Today marks the beginning of Plastic Free July, a global movement that inspires millions of people to be a part of the solution against plastic pollution. Everyone has the power to make small changes in their lives with big impacts, so why not spend some time this month thinking about how you too can make a difference?
If business were to continue as usual and governments and industries do not pledge to curb their plastic production, plastic waste could reach up to 116 million tons a year in the next 10 years. Of that, 44 million tons will end up in our oceans. Aside from the detrimental effects that plastic waste has on marine life and aquatic systems, it also threatens the safety and quality of our food, our health and our climate. “With 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption now containing plastic, the question is no longer are we eating plastic – but how bad for us is that?” says environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage. In a National Geographic article, University of Georgia Engineering professor Jenna Jambeck has tried to help visualise his quantity through tangible examples: “How about a new football stadium filled with plastic every day? Or enough plastic to cover the entire country of Luxembourg ankle deep?”
The issue at hand is stark. But movements like Plastic Free July can help shine a light on this grave situation and put pressure on governments and corporations to make long-lasting changes to their plastic waste. We all have a voice.
7 ways to go plastic free in July
1. Pack (and bring) your bags
By planning ahead, you can avoid plastic waste while you’re out and about. Make a pledge to not buy plastic bottles of water, coffee cups with plastic lids or straws or plastic grocery bags at shops – and replace those items with reusable ones. If you make sure you’re always carrying a refillable bottle and coffee cup as well as a tote bag or two in your bag, you won’t have to face the temptation of grabbing a quick espresso or bottle of Evian while you’re on the go. All it takes is for you to be one step ahead.
2. Shop in bulk
Shopping in bulk doesn’t mean filling your entire spare room with rolls of toilet paper or huge bags of rice, it just means being strategic with your groceries. Most cities have a vast range of zero waste and bulk shops where you can bring your own reusable containers to fill with grains, cereals, pasta, spices and more. You will be surprised by how many different foods you can buy without the packaging! The same goes for fruit and vegetables. It may be easy to head to your local Coop round the corner and grab a pack of avocados or tomatoes for brunch, but the plastic waste that comes with those items can take up to 500 years to decompose. Best to think twice and seek out your nearby fruit and veg stand – bags in hand, of course.
3. Do a bathroom audit
Spend some time this month looking at the everyday products you use in your bathroom. I can guarantee you that there will be a more sustainable, plastic-free alternative for each item. Replace single-use razors with a safety razor, sanitary products like tampons or pads with a menstrual cup or period pants and shampoo and conditioner bottles with solid bars or refillable containers, often found in zero waste shops.
4. Take a closer look at your cuppa
Did you know that major tea brands like Twinings, Tetley and Yorkshire Tea all contain plastic? Many still use heated plastic to seal their tea bags, whilst others claim to use PLA (Polylactic Acid), a bio-plastic made from plants that is only biodegradable at industrial composting plants. If you drink your tea by the gallon every day, try to switch to loose leaf or opt for tea brands that are actually plastic free and home compostable, like Pukka or Hampstead Tea. That way you won’t contribute to plastic pollution every day or consume microplastics while you’re sipping your afternoon cuppa.
5. Join a park or beach cleanup
If you cannot go entirely plastic free this month, you can still have a positive impact on the environment by joining a park or beach cleanup initiative in your local area. Cleanups are volunteer events organised by charities and environmental groups to do large-scale trash collections outdoors. By removing plastic waste from these key areas for wildlife, you can help avoid plastic being broken down into smaller pieces and consumed by animals or turned into airborne nano-plastics. Cleanup days can also be great fun as you will spend time with like-minded people who are all joining together to achieve a common goal. Look up cleanups in your local area this month and see if you can get involved!
6. Learn the right way to recycle
What might seem like a fairly straightforward task can actually be quite a discombobulating undertaking. With so many different symbols and types of plastics, many people don’t realise that they aren’t recycling their plastic waste correctly. According to the British Plastics Federation, only 32% of all plastic is recycled in the UK. We can do better. Most plastic is marked in a way that signifies what polymer it is. This identification code can help you know which plastic can be recycled – and the best way to do it. This is called the Resin Identification Code: if the resin code is PET (1), HDPE (2) or PP (5), the plastic will be easy to recycle and should go into your standard plastic recycling waste. PVC (3), LDPE (4) and PS (6) are more difficult to recycle and may have different instructions depending on where you live. Other plastic (7) usually goes to landfill, so best to avoid at all costs. You can also improve your recycling with some small tricks that will make the recycling system more efficient – screwing lids back on, squashing bottles, emptying and rinsing containers are all great ways to help.
7. Engage your school, employer or coworkers
If you notice unsustainable systems within your workplace or are aware of large quantities of plastic waste (water coolers, single-use cups, etc.), consider speaking to your employer or HR representative to talk about changes that can be made within your organisation to minimise waste. You may want to replace coffee capsules with reusable metal pods or request frequent suppliers to use less packaging when they do business with you. Small changes can lead to larger conversations and planting the seed in someone’s mind is a fantastic way of making a difference.
There are some wonderful resources out there that can inspire you and help instigate change within your networks. Check out www.plasticfreejuly.org/resources for some helpful tools!