It is Plastic Free July again and 120 million participants are joining in across the globe. With school strikes, the Extinction Rebellion protests and Attenborough mania hitting the news so far, awareness of our impact on the planet is increasing year on year. Where climate change (or, climate emergency, as many are now calling it) is largely caused by an increase in greenhouse gases including methane (CH4), CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O), plastic pollution is damaging to our environment on the ground and in the marine systems. Typical plastics never really leave the environment: over decades, and centuries they will break down into smaller constituents, but these can still cause problems by being ingested by organisms or by leaching into the soil. We also see this happening in the marine environment, with marine animals directly interacting with macroplastics and micro plastics bioaccumulating up the food chain.
Most of us know the basics on avoiding plastic: bringing reusable cups, straws and shopping bags, and getting loose produce when possible. I have some tips that are hopefully a little different to give you some fresh inspiration.
Look for cardboard-packaged items in the freezer section
This will depend a little on your supermarket, but some vegetables and fruit, and even ready meals, are packaged in cardboard boxes rather than plastic bags. Keep an eye out for these to reduce plastic AND food waste!
Use what you have
Whilst I don’t think we should be aiming to hold off purchases during plastic free July, and then do a big spree come August 1st, avoiding plastic is a good way to make yourself use up products. So for me, I’d really like to get a new cleanser and moisturiser, but I’m going to use up some of the bottles that have been kicking around in my bathroom. You can apply the same principle to your kitchen. Stave of food shopping and see if you can make a meal by having a “fridge forage”. Soups, omelettes and stir fries are all good choices for using up odds and ends even if they’re a little wilted or mismatched.
Give your empties to somewhere that can recycle
Clothes and cosmetic packaging can be some of the most awkward things to responsibly get rid of, but retailers have stepped in to help. Companies including Kiels and Origins will recycle any product -not just their own -through Terracycle, and clothes can be dropped off at clothes banks or your local H&M.
Know when to have duplicates, and which zero waste items to skip
The zero waste aesthetic is a rather appealing one and can have you wanting to go out and buy lots of new items, somewhat ironically. However, take time to assess what you actually need. Maybe you have plenty of mismatching old cutlery that can be used instead of a new bamboo set. I use a fabric pouch made for me by a family member and an old napkin to keep my cutlery tidy. However, I find it helpful to have a bit of choices with bottles and reusable cups. My collapsable cup adds very little weight or bulk, so is great to pop into my every day bag. However, for car journeys or a busy day, an insulated cup may be a better option to avoid cold drinks.
If you have to buy plastic, firstly don’t beat yourself up. Second, see if you can improve your ratio of plastic to product. For example, if you’re holidaying somewhere where you can’t use tap water, buy the biggest bottle of water you can find, and decant this into your smaller reusable bottle. The same applies for items like rice and pasta if you don’t have access to a bulk store. This is only worthwhile if you will actually use what you’ve bought, so going halves with a flatmate or friend is another good compromise.