It is truly amazing how much can change in a month. It’s a period of time that is long enough to create real noticeable change yet not too long that it feels daunting to try something new. It’s been amazing to see people who took the Plastic Free July challenge, who were at different stages in their journey, all make changes to their buying habits and routines. Some of the most impactful changes were small and few and yet made such a huge and noticeable difference to the amount of waste produced by each household.
It was also very heartening to see how many businesses and individuals got involved in Plastic Free July – it really feels like the message is starting to get through to people. We’re destroying our planet by continuing to spew out plastic to the point that it’s permeated our food chain and can be found in our bottled water and even beer!
Here are a few sobering facts incase you haven’t seen enough in the last month… this is why we need to Wake Up and get on with eradicating single use plastic.
Annual plastic production has skyrocketed since the early 1950s, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015. This does not include synthetic fibres used in clothing, rope and other products which accounted for 61 million tonnes in 2016. It is expected that plastic production will continue to increase, likely doubling by 2025. – Greenpeace
Recycling is a farce
While everyone on the Plastic Free July challenge continued to recycle what they can, they all learned that recycling is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
It’s not “single use” if the plastics are recycled… right?
Sorry, but recycled or recyclable throwaway plastics are still single-use folks. We know that over 90 percent of the plastic waste produced has not been recycled and eventually much of that packaging will end up polluting our environment. Companies can try to spin their recycling efforts as making the difference for our oceans and waterways, but they’re actually just dodging true accountability for the crisis they helped to create. Real leadership means reducing the throwaway plastics they produce and sell.
Our focus must be in Refusing, Reducing and Reusing Plastic.
Recycling comes last option. In New Zealand we have a crisis in our recycling centres, they’re spilling over with plastic and they can’t keep up with it. China has closed its doors on the world and is refusing to take on other countries waste problems. New Zealand is now trying other countries in Asia to offload our plastic problem but people living along rivers and coastlines in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the most impacted by plastic pollution – this is not an ethical or sustainable solution.
We need to Use our Voice
As we began the Plastic Free July challenge, I heard people feeling uncomfortable about asking if they could use their containers in delicatessens, bakeries and butcheries in local supermarkets – this is because the idea of using reusable containers is not mainstream yet, there are more people still asleep than awake and there is still too much convenience that single use plastic offers (which is shoved in our faces everywhere!). However, throughout the month challengers became more and more confident and empowered to Use their Voice and spread the word by sharing their experiences.
New members to the Wake Up Warriors group were inspired to join in throughout the month because they saw their friends taking action and realising that they too could make these simple changes and feel better about themselves while doing their bit to help reduce the problem. This is how movements grow!
We were all challenged to use our voice online, posting on business’ and brands’ Facebook pages or via their websites and pushing them to find alternatives to single use plastic packaging. The more people take the time to apply pressure, the more likely brands will respond to customer demand. We challenged big brands like New World, Countdown, Pak’n’Save, Moore Wilsons, My Food Bag, Bargain Box, as well as smaller local businesses like Nude Grocer, Bin Inn and even a childrens’ entertainment venue in terms of asking for alternatives to plastic packaging or asking more about their wholesale plastic packaging.
We need to support local businesses who support sustainability
We all found new, smaller local businesses to support because they were prepared to take our containers and provide alternatives because they shared our values and beliefs. This is also how movements grow!
This may mean our shopping trips involve visiting a few different places or in some cases going without a few things. In the grand scheme of things, these aren’t really very significant inconveniences and it’s actually enjoyable forging relationships with small businesses as you can learn a lot from chatting with them.
It’s all part of the journey towards a more traditional way of life again, the kind our grandparents enjoyed.
We need to make small incremental changes
Most people think a living a sustainable lifestyle is expensive and hard. This is not the case. There are cost savings to be made buying goods in bulk bins and making your own products too. As for the too hard basket? We proved that focussing on one change a week or a few in a month is very achievable and not hard – a tad frustrating at times maybe, but that’s part of the satisfaction in solving a problem!
If you’re inspired to go Plastic Free and make some lifestyle changes, make them quickly and relatively painlessly, then go for the low hanging fruit first – the obvious and easy changes.
What were the changes people made that made the most impact?
Everyone who took part in the Plastic Free July challenge came away with amazing breakthroughs, I’ll include some of their summaries below as we go through the main changes that had the most impact:
Seems obvious but isn’t it incredible how many people still walk out of supermarkets and shops with single use plastic bags, destined only for the landfill, ocean or maybe as a bin liner for 2 uses. There are a myriad of reusable bags available to us to take shopping and these were brought out, stocked up and replenished. We all learned the hard way that they need to be stored in all the places we need them; in the car, by the front door etc. Otherwise we forgot them and that caused discomfort! However, with it being a challenge, we all found ourselves refusing the plastic bags when we forgot our own and instead we put stuff back in the trolley and unloaded into the car. Nothing like a bit of inconvenience to make you remember for next time!
Buying gazillions of reusable supermarket bags and mostly remembering to put them back in the car to take. I don’t have produce bags yet, but I have just been loading up my basket with my produce, not in bags, and haven’t had any complaints from the checkout operators when they have weighed it. – Andrea Wingham
Changes I have made this past month include refusing any and all plastic bags from shops, refusing takeaway coffee unless it’s in my keep-cup and reducing my consumption of meat (and thus any associated packaging). But by far the most significant change I’ve made is my way of thinking. I am open to change and am actively looking for ways to further reduce my impact on the environment. I have used my voice and will continue to do so and I’m dragging my family along with me. – Lara Darley
Glass Bottled, refillable or Pail Milk
One of the biggest breakthroughs for people was ditching the plastic milk bottles! Sounds hard? It all depends where you live and how much you want to eliminate these nasty single use bottles from your home.
I created a useful resource ‘Where can I get milk in Glass Bottles?’ to help hook New Zealanders up with farm vendors and stockists around the country – so take a look and see what’s available in your region.
The biggest change we’ve made is changing to Manna milk and getting our milk in a 10l reusable pail! The first week has been a hit with the kids and will be saving at least 4 plastic milk bottles a week. – Helen Shanley
Not just dairy milk but also nut, soy and oat milks are a real problem as they’re mainly packaged in tetra packs cartons which aren’t even recyclable! So we were challenged to make our own or find alternatives in bottles such as Havana Brothers Almond Milks.
I’ve enjoyed every bit of this month!! 😍 It’s been heaps of fun learning how to milk almonds 😉 and make some awesome alternatives to snacks. Our pantry is looking more beautiful by the week as we fill up our beautiful jars ❤️The most rewarding surprise was that we haven’t needed to put any rubbish out all month! Keeping track of our waste has been awesome and inspired us to go zero waste! = our next challenge! 💪😎 – Helena van Echten
Cutting down on the amount of meat filled meals was a solution for many when they found it frustrating to buy their meat in their own containers and, the vegetarian meals were enjoyable. Our western diet is very focussed on meat proteins being in each meal which is really not necessary or good for our health long term.
Others sourced local butchers who were happy to oblige us with our own containers and others were lucky to find supermarkets who were onboard. For those that aren’t, we pushed back and asked management why???
For those of use with babes this was a major breakthrough! The amount of nappies that go to landfill per family per year is horrendous. Cloth nappies (and reusable menstrual products) are great choices for anyone who wants to cut down on waste, save money, and lessen their environmental impact. Using just one cloth nappy a day on one baby can divert 912 disposable nappies from landfills over 2.5 years – that’s over 136 kgs of waste! And using them full-time can divert 6,000!
I’ve always used cloth nappies for day but have recently changed to cloth for night as well. That’s 14 nappies I am no longer sending to landfill each week. And also making the most of our compost bin for food scraps and paper. Just those two changes have meant we only have a small bucket of rubbish a week or a bin every 4-5 weeks. Not bad for a family of six, with children in nappies. – Emma Evans
Eliminating food scraps from the landfill and our rubbish bins meant that many people ended up ditching their bins altogether or at least ditching their bin liners as there wasn’t anything nasty going in them to make a mess.
Worm farms, composts and Bokashi bins were discussed and explored with the benefits extending to feeding our vege gardens and indoor plants.
All food waste has gone to the chickens, guinea pigs or worm bin and we’ve cut our rubbish down to about half the size of a small waste paper basket a week, so little that I’m going to cancel our wheelie bin. – Helen Shanley
Bathroom and Laundry products
I got pretty depressed looking at my own bathrooms with the amount of plastic sitting in them. During the Plastic Free July challenge I restocked by refilling bottles at Bin Inn but the next step is to make my own or switch to a soap bar brand such as Ethique or Dirty Hippie instead. They’re more expensive but they last for ages and eliminate the plastic entirely.
People on the challenge gave them a go, plus deodorants in glass jars and some people tried making their own. I’ll be running some local and regional get togethers to make soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, dishwasher cubes, creams, lotions, toothpastes, deodorants etc so if you’re keen to learn in a friendly environment and share the costs of ingredients then join the Wake Up Warriors group where I’ll set up events you can attend.
There were plenty more changes people made during the Plastic Free July challenge but these are the main ones and the ones that have the most noticeable impact that you and your family won’t be able to ignore.
Getting your family onboard
Which brings me onto this very important point, the journey is a whole lot easier and less frustrating when your family are onboard with the Plastic Free and Zero Waste journey! Many challengers were delighted with how their kids and partners got into it and enjoyed the process. Kids especially are a whole lot more aware of the environmental problems we face and how living more sustainably needs to become the norm and not a passing fad.
Not everyone found it that easy though, myself included. While my hubby is onboard and supportive of what I’m trying to do going ‘sustainable in the suburbs’ he hasn’t exactly done the thinking through that I have and it was evident a few times during the challenge.
Things like not putting shopping bags in the car and then not refusing the plastic bags at the supermarket.
Things like buying bread (even though I’d baked some) in fear that the kids would revolt! In saying that, there is a transition period that we all need to go through, not least the kids, but it prolongs any discomfort when you don’t fully embrace it. The kids can suck it up and eat home-baked bread with their school lunches, it’s not like they don’t like the bread, it’s just ‘not what they’re used to’. They never will get used to it if you don’t give it a decent chance.
So there’s a topic for a whole other blogpost because there’s some work to do there in our household anyway!
What was the verdict on going Plastic Free?
From my perspective, I made even more progress on the journey I was already taking and the extra focus and accountability meant the changes were quicker.
Changes I made in July included:
- Going bin free (use compost, eco-bricks and the fire for burning bones and fat)
- Started shopping at bin inn and butchers so have eliminated all packaging of dry goods, soaps and shampoo, peanut butter, soy sauce, olive oil, vinegars, syrups and meats (except bacon but I’ve found a solution!)
- Replaced some toothbrushes with bamboo ones, bought bamboo kitchen brushes and bought hubby a reusable razor
- Baked most of our bread (I think we’ve bought about 4 loaves when caught short all month)
- Made mostly all my own butter and cheese (bought 1 block of butter for baking and 1 block of cheddar all month oh plus blue cheese – I need to learn to make that next!)
- Made my own pasta for the first time 🙌
- Made more homemade beeswax wraps and purchased more reusable produce bags
- Gave up My Food Bag and Bargain Box and started planning my own meals again – cut down on lots of excess packaging!
Here’s what some other challengers said:
I’ve really enjoyed this Plastic Free July challenge, as I’ve been pushed to think further than the changes I’ve made previously. Before this challenge I didn’t think there was a lot more I could/would do differently so I’ve loved that this has gone further than straws, bags, periods and coffee cups. I now keep a couple of containers in the spare car boot shopping bag for deli meats. I’ve added citrus to my white vinegar, and got some baking soda for scrubbing. I’m fascinated to find out/compare plastic use of bulk vs individual shopping packets and what things we’re better to buy from a bulk outlet on going like peanut butter. I now know what food co-ops are. We’re doing a lot more home baking (crackers, biscuits, bread, pizza dough, muesli bars) – my 5yr old daughter commented on it- and I’ve just bought 5kg packets of three types of flour. I’m speaking up more often, contacting companies where I feel they could do better plastic-wise. We’ve decided to ditch plastic-wrapped cheese slices and I think I’ve convinced hubby not to buy multipacks of chippies. We’ve taken our own containers for a takeaway dinner and we’ll likely do this again. I’m shopping 2nd hand instead of new -reuse! Thanks for the challenge Debra! – Miranda Devlin
I have loved this Plastic Free July challenge. It’s kicked my lazy arse into action and I love it. The changes have been easy to make. I’ve got ideas now to continue to make more changes ( I like sorting one at a time). My biggest challenge yet is still the meat and milk. Will continue to think about that. My fav changes include:
- Honey wraps
- Vege bags
- Bin Inn shopping
- Shampoo and deodorant bars
- Keep cups
- Yoghurt maker
It’s amazing what conscious thought can achieve. – Sally M Wallace
It certainly is amazing what conscious thought can achieve! I think the biggest change for me was that I realised the need to use my voice waaaaay more and put more pressure on supermarkets and brands to do better and to do it faster.
Also to look at the legislation around Waste Management in New Zealand and see how we can better utilise the Act to penalise and incentivise business to make changes in the packaging of products sooner rather than later.
In terms of future focus – that is where I’ll be making more effort.
Plus growing more of my own food as Spring approaches and also more types of cheeses – oh yes!
What about you – what will you focus on next?
Why not join the challenge if you missed it? You can sign up below and do it in your own time – anytime!