder staring at me from the kitchen counter. I’ll try and repurpose these small bottles as mini vases or plant pots though – a good excuse to get creative.

As I’m vegetarian, the healthy food and protein I needed for my training stocked up in the fridge. I happily carried fruit and veg from the market without the irritating and needless mini plastic bags they try and offer you, although the salad and spinach was again packaged in plastic. Time to try and grow my own methinks! But I struggled with feta and halloumi cheese, and even pasta, only finding plastic wrapped options in the stores. Yoghurts again came in plastic, so I decided to make my own at home (quite easy and fun to do, I’ll blog a recipe sometime). All of this made me more and more annoyed at the amount of plastic waste residing even in the more environmentally aware supermarkets. Don’t even get me started on the takeaway plastic cups of capsicum peppers (yes, really) I found in a major brand supermarket!

Although a shampoo bottle lasts for longer than a few minutes unlike a drinks container, it’s still technically single use as you will bin it once the shampoo is gone. This is true of so many other products you wouldn’t even think about, and their packaging. Toilet rolls and cat litter wrapped in plastic (thank my stars for Ecoleaf’s compostable wrap, and BioCatolet), mouthwash bottles and even my asthma medication made of plastic and wrapped in it. That last one is a little difficult to find a reuse for, but I’m open to ideas!

So, what other plastic did you happen upon while doing the challenge? And do you know of alternative products that use other non-plastic packaging, or using recycled plastic as part of their construction? I’d love to hear your comments below, and how you got on. I’ll certainly be continuing my awareness of the plastic problem for more than just July, and hope to see changes in supermarkets and stores – this will only happen if consumers vote with their feet, write to them and continue to demand better options. Let’s do it!

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  • It’s such an eye-opening challenge, isn’t it?! This is my third year of Plastic Free July, except after the first year I decided I could never go back…so we’ve been plastic-free ever since. That’s enough time to build up a few good habits!

    It’s usually possible to find Feta cheese in blocks at good delis, so you can bring your own container and save on the plastic. Barilla pasta is a very popular brand that is packaged in cardboard if you can’t find bulk bin stores. You can buy lettuces whole or bunches of spinach without plastic, you just need to wash them yourself – not exactly a hardship! Bagged salad is sometimes washed in chlorine to help it maintain its “fresh” appearance so not exactly healthy anyway!

    Some toiletries come packaged in glass – usually better quality ones. Otherwise buy the biggest size you can as it reduces the plastic overall. Travel sizes are the worst! Another option is bar shampoo – Lush sell these and I’m sure other places do.

    Andrex sell two-roll packs wrapped in paper. I’m not a fan of bioplastic: you can read why here: http://treadingmyownpath.com/2014/06/26/compostable-plastics-and-bioplastics-and-why-they-arent-the-green-solution/

    I always carry my glass KeepCup (whixh doubles as an impromptu container) and my bamboo cutlery set (with a stainless steel straw) when I’m out to avoid plastic. I always have my own bag and also take a couple of reusable produce bags too. If I want takeaway, I take my own container. It doesn’t really take up any extra space – it’s just starting the habit!

    Sounds like you had an enlightening experience! It’s such a great challenge for so many different reasons. Great work for getting through to the end of the month : )

  • Trish