We all know that single-use plastic is a massive issue, and yet plastic is seemingly everywhere. If you want a takeaway coffee there is plastic lining the cup and if you shop in a supermarket, nearly everything seems to be wrapped in plastic. With Plastic Free July underway, we are investigating the problem with plastic and some simple swaps to make at home, work and while you’re on the go. Acting collectively, even small changes will make a big difference. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Let’s do it!
Plastic is everywhere…
and virtually indestructible
How did we even get to here, to this point where plastic is a ubiquitous part of all our lives? In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. It was initially seen as a major breakthrough and plastics were lauded for being both versatile, cheap and, unbelievably, glamourous. Fast forward to 2019 and there are now literally hundreds and thousands of different kinds of polymers (or plastics), most of which are used so widely because they are virtually indestructible. Of course, this is also their biggest disadvantage. Plastic might sit in landfill or pollute our planet for thousands of years without decomposing.
The problem of plastic
“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard
Plastic pollution is everywhere and affects everything from marine life to our health. There are garbage patches of plastic waste at five locations worldwide. Most of you will have heard of the most infamous of these, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch said to be three times the size of France. And while the average plastic bag will only be in use for about 12 minutes, they take from 500-years to forever to break down. Eeek! Toothbrushes can take 400 years to fully break down, and let’s not even start on coffee cups. It wasn’t until the influential War on Waste screened on the ABC last year that many people realised that take away cups were not recyclable. Sales of reusable coffee cups have since soared and in our neighbourhood at least, it is not unusual to see people picking up their takeaway coffees in everything from jam jars to thrift shop mugs.
Allow us to suggest some of
our favourite swaps
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Plastic Free July has so far inspired 120 million participants in 177 countries to refuse plastics for a month – and beyond. If only it was Plastic Free July every month. Check out our favourite swaps and get involved.
BYO coffee cup to your local.
You don’t need an Instagram worthy vessel for this. A jam jar works just as well, as does a mug from home if you’re planning to mooch with your coffee somewhere close by. If you need an incentive, some cafes offer a discount for people who bring their own cups.
Say no to straws.
Straws really do suck. Straws No More is working hard to lobby restaurants and hotels to make the swap to paper straws but, if you can, bring your own. We do understand however that some people with disability cannot drink a beverage without the assistance of a plastic straw, and should not have to navigate additional obstacles when eating out. There is clearly work to be done here.
Say no to plastic bags at the supermarket and for produce.
Keep reusable bags in your car or handbag to load your groceries and using paper or reusable produce bags. These can be made out of old pillowcases or tea towels if you’re feeling crafty.
Support your local farmers and local brands.
There is a perception that this is more a more expensive way to shop but food that is fresh and in season should be just as affordable, if not cheaper.
Buy in bulk.
Bulk food stores are springing up everywhere. Pasta, flour, nuts and grains can be stored in old jars or yoghurt tubs. Just like Nana does!
Avoid fast fashion.
It is calculated that 6000kg of clothing is dumped in landfill every 10 minutes in Australia. To this we say vintage, thrift shops or, if your budget allows, support a slow fashion label you love. Organising a clothes swap with your friends is also good fun, and you can eat yummy food together at the same time as getting your mitts on coveted items you’ve always admired on a friend. Everyone’s a winner.
Change your toiletries.
Choose bar soap, reusable razors rather than disposal and try reusable toothbrushes – prices are coming down as they become more popular.
We are all doing our best
“Going back to a simpler life is not a step backward.”
– Yvon Chouinard
But some real talk. Making a change is not easy. As our friends and environmental leaders Eco Warrior Princess say, adopting a sustainable lifestyle is fraught with challenges and it takes determination to always stay grounded and make the eco-choice, even when it’s not convenient. Everyone’s situation is different and going green doesn’t mean the same for everyone. For some, going vegan is an obvious choice, for others ditching plastic or going for zero waste is the way forward. Whether you are a veteran of green living or are taking your first steps, we are all doing our best and every little bit helps. There will be no eco-shaming here.
Some barriers to going green and how to overcome them
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates
Breaking old habits is an obvious but underrated challenge. One suggestion is to focus on building new habits such as making sure you have your reusable bags packed when you go to the shops (and then remembering to take them in with you!) or packing your BYO coffee cup each day. In time, it will become second nature. Celebrate your wins and don’t berate yourself in the early days. It can take 66 days to form a new habit.
Cost and accessibility are also barriers to green living. The gorgeous images we see on social media would have us think that cutting back on waste needs to be pretty. It doesn’t. By all means, be inspired by your favourite online accounts but tread your own path. Most people find they can repurpose things they already have to hand to pack groceries and lunches, while options like bar soap are demonstrably cheaper.
Over to you
As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know how your tips and tricks to reducing your own plastic use. When people work together, there’s nothing we can’t do.