I learnt more than I expected during Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July has just been and if you are like me it has made you reassess some of your choices and look at things in a new light. For me, it has been great connecting with like minded people and business in a shared interest of trying to reduce our impact on the earth.

“Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year, that’s over 10 million new bags being used every day. An estimated 3.76 billion bags or 20,700 tonnes of plastic are disposed of in landfill sites throughout Australia every year. Australians dump 7,150 recyclable plastic bags into landfills every minute or 429,000 bags every hour. It is estimated that around 50 million bags enter the Australian litter stream every year.” {source http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/campaigns/plastic-bag-facts.html}

We have always had a tendency to choose natural options but plastic free july gave me the opportunity to look at our choices and think about them in a new light.

The first thing that became really apparent to me was there is a big difference between zero waste and decluttering or plastic free.

It can be very tempting on this journey to reject all clutter and plastic items but what you do with those items is important. Which is where the clash with zero waste comes. I saw very often during July people replacing plastic or non desirable items with glass, stainless steel etc.

On one hand I am completely on board with choosing materials that are more sustainable and better for our health. But it is vital to consider where these items are going. If you are going to throw away that stockpile of plastic toothbrushes and buy new bamboo ones they are most likely going straight to landfill without even being used.

The step in the chain where we need to alleviate plastic or non-reusable items is at the checkout.

This is the point where we can make the biggest impact. By just decluttering our houses or replacing all our plastic items that are still useable we are only considering ourselves not the global impact.

Compulsive Consumption Minimalism Shopping addiction

One of the biggest struggles for me (and probably the one reason we are not “plastic free”) is buying pantry items plastic free. My boys eat….a lot and I just don’t have the time to make everything from scratch. From bread to crackers it is difficult to source these items in a plastic free option especially when you live rurally.

 

So, I did what I could:

  • If it had to be in plastic I bought the biggest size possible eg instead of rice crackers we switched to SAOs (well a homebrand version), they are twice the size and they eat them with toppings so they end up eating less.
  • Recycling what we couldn’t avoid through Redcycle (you can find the locations here)
  • Reusing things like bread bags instead of using gladwrap, if we have to have them come into our house we will at least make sure they are not single use. Using larger bags eg dog biscuit bags for rubbish bags instead of relying on shopping bags. We use Woolworths Click and Collect and by ringing the store we pick up from we have been able to get them to just put our items loose in the trolley rather than get 6-7 single use bags each week. Additionally when I buy cold meat from the deli I request it just wrapped in paper and they were happy to do that.
  • Sometimes you just need to ask. As well as woolworths we found other businesses happy to support us to be plastic free. Our local butcher here in Toodyay The Meat Hook are also happy to put our meat in our own containers so that was another couple of plastic bags we could avoid each fortnight.

There are a few things that I wasn’t aware of before plastic free july:

  • Synthetic fibres release minute amounts of plastic into the ocean. So I thought I was doing the right thing by purchasing clothes from the op shop but every time I wash them it pollutes our oceans. Obviously the best thing to do is buy natural fibres however throwing out all your clothes is also not ideal so there are a couple of things you can do – buy a Guppy Friend and this blog also has some great tips.
  • Just because something says it’s compostable or biodegradable doesn’t mean it’s impact is lessened. A lot of the time these products need a certain environment to break down effectively and that is usually not squashed up in landfill. Also plastic items may simply break down into smaller pieces that still have the same, or in some cases a great impact on the environment.
  • Glass has less impact on the environment even if you have to throw it away, unlike plastic it doesn’t pollute the environment to the same extent.
  • You can recycle almost everything if you take time to look, Terracycle provide options for recycling items that are usually seen as unrecyclable eg toothpaste tubes, contact lenses

The last thing that has really changed for us is considering if something can be repurposed before throwing it out. I now keep my “op shop” box in the spare room and it has bRepurpose Upcycle Reuseeen transformed into a “useful box” instead.

An old pair of black pants became face washers for the kids and the hems on the bottom repurposed into a hair tie for my 6 year old who refuses to cut his hair but now goes everywhere with a pony tail.

It’s amazing how something that wasn’t useful last week can be turned into something today and saved from going to landfill.

If as individuals we start considering the impact we are going to have on our environment at the checkout and think about whether we really need to buy something or if it is just compulsive consumption we would be well on our way to a less wasteful society. If we start reusing and repurposing on top of that we will have truly made an impact and created lasting change.

{Photos by Felipe Belluco  Maira Gallardo and Artificial Photography on Unsplash }

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