With the month of July in full swing, you might have heard about an initiative called Plastic Free July. It’s a simple idea developed in 2011 in Australia which has since spread around the world. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives by encouraging people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during July each year. Anyone can sign up – individuals or organisations.
Check out their website and perhaps you might give it a go!
The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, you can try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).
If you think about it, all of the TOP 4 plastics are easily avoidable. I have put together a few tips that might help you with the challenge.
1. Avoid plastic bags … bring your own
Reusable totes are prettier and sturdier than the flimsy single-use plastic bags and they are totally convenient to carry in your handbag for all cases. Pick one that folds into a little packet and off you go!
Tip: They can also be used as an emergency seat cover, picnic cloth or umbrella. Boom.
2. Avoid plastic bottles … bring your own
Getting used to bringing your own reusable bottle (stainless steel, BPA-free plastic, glass) will solve a few problems at once. If you get thirsty or need some water to wash your hands, you don’t have to find a shop first and waste money on overpriced plastic bottle of water. Also, if you are out and can’t finish your drink, you have a handy container to pour your leftover drink into.
Tip: A full bottle of wine fits nicely in a 750ml stainless steel bottle without raising any suspicion – you know, when you’re going to a festival and are low on cash or to a children’s party you’d like to make more interesting.
3. Avoid takeaway coffee cups … bring your own
Not only are the paper cups you get with your takeaway coffee lined with plastic, which makes them harder to recycle, the cups and the lids actually very rarely end up in a recycling bin. Choosing to bring your own makes so much more sense! Remembering your travel mug in the morning before you leave the house might need a few post-its on the door/mirror/steering wheel of your car but it’s definitely worth it.
Tip: They are also much more spill-proof than the paper cups and can carry all sorts of liquids if needed – or foods for that matter! On top of that, you might even get financially rewarded for your efforts!
4. Avoid straws … bring your own or simply say no
Depending on where you live, your drinks might usually be served with a straw. In Ireland it’s thankfully not as common in general and applies mostly for bars. Fast-food chains also give you the option to take the straw yourself. (Hint: Don’t.)
Tip: You could invest in nice reusable bamboo, metal or glass straws (I would question their durability – at least in my clumsy case!). Or, simply ask staff not to put any straw in your drink – consume it like a responsible adult with your mouth and gravity. I haven’t used a straw for a good while now and I am not missing it at all!
Bringing your own reusable straw can spark a discussion and raise awareness – educate people and enjoy the quizzical looks!
Once you have successfully avoided the TOP 4, you might want to take things further and continue with #5.
5. Avoid plastic packaging – buy in bulk or in recyclable packaging
The majority of plastic in a typical household comes from food packaging. If you have the option, buy in bulk or packageless directly from producers (farmers’ markets and all that jazz!). If not available, choose recyclable packaging that you can reuse first before recycling (cardboard or paper).
Because ‘on-the-go’ foods are the biggest culprit in this plastic saga, think ahead and prepare you brekkie, lunch and snacks at home and bring them along. Leftovers from dinner make a great work lunch, overnight porridge takes about 2 minutes to prepare and homemade trail mixes have a much better mixture of goodies than those overpriced teensy packs.
The unavoidable side-effect is that you WILL start eating healthier and soon enough you will cook like a boss.
It is only fair that I weigh the pros and cons before advising you to do this. So, here they are:
- You will need to be organised. Some of us are naturals, some less so.
- You will need a bigger handbag/rucksack. Carrying all your BYOs takes up some space alright.
- You might be looked at quizzically/with surprise/disbelief. Be a trendsetter and embrace it.
- You save money. Skipping all the impulse buys ranging from a pack of raisins to a far-too-expensive fancy sandwich with rose petals will be kind on your wallet.
- You will feel better. Physically because you’ll eat better and mentally because your actions WILL make a difference. Maybe only one more turtle will not get a straw stuck in her little nose. But that’s huge.
- You will become an eco-warrior. That’s a synonym for a hero, a better person and a responsible citizen of the planet Earth in my book.
Is that enough for you to consider joining the movement this July? Remember, you can join any day, even if it’s just for a day. The Earth will thank you.