My Plastic Free July

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Straws and other rubbish collected from a single beach in Greece.

Plastic Free July concluded last month with some amazing results – it is estimated that 60,000 people in 129 countries participated!

Plastic Free July is a challenge aimed at raising awareness about the unsustainable amount of single-use plastic produced, used and discarded around the world, and the issues that arise from this plastic. The simple premise of the challenge is for participants to refuse as many single-use plastic items  – plastic shopping bags, disposable cups and water bottles, straws, plastic packaging – as possible, over a time period of their choosing. Participants are also asked to save any plastic items that were unavoidable or impulsive, and to share them as evidence of success at the end of the challenge.

I’ve been considering and cutting down my plastic consumption for 9 months now. After watching Ian Connacher’s 2008 documentary “Addicted to Plastic”, I was inspired to cut down how much plastic I used and threw away. When a housemate questioned how much impact I could make as a single university student, I was angry that someone could just pass of the environment as a lost cause and suggest that anything I did would not help.

I started actively changing my habits and encouraging my friends and family to do the same.

July was still a challenge. My goal was to go the entire month and consume less than 20 pieces of plastic, and it really made me start to notice how much plastic there was around. At the start of the month I was travelling in Greece and spent a lot of time collecting rubbish on the beaches – plastic straws, especially, were all over the place. I experienced a ew frustrating moments, like on a night out in Sydney when a bartender threw our straws on the ground after I asked for the drinks without straws – it felt like such an avoidable waste.

It was also interesting to keep my rubbish and look back on what would normally be an impulsive decision I’d forget about, like eating a chocolate bar for example, and be reminded that although the item has been consumed and long forgotten, the packaging remains in the world long after you discard it.

My results from Plastic Free July--all my plastic from the month, with the exception of a cup from ANU Bar and some straws from a club in Sydney.

My results from Plastic Free July–all my plastic from the month, with the exception of a cup from ANU Bar and some straws from a club in Sydney.

It took a long time to learn new habits and discover enough convenient plastic alternatives to be able to consume less than 20 pieces of plastic in July. Some habits are more difficult to establish than others, but once you start, it becomes an easy transition.

Saying no to avoidable plastics is one step that is both easy and essential. Once you start, you become more aware of all the plastic that is used and could be avoided. Disposable coffee cups present a big opportunity, and I always bring a reusable cup – like KeepCup – with me. While some reusable cups are still made of plastic, reusing something you already own is more sustainable than a single-use disposable coffee cup – and some cafés will go as far as giving you a discount for a BYO cup!

Straws, plastic cutlery, cling wrap and plastic bags are other easy items to say no to. Avoid straws by bringing a bamboo or metal one, or simply asking for no straw. I often bring a set of metal cutlery from home with me to places where plastic cutlery might be the only option. Try storing foods in beeswax wraps or reusable containers instead of using cling wrap. I also carry a tote bag with me wherever I go, that way if I buy anything, whether it’s a piece of clothing, food, or anything else, I don’t need a plastic bag. I’ve even started bringing my own cup to ANU bar as they only provide plastic ones!

It is important to remember not quite everything can be avoided. Medications and first-aid materials are examples of necessities without easy, plastic-free alternatives. I didn’t, and don’t, feel bad about consuming these things. The point is to bring your plastic consumption down to a sustainable level, not to cut it out entirely.

Everyone will have different preferences for alternatives and limits for what they’re willing to compromise on. Sometimes a bit of extra money may also be involved, but it’s often an investment into plastic free alternatives that will last years. While it can feel daunting if you’re only just starting to cut back, I find the best way to reduce your waste consumption is to: address an item that creates waste, find an eco-friendly alternative, and then consider if you are happy to make the swap.

When you break it down to these three simple steps, cutting out plastic becomes less of a daunting lifestyle change, and more a simple decision of whether to consume a piece of plastic or not.