So, it’s been a while since you heard from me. Blame it on the lockdown, blame it on lack of motivation, blame it on anything, but I am back and better than ever. I have some great things lined up, but today, I want to talk to you about Plastic Free July. What’s this? I hear you ask. Like Movember, where you don’t shave the ‘stache or Dry January, where you stay off the sauce, Plastic Free July is a time to reflect on your plastic consumption, both the major things and the things that you didn’t even know were plastic. It can sound daunting and maybe even a little irritating.However, the Earth is drowning in plastic waste. As a species, humans created possibly the most environmentally damaging product out there and unfortunately, it’s here to stay. Maybe not in the sense of production, with more alternatives becoming available, but the plastic that has been used in the past century will never completely degrade. That’s right: never. Chugged a bottle of Evian, then binned the bottle? That bottle is still sitting somewhere, probably buried under more waste plastic. It might break down, but that’s worse. Microplastics – incredibly small plastic particles – are then released into the earth and water cycles. Reaching for a glass of water or a cup of tea right now? It’s likely to contain thousands of microplastic particles. They are that small that they can enter into the circulatory system. Right now, your heart is probably pushing particles of plastic around your body. It’s that new of a discovery that scientists currently have no idea what the long term ramifications of plastic ingestion will be. You can read more about the WHO studies here.
So, what can we do? It can seem like a huge ask to stop using plastic right away. After all, you’re probably surrounded by it right now: your clothing, your furnishings, your food containers, even your flooring or carpeting. Do not fear. I have a few short term goals for you right here so we can all make a difference. Remember: We do not need a few people doing plastic reduction perfectly; we need everyone doing it the best that they can.
But I recycle. Isn’t that enough?
Sadly, no. The goal this month is a reduction and replacement of plastic. Plastic that is sent to recycling plants in the UK is very rarely dealt with appropriately. Very recently, UK plastic waste was found on a roadside in Turkey. The plastic was sent there to be ‘recycled’ but was actually being dumped by roadsides and burned, releasing further microplastics into the air. You can read about the investigation here. From 1950 to 2015, only 9% of the plastic sent for recycling actually was recycled. Where does the rest end up? The ocean or landfill. Why is this? There are a variety of reasons that recycling does not work out. Firstly is local level contamination. This means that if you put a container into recycling that has food on it, the entire truckload is discarded as contaminated. Secondly, some countries, like China, that used to accept imported plastic to process, stopped in 2017. This meant that the largest importers (mainly the US and Europe) had to deal with the extra processing themselves. Their solution? Throw it in the ocean. Even if a product is made from ‘recycled plastic’, that plastic, once used, will end up in landfill. This is because plastic degrades over time and once recycled, will probably be unsuitable for a further round of use. Plastic products draw consumers in with ‘green-washing’, that is, making something sound eco-friendly or sustainable in order to improve sales. You can read the whole report on these statistics here.
If you own a smartphone, download the app called My Little Plastic Footprint (MLPF)
This app is completely free and seriously awesome. From the beginning, it will take you through each area of the house (kitchen, bathroom, living room, leisure, etc) and allow you to select the items that you use. When you select an item, it will show you a plastic free alternative that you can make a swap with, then add it to a list. When you’ve made the swap (for example, from bottled shampoo to a bar), your Plastic Mass Index will go down. What is a Plastic Map Index? It calculates your contribution to plastic pollution, alongside providing you with an average for your country. The lower the PMI score, the less plastic you are contributing to landfill, water systems, and the earth. The higher it is, the more damage you are doing through your personal actions. Alongside your swaps, the app gives you fun quizzes so you can learn more about the effects of plastic pollution on the planet. I have already learned so much, like for example that 22 million kilograms of plastic are thrown into the ocean daily. That’s a lorry full of preventable plastic every 60 seconds. Scary, huh? Download the app here, for iOS and Android.
I am not asking you to made a radical overnight change into zero waste. I mean if you can, great, but for most, it’s going to be a small change to start with to build up a bigger impact. Most importantly, use what you currently have. For example, if you’re coming to the end of your shampoo, why not buy a bar of shampoo next, or go to a zero waste store (if they’re near and accessible to you) and refill your old bottle, meaning that it doesn’t have to go to landfill? My current FAVOURITE shampoo and conditioner bar is from this shop on Etsy. Some can leave a strange residue on your hair or make it feel dry, but this store takes into account different hair types and can even send you storage tins! NB – make sure the bar is dry before putting it into a tin, as it will form a mush if not! I use a soap dish with a rack that allows the bars to dry completely.
Another idea is if you’re coming to the end of your spray cleaner (disinfectant is a girl’s best friend in these trying times), rather than discarding the bottle and buying a new one, keep the bottle and buy a refill pod. Products like OceanSaver or Iron and Velvet are small pods that you put into a bottle of clean water, then shake, and whoosh! You have a whole bottle of cleaner, full strength and no plastic involved. Cleaning products are typically 90% water anyway, so they’re just not selling you water. They’re also incredibly affordable and available widely online and in shops. They smell awesome too. Don’t worry about buying a glass bottle straight off the bat. The ones that you currently own are probably going to last you a whole lot longer than their contents did. When they finally give up, then look to buying a longer lasting glass bottle.
If a box of washing powder or dishwasher tablets is nearly finished, try Smol (you can actually get free samples too!). They are a very affordable online subscription for dishwasher and washing machine pods that do not release micro plastics into the water used, from themselves or the clothes that you are washing (yes, powder detergents can release micro plastics from your clothes into the water system!). If you wash dishes by hand, why not swap out your plastic dish sponges for coconut scourers, which are longer lasting, naturally antibacterial and can be composted at the end of their life? You can couple that coconut scourer with a bar of dish soap that works exactly like a bottle of Fairy, except it doesn’t live in a plastic house.
If you always find yourself reaching for a bottle of water in the supermarket, why not save your bank account and the planet by buying a one off glass or metal bottle that you can refill as you go? Most businesses now will refill your bottle for you as you go about your day – some even have stickers in their window to say so!
There are so many small changes that you can make before you realise that actually, you’ve made a big change. A myth exists that being eco-conscious is expensive or difficult. I promise you, right here, right now, that is a lie. Here is a list of some of my favourite zero waste companies, but the absolute easiest thing that you can do, right now, is to be conscious of your choices. If you’re in a supermarket and one product is wrapped in plastic and one is in cardboard, make a conscious choice. If you find yourself wrapping things copiously in clingfilm, re-assess what you could do instead – perhaps buy yourself some cool reusable wraps or even a couple of boxes and lids to keep thing safe and sound in. Every decision has an impact, positive or negative. Challenge yourself! Let’s make July Plastic Free and keep those changes coming!
Current favourite businesses:
https://andkeep.com – Homeware, cleaning supplies and zero waste alternatives
https://smolproducts.com – dishwasher and washing machine pods
Plastic Free Zone – Etsy seller with alternatives for toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soaps and more!
Blue Tree Designs – Etsy seller of zero waste bathroom products and eclectic homeware
https://lihabeauty.com – maker of luxury skincare and candles
Naturally Legit – maker of the best zero waste facial cleanser
Pikt – delivery service of organic, zero waste, plastic free fruit and veg for those unable to visit supermarkets
Let me know what your favourites are in the comments!
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