It’s that time of the year again - Plastic Free July is nearly upon us! Although I try to avoid plastic all the time, I'm far from perfect, and this month is a welcome challenge to step up my game.
If you’re just starting to ease into a life without plastic, this can be a great opportunity to see what you’re capable of! The best way to start, in my opinion, is to tackle the “big 4”:
1. Bring your own bags.
One trip to the supermarket can result in a lot of plastic waste from carrier bags, produce bags, and the plastic packaging that envelops much of the food available in supermarkets these days. But with a little bit of planning, much of it can be avoided.
If you can, try to buy your fruits and veg from local green grocers, who are much less likely than the supermarkets to wrap their produce in superfluous plastic. They’re also more likely to get their produce from local farmers, meaning fewer food kilometers and a smaller footprint.
Bring your own bags with you when you shop. Cloth produce bags are a great alternative to the plastic ones on offer at most markets, and are useful for smaller produce items like mushrooms and peas. You don’t necessarily need to buy new cloth produce bags for the job - a mesh lingerie bag or a clean drawstring dust bag work great, too.
Here’s a secret no one tells you: not all produce needs to go in a bag! Almost all produce can be weighed without any bags at all. So toss those onions straight into your basket like the rebel you are.
Do you have a spare cloth tote bag (or 10) laying around the house? Or even a used plastic bag? Bring a few of these with you when you shop, to carry everything home, and skip the plastic carrier bag (and save 5p!).
2. Invest in a reusable coffee cup.
Love coffee? I hear you. My mornings would be sad without a big steaming cup, and I’d never wish coffee deprivation on anyone. However, plastic-lined paper takeaway coffee cups and their single-use plastic lids are unnecessary to the enjoyment of coffee, and are highly avoidable.
Get yourself a reusable coffee cup. Buy one new, grab one second-hand from your local charity shop (I see them all the time), or use a mason jar, but bringing your own vessel to the cafe for your takeaway coffee is a simple way to avoid that waste. Bonus: some cafes even offer a discount for bringing your own cup, even some of the big ones!
3. Carry a refillable bottle.
Those of us who are lucky enough to live in places where potable water comes out of the tap have little excuse to buy plastic bottled water. Throwing a reusable bottle in your bag is an easy way to avoid a lot of plastic, whether you’re at work, at the gym, or on the go.
Refill your bottle whenever you have the opportunity, to stay hydrated throughout the day. You’ll spend no money, and send no plastic to landfill.
I know what you’re going to say - but aren’t plastic bottles recyclable? Well, yes, to an extent. But they can’t be recycled forever. Every time you recycle plastic, the quality of the plastic is degraded, so that eventually it reaches a point where it can’t be recycled.
So the final destination of all plastic, recyclable or not, is landfill, or in worst case, the ocean. Recycling just adds pitstops along the journey. So pretty please, use a reusable bottle.
4. Ask for your drink without a straw.
This one can be hard to mitigate in restaurant situations, when sometimes glasses of water simply show up with plastic straws already in them. It can also be hard to remember to ask for a drink without a straw, since it may not even occur to you that your drink might come with one. However, most of the time, when asked nicely, a waiter or bartender will honor your request to skip the straw.
If, for medical or other reasons, you prefer to drink through a straw, invest in a stainless steel one to carry with you.
Straws may not seem like that big a deal - after all, it’s just a small piece of plastic, right? - but the next time you’re out in an area where there’s litter, count how many straws you see. It’ll be a lot. Do we really need straws that badly?
How are you approaching Plastic Free July this year? I’d love to hear your ideas!
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