Oh Plastic Free July, you annoying, clever and necessary month. The first time I heard about Plastic Free July was maybe two years ago when I saw YouTubers sharing their progress, waste, and swaps. And, of course, their hauls.
I instantly hated it.
I should be clear at this point because I don’t want to put anyone off the movement, or the concept of ditching plastic for a month in order to make lifelong changes that ultimately benefit the world. Plastic Free July started as an offshoot month of encouraging folks to ditch single-use plastic pioneered by the amazing work being done by the Plastic Free Foundation. Similarly to Veganuary, you can pledge to join in for a month and get support along the way, ultimately aiming to change your own habits for good. It’s 100% free and a GREAT way to get tips and tricks from other people.
So why do I hate it? I don’t really. But I find that with any movement like this, and particularly one as on trend as zero plastique the most voracious, the most simplistic and, yes, the most privileged come out to play.
It’s when the NO STRAWS debate starts up again because, sure, most of us can easily ditch a plastic straw.
It’s when sustainability shaming is rife. Normally among the communities who hold the most power and have caused the bulk of the issue in the first place.
It’s where climate apartheid and greenwashing become so palpably clear the point of going plastic free is lost in a shouty Twitter rant.
Because what’s the real issue here? It’s not plastic straws which make up a TINY proportion of Global plastic waste (less than 0.5%) but that’s an easy scapegoat and guess why we all want them banned? Turtles.
But guess why plastic was invented? In part, to save elephants from poachers back in the day we all wanted Ivory everything. Without the invention of plastic we would potentially be further behind in medicine too. It’s helped countless people with life changing accessibility options.
But let’s face it, we need to address our over consumption of EVERYTHING. Including, but not limited to plastics. And within that discussion we also need to address our individual privilege. AND, most importantly, our very unique and individual needs.
Because, in my opinion, there is literally no one thing anyone can tell you is the ‘simplest swap’. Not one. What’s simple to one is a ginormous pain in the ass to another and vice versa.
And, as you may or may not not, I hate being told what to do. I hate rules. Having said that, I hate apathy just as much and as someone with hella privilege here I am, flexing mine.
Doing some research so you don’t have to.
SO, without further ado, here are my best tips for tackling Plastic-Free July (and beyond).
bespoke your PLAN
This is undoubtedly the most important step and one I honestly think we often forget to take (stock of?) Every single one of us is unique, right? So why do we think a list of ‘simple swaps’ that another human, with entirely different circumstances wrote?
I love a list as much as the next person but please only use these as jumping off points. Even better, look at your individual circumstances FIRST and the advice second.
For example, if you are a mum of three under three – nappies might be your biggest source of single use plastic right now. If you are a 21 year old uni student perhaps it’s easy to spend time DIY-ing toiletries but really rough on the budget to start bulk shopping.
And, for all of us, our location will dictate the types of shops we can source stuff from so think about all of these things before you commit yourself to a life of homemade deodorant.
This is my number one tip, and if you ONLY take one thing away from this post make it thus: PREPARE THYSELF WHOLLY.
That means that for whatever you’ve decided to ditch, get your alternative ready and a plan b too. I ALWAYS have a KeepCup and a few cotton bags in my handbag as takeaway coffee and pastries are my pleasure (not guilty, because nothing to be guilty about).
If you eat out a lot and need travel cutlery, buy some pretty bamboo ones if you want but you can also just take your standard cutlery from home with a hankie.
If you drink a lot of water out and about, grab a reusable water bottle/reuse a plastic one (not for too long as this isn’t great for your health – I had a friend who had an allergic reaction once due to the fact he’s reused his water bottle for about two months!)
Tupperware is obvs great, but I find it a little bulky so I just use cotton bags to take sandwiches etc out and about. And, honestly, for me the biggest thing to prep for is my kid – reusable wipes pre moistened, nappies and liners, wet bags and SNACKS are key to a smooth day!
I can’t emphasise this enough. My house is not a beautiful kilner jar filled home devoid of plastic. That’s just not realistic or achievable for me. But do I still get pangs of ‘I WANT THAT’ when I see folks with a beautiful, zero waste aesthetic? Yep. I’m human.
I unfollow anyone who incites that reaction and make sure to follow people who share my values and an honest, achievable reality. @SmallSustainableSteps, @SarahStarrs_, @JenLittleBirdie, @BeckyOCole, @ZeroWasteHabesha & @Andreamariesanders are all faves of mine.
buy PRODUCTS with thought
I’m not the sort of person who believes in absolutes. I don’t believe that we should aim for ZERO WASTE or ZERO PLASTIC or ZERO CONSUMPTION because, hello, life is really short and sometimes stuff brings us joy and that’s okay.
I still buy things. I still get a kick out of restocking my favourite ethical beauty bits and finding new low impact products to try. I guess the difference between me now and me a decade ago is that I think about my purchases for AGES before buying them. That might not be you, you might be more a go with your gut type shopper. That’s 100% okay.
What I think is important though is quitting that mindless purchase because you feel life will be better when you have XYZ. Do you know what I mean? Or panic buying five summer dresses from H&M when, realistically, you probably could’ve waited and sourced a more ethical solution (eBay, Vinted, Charity shops and Facebook Marketplace are all great for this if you are on a budget)
There’s so much nuance to this that I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs when it comes to your own shopping habits. Only you know what’s realistic and achievable for you. But I feel like it’s an sorta intrinsic emotion when you are buying unconsciously, as it were.
I dunno. Maybe not.
Anyway, I hope this poor excuse of a guide to ditching plastic this month (and beyond!) helped! Share your plastic free tips in the comments if you fancy.