Over the last month, along with three million other earthlings, I’ve been participating in Plastic Free July. I committed to going completely plastic free and came pretty close. Although I’ve been leading a lower impact lifestyle for some time now, I saw PFJ as a way to truly challenge myself to rethink my relationship with waste, plastic and consumerism.
Supported by my #zerowaste virtual Instagram community, I learnt a lot about my own behaviours and tried out new ways of doing things. Underlying PFJ is the importance of spreading the word and sharing tips and tricks to encourage others to join in for a day, the month or years – hence this blog. After all, on their own, your actions might seem minuscule, but combined with the efforts of other like-minded waste warriors, they can be monumental.
I can’t say it enough, bring your own! No, I’m not talking about booze (unless it’s in a non-plastic vessel, which is easy anyway) I’m talking about a drink bottle, reusable bag, metal straw, Tupperware, KeepCup and cutlery. This may seem extreme – “you’re not seriously suggesting I lug ALL that around?!” – but it’s actually not. Most of these items are very lightweight or take up little space. They make avoiding single-use plastic easy and are a) practical and b) save you money (coffee discounts – hell yes!).
I avoid lots of plastic waste by taking my own Tupperware containers to the shops for deli items and takeaway shops. If you’re travelling, you can do this too. When it comes to travelling in places with non-potable water, my suggestion is still to byo drink bottle and use your accommodation’s larger water dispenser to refill it whenever possible. Packing your own lunch for work every day also makes avoiding unnecessary plastics easier. Make sure you also take some plastic free treats to help ward off the 4 pm sugar cravings and the plastic packaging that invariably comes with chocolates and lollies.
Contrary to popular (misinformed) belief, people concerned about the environment are not just “dirty hippies” with BO and body hair. There’s plenty of ways you can self-care AND generate low waste. My favourite zero waste hygiene product is my menstrual cup. Not only is it plastic-free, it’s also fuss-free. It’s ideal for travellers and adventurers because unlike other sanitary products, you can leave it in for hours until you’re in a position to empty it. If you haven’t heard of menstrual cups, definitely check them out.
PFJ has also made me reassess the beauty products I use. Soap and shampoo bars are awesome and take up virtually no space in your luggage. Plenty of eco-conscious shops also now stock plastic free natural deodorants and makeup, whilst bamboo toothbrushes are compostable and safety razors last for life.
Plastic bags are one of the biggest culprits of environmental litter and are deadly for marine life. With some large chain supermarkets removing plastic bags from their stores, there’s no better time to invest in a reusable material bag. Why not make a statement with it too, like I am with my beautiful bag from the Refugee Advice and Casework Service. Sturdy material bags avoid broken plastic bag blowouts AND save our flipper friends. I also love my reusable produce bags from Onya (an awesome Aus-based company that makes their products from recycled plastics). You can also easily create DIY produce bags from old cotton sheets and clothes. Produce bags make buying loose, unpackaged fruit and veg (and even pick n’ mix lollies) super easy.
Consumer Power and Conscious Consumption
A powerful aspect of PFJ involves communicating your expectations to companies to improve their corporate social responsibility. You can do this in two ways:
1) Money talks – spend your hard earned buckeroos on businesses that are using alternatives to plastic.
2) Kindly call out companies that you think can do better.
It doesn’t take much: an email, social media post, letter or even face-to-face chat can pack a punch. Consuming consciously can be as simple as picking one brand over another because it comes in glass rather than plastic, buying ice-cream in a cone rather than a cup (you’ll like it an-waffle-lot) and buying produce package free by remembering your reusable produce bags.
Buy Local, Buy Bulk
Introducing ye ol’ farmers’ market, where you can have a conversation with the person who grows your food. Farmers’ markets teach you about buying and cooking seasonally. Most produce comes plastic free and with a big, healthy dose of community spirit. Visiting produce markets while travelling also allows you to experience interesting new foods, just make sure you refuse any single-use plastic to enjoy them. Combine a thriving farmers’ market with a local bulk food store and you’ve seriously hit the zero waste jackpot. Bulk food stores allow you to buy staples like rice and pasta plastic free. They also stock goodies like nuts, chocolate and dried fruit as well as package free spices, tea, oils and cleaning products.
Get Out in Nature
Go for a hike, a camping trip or a beach walk to remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ultimately, the aim of PFJ and the zero waste movement is to improve the environmental health of this precious earth we all call home. While you’re out in nature you can also take the opportunity to pick up plastic rubbish – I guarantee that you won’t have to search hard. Do a #5minutebeachcleanup and #takethreeforthesea, go “plogging” (pick up rubbish while you jog) or just make sure you leave no trace.
PFJ is a fantastic movement that everyone can embrace in their own small way. It’s not about overhauling your life overnight, it’s about making incremental changes to reduce your footprint and spread awareness while you’re at it. PFJ has certainly been challenging and for me was not totally plastic free. Over the past month, I’ve kept track of all my plastic usage and I’m pretty proud with how I went. There’s room for improvement, which means one thing… I’ll just have to try to beat that next month.
What other tips do you know to reduce your use of single-use plastics while travelling or even at home? Let us know about it in the comment section below.