Plastic Free July: that sneaky little devil

One of my local bulk food stores

A writer I love once wrote that in order to have a good morning routine, you need to have an excellent night-time routine. What does that mean? Well, if you want to be one of those people who get a good jump on the morning, whether that's via morning exercise, meditation, a good healthy brekkie, a delicious packed lunch or simply not sprinting around the house like a crazy thing as soon as you jump out of bed, it’s easier to have it all organised and ready to go the night before.
Why am I writing this? Well, I’ve found it also applies brilliantly to nailing this whole Plastic Free July thing.
Throwing your keep cup in your bag so it's ready to go the next day, pre-filling a water bottle and putting it on the kitchen bench next to your cutlery/grocery bags/produce bags means you’re ready for whatever the day throws at you without the added stress of trying to do it all in that precious time between waking and heading to work/social engagement/wrestling clothes onto a child who appears to have grown 20 extra limbs overnight and attempting to leave the house.
And that brings us to now – at the end of the third week of Plastic Free July.
So, how are Steve and I going? Despite a number of challenges raising their heads in the past two weeks, I’d still say we’re going well.
Yes, some plastic has still entered our house. Some of that has been knowingly done (see my earlier post about milk and garbage bags), while some of it has been taken out of our hands, often after we’d opened something we thought would be plastic-free only to discover a lovely layer hidden somewhere in it. Or, shock horror, when we forgot and remembered way too late.
Single use plastic, it’s a sneaky little devil! And it seems that no matter how organised you are sometimes you simply can't avoid it. It's just the way our society is wired.
For the past two weeks I have toted my pyrex dishes into the butcher, only to find on one occasion they used a plastic bag to grab my meat (note: I found this varies butcher to butcher. Some have washed their hands and grabbed the meat bare-handed). Well-meaning friends would buy us drinks in plastic bottles, an event would only have plastic cups on offer, or a late afternoon walk to the bakery to grab bread – with pillowcase in tow to bring it home in – would be fruitless after discovering all the bread had been pre-sliced and bagged.
The majority of this could be, and often was, counter-acted simply by our being prepared. It was easy enough to pour a drink into my keep cup rather than a plastic cup at a party, or to eat with our hands to avoid using a plastic plate.

Loose leaf tea in my own jar

But it also brought home just how used to grab and go convenience we, as a society, have become. A trip to a bulk store to refill a spice jar, grab some flour and icing sugar as well as snacks for the week cost me a grand total of $2 - not even close to how much it would've cost to buy everything new at the grocery store. And yet, because it involved walking to a third business I found myself initially hesitating over doing it. And walking down any aisle at the grocery store became an eye-opening experience when you realised the majority of the packaging would be thrown away.
I should also note that even if we were struggling badly at reducing our plastic use, I would still say this month was a success if only for the conversations it has started.
Friends and family who know us and our left-leaning ways were unsurprised by our efforts, but would be curious about the challenge and ask straight up how it was going, while other friends began to jump on board the bandwagon, getting themselves reusable straws or keep cups, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable bags or simply becoming more mindful about single use plastic.
Those who hadn't heard of the challenge would listen with interest – or outright surprise – when we said we were avoiding single use plastic for the month. Very occasionally we would run up against the negative nancy who would tell us our efforts would make zero difference in the long run (FYI, between the two of us we saved more than 40 disposable coffee cups alone going to landfill this month. That’s not a small number. Imagine 
But there are other ways this challenge has benefited us.
In our house, the food we're buying is of better quality. Fewer nutrition-free snacks or "just in case" purchases, more cooking from scratch – and realising how easy it all is.
Habits from childhood also re-emerged. Growing up my mum would always throw a water bottle and a piece of fruit in her handbag before heading out, and I began to emulate this again, as well as putting that shampoo I didn't like into my handwash container and using household ingredients like vinegar, bi-carb soda and essential oils to clean. Homemade lotion is easy-peasy and cheap to do and, thanks to stores like Biome, the ingredients and recipes are accessible all in one place. Or, just open your cupboards and grab that olive oil and slather it on. It works just as well and is super cheap.

Here is a quick list of the other take aways we’ve found from the three weeks of Plastic Free July:

  • ·     Organisation is key. Have everything ready to go so you can just grab it. Make lists your friend too! From meal planning (which also helps reduce food waste) to what you need to get from which store.
  • ·     Bulk is beautiful. Grab your flour, sugar, tea, coffee, peanut butter, oil, washing up liquid, laundry powder and soap from your local bulk store. Or, if you can’t do this, look into better options that are available at your local supermarket. Can you buy things in glass jars or paper packaging rather than plastic?  Just remember that recycling is a great place to start, but a terrible place to stop. For more info about that, head here.
  • ·     Make google your best friend. There are so many blogs, websites and Facebook groups that can answer your questions when it comes to reducing plastic in your life. And we’ve found the results are often better, and cheaper, than store-bought items.
  • ·     Hit up your local farmers’ markets with your own bags. Take a plate and coffee cup and grab brekkie while you’re there and really make a day of it!
  • ·     Just start somewhere. We began this month aiming to refuse plastic bags, straws, bottles, disposable coffee cup and plastic cutlery. We’re ending it having significantly reduced all our plastic use! But at the end of the day, one less coffee cup in landfill is still a win.

Now, over to you. How’s your Plastic Free July experience going?

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