The last month has made me take a good hard look at the plastic use in my life. As I wrote in my last post, I thought that a month of plastic free living was no biggie for me, but I soon realised that I was using more plastic than I thought. The start of the month was a bit rocky, with quite a number of fails, but I’m glad to say that things improved with time. The last two weeks have been much better, as I’ve learnt to think in a plastic-free/consume-less mindset. Plastic-free options are more habit now.
In the spirit of knowledge sharing, I want to list here what worked for me and what didn’t and why. I hope some of these might inspire others to try for a less-plastic lifestyle.
- Coffee cups - It goes without saying that I now ensure I always have a reusable cup on hand. Apart from one incident (described in my previous post), I have been completely takeaway cup free. Yippee!
- Water bottles - I’ve carried my own refillable bottle around with me all month. I’m lucky that at work and uni there's an abundance of water fountains at which I can refill my bottle.
- Shopping bags - Just say no to plastic bags. It’s not hard. The small amount of general waste we produced this month went into the trash bag-free. However, I have some concern over small items being windswept during transport or upon arrival at the landfill, so I’m wondering whether biodegradable bin liners are a better option. I’m not sure yet (thoughts anyone?).
- Fruits and vegetables - All purchased from our local organic farmers’ markets, which makes avoiding plastic a breeze. I went to the regular supermarket once or twice, but just bypassed the produce that was pre-wrapped in plastic. Pretty straightforward really.
- Meat - Our butcher has been happy for us to use our own glass containers, saving a whole lot of plastic. We didn’t visit the fishmonger during July but I’m hoping it’ll be the same story there.
- Nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, chocolate, granola, flour - All purchased in bulk in our own containers or brown paper bags at The Source, Relish Organics and Foodworx.
- Oils - Olive oil and hemp oil purchased in bulk in glass containers at The Source.
- Milk - We barely ever drink cow’s milk, but the one time we did this month we bought it in cardboard. I’ve seen glass options too. However, I much prefer making my own nut milk from my plastic-free nuts.
- Cling wrap - We purchased Honeybee Wraps from Biome, which are essentially reusable wraps made from cloth mixed with beeswax. These things are awesome (and smell divine). I thought they might have been too good to be true, but no, they’re fantastic. I’ve even been wrapping fresh herbs in them and they’ve stayed fresher for longer.
- Baking paper - I already had a silicon mat to replace baking paper. I can’t see why I’d ever go back to the regular stuff when I have this waste-free option.
- Shampoo and conditioner - I first purchased a shampoo bar and apple cider rinse from Biome, but I found the bar too heavy for my hair and the rinse not detangling enough. I’ve since purchased shampoo and conditioner in bulk in my own containers at The Source and have been happy so far.
- Face cleanser - I tried an oil cleansing approach for the first fortnight or so, with a beautiful oil that came in glass (albeit with a plastic top) from Biome. I loved the idea but I found it too heavy for my skin. I was then just using the lovely Weleda cleanser plus toner, but it wasn’t great for removing makeup. I’ve since included my regular plastic option, but will keep trying to find a better option.
- Moisturiser - I have been using straight hemp oil as a moisturiser on my face and it’s been great. It's not as heavy as other oils.
- Toothbrush - I have been using bamboo toothbrushes for some time and they’re just as good as any other plastic option. The bristles are still made from plastic, however, so I snap off the head when I’m done and then compost the rest.
- Toothpaste - We made two versions of a homemade toothpaste. Basic ingredients are bicarb, sea salt, coconut oil, peppermint oil and cinnamon. So far so good.
What's great is that most of the above were not difficult things to implement; they just required a greater degree of planning and forethought. Happily, I'd consider them my new kind of normal and I plan on sticking with them as much as possible.
However, it must be said that some things haven’t proved easy. To reflect on our plastic usage over the month, we strived to keep all the plastic that we were unable to avoid. Yesterday morning, the final day of the Plastic Free July challenge, I sat down and went through each piece of plastic that we'd used, noting down why we’d used it and whether we’d managed to find a decent alternative. Many of these I now have a better options for, but for some I don’t and the hunt continues.
- Cat food - This was our primary plastic offence, with a total of 8 pieces consumed over the month. We haven’t got a good alternative yet. We are looking into making our own food with meat purchased in reusable containers, but one of our fur babies currently only eats dry food after a vet’s recommendation. I’m hoping to switch him back to raw meat.
- Cosmetics - Probably the most difficult aspect of life to go totally plastic-free. This was my biggest struggle, despite my efforts. Apart from the few things mentioned above, I wasn't able to find good plastic-free alternatives for any cosmetic items, and I really don't use many. I tried making my own deodorant but it wasn't great, although I have some new recipes to try. For things like makeup, I just stuck with my usual. Although they're in plastic, I don't use them much so generally they last for months, if not longer.
- Frozen berries - It seems all berries, fresh and frozen, come in plastic. I had a pack of blueberries from before July that I still used. I was a little gutted that there were no plastic free options, because I adore berries, but then to my absolute delight we were told about fresh berries in bulk at a farmers' market. You purchase a reusable container from the farmer, which he fills up for a fixed price. Alternative found!
- Frozen peas - We had some from pre-July that we used, but clearly this is a waste and we could just use fresh peas instead.
- Plastic that our ‘forest friendly’ office paper came in - Haven’t found package-free paper yet.
- Protein powder - Again, left over from pre-July so we still used it, but I am glad to have found bulk protein powder at The Source. Not that we really consume much of the stuff because I’d rather just eat protein in its true form.
- Meat packaging - Also frozen from pre-July, in plastic packaging. We did so well getting all our meat from our butcher in glass containers but we did run out at one point. We also ran out of our bulk vegetarian protein options, so had to defrost a couple of packets of meat we already had that were packaged in plastic. The lesson is to be more organised, and get to the butcher or bulk foods store even if we think we don’t need to.
- Recycled toilet paper - From pre-July, also wrapped in plastic. We still used toilet paper (obviously), and our next purchase was paper-wrapped. Problem solved.
- Tissues - I couldn’t find any tissues plastic-free. I used to buy recycled tissues that were plastic free but I haven’t been able to find them recently.
- Paintbrush packaging - Two paintbrushes that came in plastic. These were also purchased pre-July. Luckily, paintbrushes aren’t top of my shopping agenda so I’m not too worried here.
- Olive oil - Also pre-July. A ‘light’ olive oil that I use to make mayonnaise. The Source have bulk extra virgin olive oil, which is fantastic, but I don’t recall seeing a light option there (and mayo made from extra virgin is just bad).
- Teabags - Two teabags I used were wrapped in plastic. Alternative is to buy only ones that are wrapped in paper or not wrapped at all. Loose-leaf is best but not always practical.
- Plastic cutlery - Between us we used 3 plastic forks and 1 knife. There were 3 or 4 occasions where we got caught out and had to use plastic, as much as it pained me (seriously, so wasteful). I plan on buying a small reusable set to keep in my handbag.
- Serviette packaging - I had a packet of serviettes from Ikea from pre-July that I opened. I haven’t been able to find any serviettes that don’t come wrapped in plastic. I guess we could just use cloth napkins if we had them.
- Candle box - We were gifted some candles which were held in their box in plastic. Alternative is when buying my own to go package free.
- Floss and Picksters - I purchased biodegradable floss picks from Flora and Fauna but they weren’t quite good enough for me, unfortunately. I have an orthodontic wire retainer and haven’t been able to find any way to clean this other than plastic-coated Superfloss and Picksters. I’ll keep looking though as I know this is very wasteful.
- Basil pesto - Early in the month we finished up this pesto we’d purchased pre-July. Haven’t purchased any dips in plastic since as it’s dead easy to make my own.
- HDMI cord packaging - I needed an HDMI cord, and this came in plastic. Not much I could do about that.
- Corn chip packet - Last minute dinner party meant we opened a pack of corn chips we had lying in the pantry. I’m not sure of a plastic-free corn chip alternative.
- Mealworm packaging - We sometimes buy mealworms for our chooks, which unfortunately come in plastic. We haven’t bought any in July though. This container was from pre-July.
- Bottle/jar top plastic - Many of my glass purchases still had plastic wrapped around the top to prevent tampering. I don’t think there’s an alternative apart from not buying these products.
So that’s how I did it. Some things worked, some things didn’t. I can see where I need to focus my efforts to continue down a less-plastic lifestyle. What I’ve learnt is that it’s easy to make many plastic-free changes, but difficult to go all the way. I’m amazed that some people live a truly zero waste lifestyle, because it would take a huge amount of planning and an even bigger amount of dedication and belief in the cause. Good on them. It’s inspiring. For the rest of us just starting on our plastic-free journey, when we're feeling despondent let's remind ourselves that every step is a step - less plastic used is less plastic in our environment. It's a win. The reasons behind striving for a lifestyle that uses less plastic, and altogether consumes less, are multi-faceted. I’ll save that discussion for another time, but just remember the bottom line is this: the world is a better place when we spend less energy on producing and consuming single-use plastic products that persist on this earth, in landfill or elsewhere, for longer than we often dare to think about, with consequences we don’t fully understand.