Plastic Free July: Tips for reducing our throw-away habits

Over the month of July, I took up the challenge of going plastic free, or reducing as much single-use plastic I could in my lifestyle (one of the things Adam and I are doing as part of our sustainability challenge – see previous post). It’s been a great few weeks – with new habits that I’ll continue into the future.
Noting down what plastic I was throwing away in my day, it was interesting to see what in what quantities it was and where it was coming from. For my lifestyle, these are the top things that changed the amount of single-use plastic I was using. If not cutting it out completely, reducing it by 90%:
a) Bring a keep cup, foldable mug, thermos or re-usable water bottle with you. This may seem obvious, but if you are a coffee or tea drinker every day, you are cutting out a significant amount of single-use packaging. I’ve found bottles such as the Hydroflask incredible: they’re beautiful products, you have water, tea or coffee at your disposal everywhere you go and often you can buy a drink for cheaper. Almost every pub will fill tap water for you for free (e.g. Pret, 50p; Starbucks & Costa, 25p). If you buy two coffees and a waster bottle a day, you could save up to 1000 GBP/year. And it begins to reduce the 2.5bn disposable coffee cups that get thrown out in the UK alone – which are all non-recyclable due to the water-proof lining (plastic polyethylene).
b) Start purchasing loose fruit and veg – and bring your own produce bags. Most fruit and veg is unfortunately packaged in plastic – occasionally to the point where each single aubergine comes in its own plastic bag. This is often done to avoid confusion between different prices and quality grades, separating for e.g. organic from standard qualities. However, grocery stores still sell everything loose in their crates. By bringing your own cotton or other produce bags, you can avoid the need for plastic all together – just needs some planning as not all stores offer this. My go to at the moment are grocery and corner stores – the supermarket is no more. The classic re-usable shopping bag for transportation also makes a massive difference. Governments however should also be more pro-active: certain countries (Kenya, Italy) have banned plastic bags altogether, going for bio-degradable options. This is ultimately what will solve the problem as it requires a large-scale rethink of the supermarket model (packing, distribution, quality control).
c) Reduce the snacks you buy – buy large volumes, pack your snacks. Snacks, bread, crackers and anything that needs to be air tight was the hardest plastic to eliminate – they are everywhere! And we do want snacks, nuts, crackers – it’s unrealistic to stop consuming those all together. So, given this, my top take is to: Buy in bulk: large volumes reduce the amount of packaging you use, endless small containers and wrapping that is not needed. To have readily accessible snacks, you can bring with you small containers, Tupperwares or wraps (e.g. beeswax wraps to avoid disposable cling film).
d) Stop ordering takeout or buying lunches out: The vast majority of my plastic packaging footprint comes from purchasing lunch out. Whilst it’s delicious and convenient, the amount of packaging that goes into an Itsu or Pret lunch is unreal on a daily basis. With a bit of organisation, you can bring your own lunch in your containers, save substantial money on meals and reduce packaging. If this is a challenge – then the first step I’d recommend is always keeping a packet of re-usable cutlerywith you – think of all the plastic forks, knives, spoons you can avoid every day.
e) Move away from plastic products altogether: If you look, often there are non-plastic alternatives. Beauty creams can come in glass – which is more easily recycled, so does oil for cooking, peanut butter jars – you name it. Start noticing what products have plastic hidden inside them, which you may not have known about – e.g. plastic is often used in teabags, to help seal the bags. Think though about your impact and the volume of what you buy. There is now a growing trend of bamboo toothbrushes (whilst this is great, note that the bristles are nylon, and therefore have to be individually pulled out. Perhaps there are other habits worth changing that have a larger impact)
There is always room for improvement. What are your top tips?
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