Have you signed up for Plastic Free July?
The idea of Plastic Free July is to try for a month to actively avoid single-use plastic. You can sign up for the whole month, or just a week, and you can avoid all single-use plastic or just the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, plastic water bottles, takeaway coffee cups & plastic straws).
This post contain affiliate links from Biome, as well as advice from my personal experience. You don't need to buy a whole lot of things to reduce your plastic consumption, there are many things that you can make yourself, I just suggest a few of the items that have helped us and may help you too.
Why Plastic Free July?
Plastic is designed to last forever, but when we use it for "disposable" items they do not biodegrade and end up polluting waterways or filling landfills. Each of us can make a difference by just reducing (or aiming to eliminate) single-use plastic from our daily lives.
Three reasons to avoid single use plastic
- All plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels: Plastic is made from oil, and increasingly, natural gas. Its not so bad to use these resources for long-lasting useful applications, but when we are just pumping out plastic junk, its literally a waste of a precious resource.
- Plastic does not degrade: All plastic ever made is still in existence. Apart from newer truly biodegradable plastics, most plastics just break into tiny particles over time, but they never decompose like natural materials do.
- Plastic is toxic, because plastics (and many ingredients in plastic) are man-made, our bodies do not recognise them, and they can disrupt normal biological processes.
Don't know how to start reducing plastic?
Start with the TOP 4 challenge to replace the most common single-use plastics:
- Replace plastic bottles plastic free water bottles
- Replace takeaway coffee cups with reusable options
- Replace plastic straws with metal, glass or silicon straws (or go without)
Resuable containers and drink bottles
If you analyse your plastic waste and find a lot of throwaway containers and bottles, plastic wrap and freezer bags, then you should consider some resuable options. Pete and I have got into the habit of putting food in the reusable containers rather than covering with wrap or putting it in a bag.
We have lots of containers, so there is never an excuse. We also got some nice glass containers for our lunches. At work the other day someone was looking for plastic wrap to cover some leftovers and I suggested that they put a bowl over the plate, they were amazed at my creativity, but that's the kind of thing we do all the time at home.
We still use a few old Tuperware containers for storing fruit and veges, but all hot food goes into glass containers (due to the risk of chemicals in the plastic leaching into hot food). We've had Pyrex dishes for a while, and I recently got a set of Glasslock containers from Biome (affiliate link). As well as reducing waste (and not buying Gladwrap for 5 years!), this reduces our exposure to plastic additives which are known hormone disruptors.
Its taken a while to get to this stage, because the glass containers are expensive, but I've gradually built up enough to keep most food in glass.
I usually fill a drink bottle of water to take in the car whenever we leave home, so we never have to buy a drink in a bottle (we have a Klean Kanteen bottle each - affiliate link). At work I always use a real cup, even when disposable cups are available. If you are a coffee drinker, consider taking your own cup instead of getting a takeaway cup that you just have to throw "away". Personally I love the glass reusable cups from Biome (affiliate link).
Buying in bulk and making your own
Most of our plastic waste previously was food packaging. Buying in bulk is one way to reduce the amount of packaging. Selecting carefully at the supermarket and trying to find options with no or less plastic is another strategy. By far the best option is making your own as you need it.
We are lucky to avoid milk bottles, bread bags, veggie packaging and various others, by making and growing our own. One thing that does not reduce plastic is butchering our own meat, as we wrap it all in bags before freezing, but if you buy meat you can take your own container to the butcher and ask to use that instead of bags. A tip from NZ Ecochick - you can also buy cheese from a deli and take your own reusable container.
Bring your own reusable bags
We have made a real effort to take our own bags and to refuse plastic bags (this is half the battle, saying "I don't need a bag" in time!). We have got so good at taking our own shopping bags to the supermarket that I occasionally accept a plastic bag just so we have some at home for the occasional time that you need one! Our secret is to put them by the door, a few in my bag and some in each car, that way, you can at least put the majority of shopping in reusable bags.
So get yourself lots of bags, put them in a sensible place and remember them! Also, tip from Fiona from Life at Arbordale Farm - if you forget them in the supermarket, but they are in your car, you can always load everything in your trolley and pack your groceries in the bags when you get back to your car, you won't forget again after that ordeal!
As well as the standard heavy duty big bags, I also have some light-weight bags to use for fruit and veges (you can find a range of produce bags at Biome - affiliate link). Finally, if you're stuck for a bag, you can make one from square piece of fabric.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
From July 2014 South Burnett Regional Council area stopped curb-side collection of recycling, its all going to landfill. Not to recycling at the landfill either, we don't even have the option to take our own recycling to the tip, there is simply no facility for it. Essentially our council tricked us into this change. They sent out a survey and asked if we wanted to pay extra for another bin for recycling. We were happy with our one split bin - half for rubbish and half for recycling.
Unfortunately the options weren't well explained, and our region didn't vote for the second bin, our council is now only providing one bin for rubbish, no more split bin. Apparently they are now "looking into" providing recycling facilities at our landfills, but at the moment there is no local recycling options.
As much as I did like the convenience of recycling, in some ways, having that option taken away does encourage some greater creativity. Even though it might feel virtuous to put plastic in a recycling bin, in truth we are only ever downcycling (reducing the value of the material), so thinking of solutions to reduce or reuse plastic is better than recycling.
Of course, we are going to find that some plastic is unavoidable, and I was quite surprised to see a bin at Coles in Brisbane CBD for recycling thin plastic wrapping (as explained recently by Fiona from Life at Arbordale Farm), and the rest I can put in recycling bins at work. I'm going to have to remember to cart it around, so ideally we will keep recycling to a minimum.
Replacing plastic bin liners with newspaper
Picking up rubbish
I've also developed a habit of picking up bits of plastic rubbish. A few years ago we had a steer butchered at the farm and the butcher cut the stomach open in the paddock so we didn't have to bury the whole thing. The contents of the stomach was mostly grass (known as paunch), but also included several plastic bags and bits of rope! I have seen photos of sea birds and fish that have swallowed plastic, but I didn't know our farm animals would do the same.
After that I started picking up bits of rubbish around the farm so that the cattle didn't eat them. Then I started just picking up plastic rubbish in public. I don't care if people see me, probably 9 out of 10 people think I'm weird, but maybe one person will see me and realise that we can't just leave our rubbish on the ground. I just tuck the pieces into my pocket, or my bag or hold onto them until I see a bin.
Plastic in the bathroom
I haven't found a completely plastic-free option for toothpaste or toothbrushes, I know they are out there, I just haven't found one that I like yet. Also deodorant, I just like the bought stuff better than what I have been able to make so far.
Too much information? For people with periods...
One last source of plastic waste in the bathroom is the copious amount generated by menstrual products, both the packaging and the products themselves. I used to hate throwing away all that plastic, until I got a reusable menstrual cups and reusable pads (affiliate link). I totally love them and would never go back to normal pads and tampons. Here's the whole story for those who want to find out more.
Plastic Free cleaning ideas
For the dishes, we use homemade soap in a soap shaker, but we do keep some detergent for really greasy dishes and for cleaning the milking machine.
|a bag of soap nuts|
What's in our dilemma bag?
Wait, what's a dilemma bag? For the month of July, you keep all the single-use plastic that comes through your house in a bag and go through it to think about how you could further reduce plastic waste. This is my dilemma bag from 2015:
I feel like we did worse than last year.... the photos don't show every piece of plastic, but it is a representative sample of plastic that we ended up with in July....
Things that are rubbish or recycling:
- Lots of packaging! Ironically I bought a bag of plastic pegs made from recycled plastic - in a plastic bag. Most of the thin packaging I can at least take to my local Coles for recycling.
- A few things that I should avoid in future - Cadbury chocolate is now all in plastic wrappers, there are plastic free options that I should choose instead (given that chocolate is an essential food group)
- Ear plugs! We usually wear muffs, but sometimes plugs are more practical and you can only reuse them so many times, if you work in heavy industry, this may be a tricky one, especially if you need double ear protection... I hate to think how many are discarded every day around the country
- We bought a new lap top and it came with some packaging, although at least it was LDPE (low density polyethylene) rather than polystryrene, and can be recycled (and doesn't make such a terrible mess).
Things that I can reuse:
- Small plastic bottles are useful for freezing water to use in cool bags over summer and to put in animal water buckets on very hot days
- Berry season was a massive challenge for me because I love them! Obviously I'm going to have to grow my own in future, but for now, I can reuse the containers for seeds and produce.
- Bailing twine - I didn't put all our twine in the dilemma bag because we end up with an awful lot of twine at the moment... we try to reuse it where we can, but ultimately we would like to organise our pasture so that we don't have to buy hay. We are also very lucky to buy our cattle and chicken food from a local farmer who reuses the bags.
- Those stretchy string bags use for fruit and vege packaging are good for taking back to the supermarket, and I keep other things in them too.