Plastic Free July

Plastic pollution is one of many problems facing our environment, and it’s gaining attention. On a regular basis, images appear in our social media feeds of turtles entangled in plastic fishing nets and dead albatross with brightly coloured plastic objects in their stomachs. We read news stories of the health impacts of BPAs and other chemicals in plastic food packaging, and we feel concern.

Plastic pollution/marine debris/trash/litter… whatever term you use, it’s matter out of place, and it impacts our health, our environment and our economy. Unlike many environmental issues, there is no argument about cause and effect — there are no “plastic pollution deniers". With few exceptions, every piece of plastic in the world’s oceans has been in someone’s hands. Those same hands hold the solutions, and with plastics being found in all of the world’s oceans, we all need to play a part. And it doesn’t take expensive equipment or sophisticated technology to be involved; it can start with us, and the choices we make as we go about our daily lives.

Our choices not only help keep single-use plastics from hurting the environment, but they can also put pressure on manufacturers to make better products with less plastic. Once you start trying to avoid plastic, you soon realise that it’s everywhere, from the straw in a smoothie to the plastic lining of tinned foods to personal care products (which can contain plastic microbeads, nano plastic particles and liquid plastics). 

The Plastic Free July (www.plasticfreejuly.org) challenge has become an annual event with hundreds of thousands of people, schools and organisations from 85 participating countries. It has grown because people are concerned about the plastic pollution problem, and taking on the challenge is something tangible that everyone can participate in. People can sign up for a day, a week or a month. How?

Try to avoid ALL single-use plastics, or take on the top four: plastic bags, water bottles, straws and coffee cups. Many people report that being part of a movement and sharing ideas, getting tips and recipes through an e-newsletter or social media, or attending a workshop makes it easier than trying to go plastic free by yourself.

Participating in the challenge is a good way to make (and keep) new habits. Many people already have reusable shopping bags, water bottles and coffee cups, but they aren’t much use in the back of a cupboard or left elsewhere in the house. It’s not about buying new stuff, but remember to take the reusables you already have.

Plastic Free July is also an opportunity to explore alternatives in your area: Visit the farmers market, look for stores selling food in bulk, and find stores that will let you bring your container. Buying plastic free most often means purchasing fresh local produce, without the processing, preservatives and palm oil that packaged foods usually contain.

Plastic Free July isn’t just about changing personal habits. It’s also about taking a personal concern and sharing the challenge in your community. Schools have held waste-free lunches; businesses are changing packaging practices; government departments hold plastic-free morning teas; farmers markets establish “mug libraries” for takeaway coffees; participants become bloggers, authors, activists and have even started their own bulk food stores.

Your situation, where you live and what your circumstances are will to some degree govern just how “plastic free” you go, in some places it’s undoubtedly harder than others. However, we can all do something to reduce our plastic footprint, and we all have our own unique sphere of influence. Please join our challenge and find that one thing that only you can do.

To help you get started, here are 8 ways to instantly cut down on plastic waste. 

1] Plastic cutlery. 
Carry a "splade" (spoon, fork and blade) or “spork” (spoon and fork) in your bag. Or try edible ones. 

2] Straws. 
Only use if there are biodegradable ones available or invest in a stainless steel reusable one. 

3] Bottled water. 
Take a reusable bottle with you in your bag and fill up at public water fountains, at cafes or work.

4] Takeaway coffee cups. 
Use a reusable cup instead.

5] Plastic toothbrushes. 
Switch to bamboo ones instead. 

6] Plastic shopping bags. 
Keep reusable bags in your car or handbag.

7] Take away containers. 
Cover dishes with a plate or beeswax food wrap.

8] Plastic wrapped toilet paper.
Buy toilet paper that’s wrapped in paper. Preferably buy recycled.