As you can probably guess, given that it is now August, last week marked the end of Plastic Free July for 2017. I learnt a lot from the experience and am surprised at how much I enjoyed it – but then again I am someone who is pretty easily pleased by simple things; like pictures of cats on the internet, and icecream.
At the end of July, our plastic purchases for the month looked something like this:
Items included: Nick’s emergency hangover Chicken Big Mac on day 2, Nick’s emergency iced coffee on day 10 (he actually had two of these but got rid of the evidence of the other one), Nick’s tobacco pouch (cigarette filters not pictured), plastic postal bags and some packaging for me, which, semi-ironically, were all received when buying items to replace my single-use plastic. Also not pictured: some plastic lined paper that our cheese was wrapped in in the first week.
There’s obviously a bit of disparity between Nick and I in our plastic consumption, but for a household of two I thought this was a pretty good effort. Nick was actually very generous in his participation of PFJ, and even though he kinda hated it, he never really complained too much since he saw how much I was enjoying it (although our friend did confide in me on the weekend that he hated it a lot, haha). I’m really impressed with how he did, and that he stuck to it as best he could when he probably could have snuck in a few more of those iced coffees.
Despite our efforts, this is how much soft plastic in total I’ll be dropping off for recycling next:
This bag is a culmination of things, namely from food my parents gave me that were wrapped and bagged in plastic, some gifts from friends that were also plastic wrapped, and plastic from items in the kitchen and bathroom etc. that were used up in the month, which I plan to or already have replaced with reusable/bulk items over time.
Now that PFJ has ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learnt in the last month; things that I expected to change, things that surprised me a little bit, things that I want to continue now that it is August.
Here are some of the things that I discovered by doing Plastic Free July:
- It takes fuckloads of planning. As in, what bags/containers/jars to take, what you actually need, what plastic-free alternatives are out there, where you can buy them, is there even any point in bothering to get that item, etc. etc. etc.
- By going plastic-free, you become incidentally minimalistic, because of all the things detailed in the point above.
- It is actually very rewarding emotionally doing things plastic-free, and being minimalistic, and it dawned on me a couple weeks in that the feeling is surprisingly a lot like that feeling of euphoria you get when you do a bit of retail therapy/online shopping. That surprised me quite a bit, and knowing that I can get that amount of satisfaction from actually buying less was pretty cool.
- You start seeing plastic shit everywhere, and it can be really annoying. The other day I saw a lady with a bunch of bananas, bagged in plastic, only for her to put her plastic bag of bananas into a reusable grocery bag. Like, what. Why would you do that. It can be really draining, but you just have to persist and be positive and believe in change and in people power. Or something like that.
- There are plastic-free alternatives for just about anything, and you can buy nearly anything in bulk/plastic-free. Other than potato chips, Asian-style noodles, nori sheets, and Nick’s favourite brand-specific snack items, there wasn’t actually that much that we had to completely give up. Just yesterday I discovered there are bulk food stores that do things like yeast and miso paste packaging free. And you can buy stationery like highlighters and packing tape and stuff plastic free. Magic!
- You eat a lot better by going plastic-free (or junk food just gets a lot more creative). To placate Nick’s crankiness, I managed to find packaging free lollies and chocolate. Lollies like Lifesavers and Fruit Tingles wrapped in the paper and foil became a good impulse treat. We even found beetroot and tapioca chips, which was the closest we got to potato chips. We did eat a lot more bread, but I think that suggests the amount of snacks relative to actual food probably needed an overhaul anyway. For takeaway nights, we’d get pizza or stuff from the fish and chip shop wrapped in butcher’s paper.
- As above – you get creative. Navigating your way around plastic becomes an interesting challenge. Making food from scratch, making your own cleaning products, or your own personal use items like toothpaste or deoderant (I haven’t tried this yet). Looking for plastic-free alternatives for everyday sorts of items like shaving razors (you can buy stainless steel), kitchen sponges, makeup wipes, shampoo and conditioner bars, all sorts of stuff. It’s like a choose your own adventure story but for hippies! My favourite this month was finding a way to get plastic-free bubble tea. So good!
- You have to cart a lot of shit around, and be okay with it. I now take with me at any given time my reusable coffee cup (because emergency coffee), and a little cotton drawstring bag that contains stainless steel straws and cutlery (because emergency snacks). Last week when I met some friends for bubble tea, I brought two smoothie cups for a friend that didn’t have one, and for myself. To be fair, with the amount of crap I carry in my bag on a daily basis anyway, the only real difference is how much awkward clinking goes on from random glass and/or stainless steel items now constantly on my person.
- You have to be really assertive when explaining to shop keepers you want things to be obtained plastic-free. You might get a person at the counter who is totally on board and extremely helpful one week, then you might get someone who will use a plastic bag/plastic gloves to put your items in your containers the next week. Starting each shop with “Hi I’m trying to use less plastic and I would like to get x items in y receptacle without any plastic please” will become this annoying mantra that you spew out of your mouth until every staff member knows who you are and remembers you as The Weird Girl Who Hates Plastic Just Do What She Wants Until She Leaves You Alone. It’s great.
- Small businesses and local businesses become your friend. It helps with the problems discussed in the previous point. Your local farmer’s market becomes your friend too. Suddenly, you have your go to butcher, a cheese guy, a snack guy, a guy to buy soaps from, and oils from. I even have a tofu lady! Your reliance on big supermarkets becomes negligable. In July, I only needed to go to a major supermarket to buy lightbulbs. It is incredibly liberating to find yourself not needing to rely on the big conglomerates to get what you need; to actually buy locally and eat seasonally and live as simply as you feel you need to.
- You will start to question everything you thought you knew about living a sustainable lifestyle. During PFJ I learnt about the plastic in tea bags, about how glass isn’t actually recycled in Western Australia (in certain nominated councils it gets crushed for concrete/roads, otherwise it actually just goes into landfill), about items that can or can’t be recycled, items that can or can’t be composted, how they should be recycled/composted, all sorts of FACTS and THINGS.
- There are a lot of helpful zero waste and plastic-free support groups on Facebook for your local area, which go hand in hand with swap groups and Gumtree-esque buy and sell/bartering groups, which are generally all focused on minimising waste from making it to landfill. There are a few paranoid kooks and annoying wishy-washy hippies in these groups, but for the most part, people are cool and ordinary and really helpful with answering questions you may have, and so long as you don’t get bogged down by overly negative posts and the slightly-less-scientific nonsense that occasionally slips through, it’s a boundless resource for living with less waste.
Overall, it was a really rewarding experience, and I’m excited to continue on with living as waste free as possible. I don’t think realistically we’ll ever be completely zero waste, but it will be good to get as close to it as possible. I’m learning new things everyday – yesterday I found out there is a company that will recycle my contact lenses and the blister packs that they come in! And everyday, despite the occasional feeling of futility of it all, I feel a lot better about trying to do my part, and living semi-mindfully. I’m especially appreciative of the privilege of being able to choose what I consume, ethically or consciously or otherwise; that I live in a country/city where I am afforded those choices, and in turn that I can afford to make those choices without being too hard done by financially.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised and totally thrilled by the conversations I’ve had with friends and family who have found my posts on social media interesting, who’ve actually been part of small businesses focused on reducing waste, who have bought a stainless steel straw or similar reusable item, or just interested in the food made from scratch from all the unpackaged raw random materials. It’s created a connectedness to my local community in a way I didn’t think was there before, and it has been by far my favourite part about the experience.
But really I’m mostly just happy I don’t have to give up bubble tea, heck yeah.