5 Steps To Be Plastic Free

Congratulations! – you have registered yourself for the Plastic Free July challenge! Be proud of yourself for taking the leap. (If you haven’t signed up yet, that’s okay too… just click here to go to the registration page). I can guarantee you that after this challenge you will look at your buying habits very differently. Even the seasoned ethical consumer can trip up on an overzealous plastic addiction because these polymers are just so damn abundant in our society and sometimes very sneaky too! This is why it is great to be as organized as possible for the challenge. I will borrow some pretty words from a Mr Henry Hartman here;

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity”

Thanks to this amazing Western Earth Carers initiative we have all got the opportunity, now we just need to get ourselves prepared! Here are my Top 5 tips on how to get prepared;

Step 1: Audit Yourself

Monitor your plastic habits. Look at everything you consume for at least a few days but ideally try for a week. There are plenty of ways to keep track of how much plastic you are accumulating depending on how pernickety you want to be;

  1. Mark it in your diary.
  2. Keep a notebook on hand.
  3. Keep all your receipts and highlight every product that contained plastic.
  4. Collect it all. One of the rules of the challenge is to have a Dilemma Bag to store every bit of plastic you accrue. Why not have a ‘Before Bag’ and collect all the plastic you use when you aren’t being conscious about it. Then you can compare it at the end of the challenge to see how much you saved. It can be kind of like those infomercial diet adverts – except it would actually be real!

If you want to be particularly fastidious about it be sure to note down the incidental plastics too, things like drinking straws.

Step 2: Highlight Your Problem Areas, Create Solutions

After you’ve monitored your habits you will basically have your own tailored infographic detailing how much plastic infiltrates your life on a day-to-day basis. This is a great way to forecast any problem area’s and ensure that you have a contingency plan in place!

I originally listed every possible problem area I could think of within the article but it is such a heeeuuuuge topic that the post started to look like War and Peace.  So I am formulating that to be a separate article for next week. In the meantime, here are some examples of my problem areas and solutions I am thinking about employing;

Lunch on the run

I always seem to end up with a bunch of Chinese takeaway containers that once carried my salady goodness. It is all down to being rushed and disorganized!

Solution #1: Going to make up a task board at home to be more organised.

Solution #2: Will take my own container everywhere

Solution #3: Will eat at the actual café more – enjoy a good ol’ fashioned plate of salad!

Cosmetics – mascara and concealer especially.

Solution: Researching companies that do not use plastic.

Skittles

I am pregnant and slightly obsessed with these delicious little pebbles…

Solution:  BUT they have no nutritional value so I am happy to cut these out altogether.

Crackers 

Why do they come wrapped in plastic in a cardboard box?

Solution: Investigating how to make my own.

Milk

Unfortunately all rice/soy/oat milk containers come in those tetramilk packs which are lined with plastic and often have plastic lids too.

Solution: I am currently investigating how to make my own.

**Editors Note: Since last year I am now pretty professional at making my own nut milks! See how here.

Step 3: Assemble Your Plastic Free Living Kit

There are a few tools that will make living a plastic free life a hell of a lot easier. I have made the rule that if the only option is plastic I will abstain from buying it – you can draw your own line in the sand on that one – but with this kit you will rarely need to go without. One thing I do recommend is having a slightly roomier handbag, satchel, laptop bag or backpack to accommodate for the extra loot. Here is my list of must haves;

Reusable shopping bags

If you go to the E-String Bags website they have a plastic bag counter in the left navigation column. It shows the Australian and Worldwide Year To Date usage of plastic bags. Watching those numbers fly by really drives home the scale of the issue with plastic bags. I don’t think there is anything more tragic than a major problem that has such an easy solution. Either way, hopefully you already have a few of these but if not you can find them everywhere.

The Original Onya Bag

I can’t go past a WA hero Onya BagsBONUS you get to support a sustainable local business! They are convenient, colourful and made from recycled bottles. You can buy these online as well as all around the country (in cities and regional areas). See the stockists here.

Onya also have a bazillion other awesome products like a reusable food cover and FINALLY a reusable doggy poo/nappy bag.

String Bags (for fruit and veg)

Using plastic bags for vegetables is really bloody unnecessary. It is a funny one though because I bet most people don’t even realise they are doing it – I certainly didn’t. One day a friend picked me up on the fact that I was wrapping one capsicum in a bag; I was on autopilot. Since that day I just load all my lose fruit and veg into my basket but some people may find it a bit time consuming. If you are one of those people then…

  • E-string bags are perfect and they are only $3.25 each. They’re made of organic cotton and can be bunched up to be really small but are also super stretchy so can accommodate for any surprise shopping excursions too! Buy them here.
E-String Organic Cotton Bags

BYO Coffee Cups

Here’s a mindboggling thought – 500 billion disposable cups are manufactured globally every year; that’s about 75 disposable cups for every single person on the planet! There is no need. Reduce your waste by getting yourself a BYO Coffee Cup. Here are my faves;

  • Onya Bags are back to the rescue. They have a range of colours and sizes of BYO Cups (I am partial to the Olive Green one) and are all made from food safe silicone. See the range here. You can buy everything online too!
  • For international readers there are local options too! Keep Cups have offices in Australia, UK and USA and allow you to not only order online but also customize your cup size and colour into the craziest combination you can think of! Have a play and make your perfect cup here.
Needless waste.

Water Bottle

Here are some interesting stats on bottled water (care of The Gruen Transfer). “It costs more than petrol. It takes 3 bottles of water to make 1 bottle of water. Fill an empty bottle a quarter full of oil and that’s the content of petroleum used to make it. So why is it a $500 million dollar industry in Australia when we have some of the healthiest drinking water on the planet straight from our tap?” Couldn’t of said it better myself!!! Get yourself (and your family) a reusable stainless steel water bottle and take it everywhere you go. They are available at supermarkets, chemists, health-stores, kitchen stores and sports stores.

  • Again (I swear I don’t get commission – I can’t help the companies I love!) Onya have great Reusabele H2O bottles in a massive range sizes and colours. See them here.
  • If you have teenagers that are a bit finicky about their ‘dorky’ mum buying them things then SIGG (another Australian company) have bottles with all sorts of designs on them (see here). Kids will love getting involved and being able to pick out a sustainable style that suits them.
  • Envirosax (based in Queensland) have a great range to (see here). They also sell Internationally!
This is one of those images that really hit me hard. It is an amazing image by Chris Jordan and it depicts 2 million water bottles – that is the amount of water bottles that are used in USA every 5 minutes
Amount of bottles used in USA every 5 minutes. Image by Chris Jordan

(For the full Bottled Water episode of The Gruen Transfer see the link here. Very, very clever. Did you know Mount Franklin water is not from Mount Franklin? It is just filtered tap water.)

BYO Food Container 

If you know you are going somewhere that will require you getting a ‘takeaway meal’ be prepared and take your own containers. I remember chatting to Jess from Plastic Freo (amazing girl who is going plastic free for a whole year! Read more here) saying that most cafe’s or food vans or whatever were really impressed with her and were more than happy to use her container instead. It is also a great conversation starter in the food line – if you are a chatty type – and again spreads a really fantastic message.

BYO Knife and Fork 

I keep two sets of knives and forks in my bag at all times. I consider plastic cutlery one of the sneaky plastics. Sometimes you don’t even ask for them but before you know it they’re in your hand and out the door. If you don’t want to ruin your kitchen set then just pop into an opshop – they always have mismatched cutlery there which won’t set you out more than $2.

 Metal Straw – optional

While some of us are plenty accustomed to using those funny pink pillows that line our mouths to drink, some peeps are particularly partial to straws – and what’s not to love about a straw. Tubes of yum! Avoid the wasteful plastic varieties though and get your mits on metal straws like these ones from the Ash n’ Jules Eco Everyday Basics.

Step 4: Get Inspired

Aren’t we lucky that we have so many fantastic people to look up to and so many helpful resources available when it comes to fighting for our planet?

Tim Silverwood – Take 3
  • Wise Up – If you want to get a few more tips and tricks (as well as meet like-minded people) then head to any of the free Plastic Free July events that the Western Earth Carers are holding. See the event details here – there are cooking classes, movie screenings and workshops. Fun fun.
  • Tim Silverwood / Take 3 – What a hero. Tim really shows people that one person can make a massive difference. As an ocean lover he founded the  Take 3 Organisation where the message is simple – “take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or…anywhere and you have made a difference”. Follow his facebook page for daily information and inspiration about being plastic free. Why not add the Take 3 rule to your Plastic Free July? 
  • Lisa Griffin / Plastic Free Freo – Again, one girl who made a massive difference. I was lucky enough to be spending a lot of time around Lisa when this initiative was getting off the ground. This lion haired (and hearted) maiden knew that a ban on plastic bags was a huge step towards keeping her beloved community beautiful. So she lobbied. And lobbied. And got local attention. Then national attention. Then won! Check out the Plastic Free Freo website here. Why stop at banning plastic from your life only? 
  • Beth Terry / My Plastic Free Life – The epitome of the ethical consumer. Beth saw practices and effects that she didn’t like and then voted with her dollar. If a company used plastic she would avoid it and then go one step further. She would write to the company, let them know that consumers do care enough about the environment to avoid purchasing the product and would have great success. One company changed their whole packaging from one bit of feedback. Keep that in mind throughout your challenge! (You can see Beth’s amazing story within this post or see her website here).

Step 5: Think Positive – You Are Doing Something AMAZING!

Well – you are ready to go! Before you set out on this crazy mission though make sure you remind yourself of all the fantastic benefits you get from abolishing plastic from your life. Your health, the oceans, money, time – the benefits are endless.

I think the best thing is you can wake up every morning knowing that you are consciously focused on making a difference to the planet and setting a great example for everyone around you. Remind yourself of that every time you say no to a piece of plastic. Good luck!

Leave the world a little better than you found it. 

– Baden-Powell’s Last Message (1941)

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