Plastic Free July is a global movement to help you understand plastic waste and how to reduce it. It also challenges us all to make changes for the whole month. By pledging to change for just a month, it doesn’t feel like a huge commitment, however habits can be formed in as little as 21 days so your plastic reduction could go on for much longer than just July! This years theme is ‘small steps, big difference.’
Picking Apart Plastic Pollution
Plastic production is one of the most carbon intensive processes in manufacturing, and rather than slowing down we are consuming more plastic than ever before. The Plastic Waste Makers Index estimates that globally we used over 139 million tonnes of single use plastic in 2021. This equates to a lifecycle carbon emissions equalling that of the UK! Plastic has a huge impact on our climate crisis as well as on global ecology. Nearly every piece of plastic in the world originated as a fossil fuel. At every stage in a plastics lifecycle, from extraction through to waste management, greenhouse gases are released. So you see the plastic problem isn’t just about microplastics entering the food system and vast swathes of land and marine space being consumed by waste, it’s a huge part of the climate story too.
But don’t despair, there are lot’s of ways you can help reduce plastic pollution.
Plastic Free Picks
Introducing a charge to plastic shopping bags has reduced usage by over 130 million bags a year but we’re still using nearly 500 million plastic bags in the UK alone. So next time you’re nipping to the shops make sure you take a re-usable bag with you!
Re-useable Drinks Bottles and Cups
We’ve become a nation of coffee drinking, protein shaking, bottle toting consumers. It’s impossible to walk down the high street or be at an event without seeing someone with a bottle in their hand or a coffee cup being sipped. Thankfully many places are saying no to waste and asking customers to bring their own bottles and cups. We were at the University of Bath for a conference recently and they no longer provide disposable coffee cups or sell bottled water, well done UoB!
Grab a thermal cup or bottle today and pop it in your bag ready for a refill on the go.
Choose loose leaf tea and loose coffee
Tea is a British staple and millions of cups are drink every day, we have at least 4 cups in our house alone each day! You might think a cup of tea in a normal mug is pretty innocent but there are some sneaky hidden plastics even in the nations favourite drink. The simplest way to avoid plastic with your cuppa is to buy loose leaf tea.
You can use a tea infuser or tea pot depending on how many you’re making the tea for, and the used leaves can be popped on your compost heap or in your green waste bin.
The same goes for coffee, buying whole or ground beans and using a cafetiere, French press or espresso machine is far better for the world than using coffee pods. True coffee connoisseurs will tell you that freshly roasted, within the last two weeks, and ground at home produce the best tasting coffee, so find a local roastery and buy direct. Not only will you be reducing plastic waste but you’ll be supporting a small business too!
Switch from Bottle to Bar
The bathroom is a surprisingly plastic heavy environment – just think about all the lotions, potions, toothbrushes, and razors in your bathroom. How many of the items can be recycled or reused? Not many! But just like shopping bags and coffee cups there are simple swaps you can make. One of the easiest is swapping bottled soaps and shampoos for bars. These are usually ‘naked’ or wrapped in a small piece of paper which can be thrown in the recycling, and they last for ages.
Buy loose produce
We’re heading back to the supermarket for this one. As far as possible buy products which have little or no packaging. For instance if you need a kilo of carrots, take you own re-usable bag and buy loose carrots rather than buying a plastic bag of them, if you are buying pasta / rice or other dried produce and can afford the initial outlay buy in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging and emissions from transportation. We know that not all supermarkets are created equally and you may not have the option to buy unpackaged produce but where your circumstances allow vote with your feet and go and buy from a shop that does offer plastic free fruit and veg and bulk buy options.
Many products are available in different forms and made form different materials. Next time you’re in need of something new take a moment to consider if the plastic version is the best for the environment and for what you’re using it for. Note: the answer might be yes, we’re not saying that all plastics are bad and should never be used, just that it’s worth considering whether they’re always the right answer. For instance in the garden a good quality, thick plastic seed tray can last for many years and be used over and over again, and is far superior for the job in hand in to any other material (OK maybe not bioplastics but let’s not complicate things). However, a wheelbarrow or watering can is just as good if not better when it’s made of metal and can be easily recycled at the end of its life. In the kitchen similar choices can be made – wrapping sandwiches for lunch, try a beeswax wrap or treated fabric wrap rather than clingfilm, and store leftovers in glass containers which can be used in the microwave or oven without releasing harmful chemicals, and will last for years.
Repair and Re-use
Finally, if you do have plastic products (we all do, don’t worry!), take care of them, re-use them, repurpose them and repair them where possible. If they really are at the end of their life, ensure you dispose of them in the best way possible.
A Plastic Revolution
Sometimes it can be hard to understand our impact on the planet. We’re just one small person or family, right? You may be small but we all have a role to play and if all the individuals and families in the UK worked together and made plastic free choices we’d have a HUGE impact.
If you’re still struggling to understand how much plastic you’re using, try channelling Marie Kondo and noting down all the things in the room you’re in that contain plastic (starting with whatever device you’re reading this on). Pop a dot next to any which are single use so you can begin to see how much plastic you’re using regularly.
Want to know more about your impact on the planet? Join one of our carbon literacy courses.