What is now a world-wide movement, Plastic Free July started in 2011 in Western Australia. Today, millions of people across 150 countries sign up to give up single use plastic during July each year. Plastic Free July has also become an official not-for-profit charitable foundation with a vision of a world without plastic waste.
I made a note in the beginning of the month to share something on plastic free July but kept avoiding it as I wasn’t sure what to share that would add to the topic (we already posted some great tips on reducing your waste ) and because I feel like I’m not green enough.
Sure, I recycle, don’t use disposable dinnerware unless I absolutely need to and do the bulk of my produce buying from a good old-fashioned grocery shop that doesn’t over pack every item into tiny plastic bags and arranges your fresh fruit and veggies in already used cardboard produce boxes. I’ve become a lot more conscious and careful about my use of plastic, but I am a way from being waste-free. There are most likely a dozen things I’m doing or using that are not in line with the waste free movement we’re seeing more and more of.
Social media is a double-edged sword, it’s an amazing way to connect, share, discover and be inspired; but it can also feel intimidating, judgemental and overwhelming. Is it possible to participate in waste free July if you’re only beginning or perhaps only thinking about starting to reduce your waste? Can you participate without spending hundreds of Rands purchasing a glass straw, portable hot mug, cold water bottle, metal razors, compostable toothbrushes, menstrual cups and well the list goes on…?
I think you can and so does Rachel Strauss of “Zero Waste Week”, who said she’d rather everyone give up 50% of their waste, because the collective impact of that is so much more than one family going to crazy lengths.
She started her waste free journey slowly, picking up more and more as she went along. This resonated with me for the simple reason that I’ve always believed that if you want to change something big (like your fitness, health or going waste free), the best way is to start with one thing. One habit. Instead of going all in, tip a toe in the water, hang out for a while until you’re comfortable and then slowly add limb after limb until you’re fully immersed.
I used this line of thinking when I decided to make exercise a habit and when I chose to be more mindful of the food I was eating. It was easier, less intimidating and something that became a part of who I am, not just a fleeting phase.
It’s how I’m approaching going waste free too. I’ve chosen one thing, one habit to unlearn and replace with something better. I chose plastic shopping bags. The reason? I rarely buy drinks or smoothies – I tend to make them at home; so choosing to buy reusable straws or e-coffee cups didn’t make sense. It wasn’t something I’m doing often enough to turn into a habit. It’s also costlier, and I like to begin new things with the easiest, lowest cost method and pick up from there as I get more comfortable.
I grocery shop on a weekly basis. When I shop, I buy bags to hold my purchases. Those plastic bags while reused for rubbish or to carry something else are in effect single use plastic. Regular weekly shopping adds up to more plastic bags than you can reuse and more waste than you need to create.
A few months ago, I decided to stop buying shopping bags. Instead I bought two big and sturdy reusable shoppers from Pick n Pay (they’re still going strong). These two along with smaller reusable shoppers I already had were put into the boot of my car to be used on every trip to the shops. It took a while for the habit to stick and there have been a few times I forgot, a few times I ran back to the car from the till to get them; but it was easy to fix those mistakes and turn it into a habit. It cost me less than R50, is something I use weekly and honestly makes me feel good.
A shopper may not be the best way for you to start cutting out single use plastic, but if you, much like me are overwhelmed with the choices of plastic free July, don’t know where to start and feel like you’re not doing enough, just start with one thing. Look at your use of single use plastic and choose one thing you use on a daily or weekly basis, one thing that replacing it with a plastic free solution won’t cost you too much. Pick your battles and choose something that you can live without. Start there, let that become a habit and then gradually add one more thing at a time.
As for me, I’m planning on taking Plastic free July beyond one month, slowly removing more and more plastic, figuring out how to do it in a sustainable and practical way and as always sharing the tips, tricks and things I love with you.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.