Plastic Free July: How challenging could be to go plastic-free and which things can help. Part 1

July 2019 is gone, and I can’t stop feeling a bit disappointed with few things during this “Plastic Free July” challenge I went on, but at the same time, I feel hope and energy to keep learning and improving. 

 My journey of a low-waste life is quite new. While I have always been an advocate against straws, plastic bottles, and single-use cutlery, I am not a plastic-free perfection champ. And that is FINE! Because we are not perfect and with the current broken system, plastics can make their way into our lives from a broad diversity of forms. But don’t feel discouraged or hopeless, there are few things we can swap and keep working on for a better tomorrow. 

 This is my experience, lessons learned, quick facts, and my feedback on how my Plastic Free July went. If you want to share yours, just post it in the comments section! I will break down this article in 3 parts to make it easier to digest and write. I will start with 3 of the big offenders on plastic pollution: Bags, Plastic bottles, and Disposable dining ware.

 On average, Australians use about 130kgs of plastics per person every year. And did you know that only 12% gets recycled? The most shocking thing is that up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic will make its way to our waterways and oceans. This affects our planet and its wildlife (particularly my fav animal: the turtles)! So, how can we do something to help? Is it everything lost? How can we start?

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 Lesson 1: BYO bag

 This one has always been with me during the last few years, and I guess it is one of the easy ones to swap. And what if you forget the bag? Well, I always asked for a box! You would be surprised at the number of boxes available for you and your shopping in almost every retailer (at least we had heaps when I used to work for a wholefoods company). So, make sure you wink and smile to that retail assistant star, I am sure they will help you out.

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No bag and no box? We are blessed with two body parts called arms, and we can most likely carry our shopping at least to the car. Plus there is always that good feeling when you look at your shopping, and there are no plastic bags on sight! I usually use these ones for produce and this one to carry all my things and food. Happily, I have been able to avoid these plastic killers for a while!

Quick facts:

-    Every year, Australians consume more than 4 billion supermarket plastic bags (20,700 tonnes of plastic).

-    Just 3% are recycled, the rest ends up in our environment or in a landfill.

-    For the government and community groups, the cost to clean up littered plastic bags is around 4 million per annum.

-    Once in the environment, plastic bags are serial killers. They get ingested by animals until they die, and then released again to the environment once these animals decompose.

Lesson 2: Bottles

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Since working as a diver in the Great Barrier Reef, marine litter (particularly plastics) was a growing issue that I could see impacting our beautiful oceans. One of the things that called more my attention were plastic bottles. In most developed countries, tap water is safe to drink and use! We are so damn lucky to have access to fresh drinkable water. However, we continuously look for convenience and a quick fix, especially when it is warm and sweaty. Currently, in the market, we have a vast amount of reusable bottle options where to choose, that there is no excuse to keep buying single-use. In my case, I did an experiment last year when I went to the Philippines. I brought my bottle buddy everywhere with me, and to my surprise in many of the little islands, local communities were trying to fight back plastic pollution, and one of the measures were water tanks in almost every little shop and bar. For a small fee of around $0.20AUD, you were able to fill up your bottle with fresh filtered water, but without the plastic cost. In a whole month backpacking through the islands, I think I only bought a bottle of water twice. I personally use this one because it fits in my bike bottle holder, it is insulated, and my mum gave it to me haha. 

Quick facts:

-    There is no evidence that bottled water is “purer” than tap water, but surely it is way more expensive than opening the tap and grabbing a glass.

-    A plastic bottle will take up to 1000 years to break down in landfill.

-    They often end up in the ocean, becoming microplastics, and impacting marine life.

Lesson 3: Cutlery and plates

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Oh, plastic cutlery and plates….my dearest enemies. How many times when we go out for lunch, there will be no other option than the plastic spoon and fork? Or the takeaway containers? To avoid these single-use items, you need to come prepared. Luckily, reusable cutlery and containers don’t need to take much space, they look cool, and they could be cheaper than a latte. In my case, I have always carried this camping spork from Light my Fire (you can get few options at Paddy Pallin stores, click here), and I recently spoiled myself with a Retub container. The cool thing behind the Retub concept is that you can swap the inner glassware in partnered restaurants, meaning that you don’t always need to have a sparkling clean container to avoid using plastic ones, making it perfect when you are on the go during a busy day (especially when you are a student, barely spending time at home more than just to shower and get clean clothes). Check out their modern-looking containers here, and you can find more info about the partnered restaurants clicking here.

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On a side note, I have been travelling with a collapsible plate from Sea to Summit, and it has totally made a difference when trying to avoid plastic overseas (Paddy Pallin has them too! Click here). 

Quick facts:

-    Even when plastic plates are made out of recyclable materials, sorting machines usually will mistake them for paper, because of their flat shape.

-    On the other hand, plastic cutlery’s shape makes them hard to classify as well, as machines are usually designed to separate containers, such as bottles and tubs. 

-    According to Greenpeace, around 4 million trees are cut to produce 57 billion pairs of chopsticks every year. Is that a good enough reason to get some reusable ones?

 

References

Clean Up Australia https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/ed061800/files/uploaded/clean_up_australia_plastic_bags_factsheet-2017.pdf

https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/ed061800/files/uploaded/clean_up_australia_bottled_water_factsheet-2017.pdf

Sustainability Victoria https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/You-and-your-home/Live-sustainably/Single-use-items/Disposable-dinnerware

WWF https://www.wwf.org.au/get-involved/plastics#gs.tdnzya