As you’ll see from the pictures below, my July this year was not plastic free. Nowhere near. It wasn’t even as plastic-reduced as almost any other month of the year you’d care to mention.
So what happened? I caught some kind of disgusting sickness from an open water swimming event down the Cam River, in Cambridge. Several other people who attended the event came down with similar illnesses. It was a bit of a shame because the swim was very pretty, but it’s made me somewhat more cautious about sticking my face in any ol’ body of water. It’s also helped me appreciate our local clean stretch of the River Great Ouse, which has not sickened me yet!
But all of this meant that just a few days into July, I found myself with joint pains, fever, sickness, the lot. At the same time, my partner got called away for work. So I found myself at home, alone, with no food, and in no fit to state to leave the house. And what would anyone do in that situation? That’s right, I called my mum for assistance.
My lovely mum came over with fruit, bread, tomatoes, cheese, milk for tea, and crisps. Essentially all my favourite childhood foods that didn’t fill me with thoughts of even greater nausea. And when you’re a fully-grown adult feverishly calling your mum for basic survival assistance, that is definitely not the time you start asking her to source it plastic free.
So this is the plastic I consumed during July that I wouldn’t have consumed had I been able to leave the house during that week. I think we can let me off this, right?
So, what’s there that wouldn’t usually be?
Milk – we normally get organic milk delivered in glass bottles. With my partner, the main milk consumer of the household away, I suspended our deliveries and froze this one litre bottle into four smaller portions, which ended up lasting me the whole month.
Fruit – I normally only buy unpackaged or discounted fruit near the end of its shelf life. But after three days of no food at all, it tasted like the best fruit that’s ever existed.
Cheese – I’ve been massively reducing my dairy, and try to only buy organic. But I powered through this once my appetite returned in about a week.
Bread – I normally get bread unpackaged from the local bakery. However, supermarkets only seem to offer smaller items unpackaged, so this came wrapped in plastic.
Crisps – I try to buy crisps only as a very occasional treat because of the packaging. This was one massively plasticky treat. I enjoyed every single last mouthful. God, I miss crisps. Zero waste solutions to crisps are almost non-existent, and every single zero waster I know has them as their number one ‘ZW grail’ item. Come on crisp industry, sort it out!
And the rest…
The picture below is the plastic to me that ‘doesn’t really count’.
The reason I don’t count it is because it’s discounted products at the end of their shelf life that would have otherwise been unsold food waste. I know a few zero waste enthusiasts employ this technique to eat food that’s otherwise ‘off limits’ – bagged salad, fruit and veg out of season, and so on. I’m still torn between the idea that it’s preventing food waste as it would be thrown out otherwise, and the counter argument that it’s still showing the supermarkets that there’s a market for these products so that they will continue to over-stock. Any thoughts or comments on this would be very much welcome, as I don’t have a definitive answer to this issue.
And this final picture is what I consider my actual, ongoing plastic use. This is the plastic I have used, and will continue to use until I can source environmentally-responsible alternatives.
Water butt label – I don’t plan on buying any more water butts, so this is a one-off. And in terms of environmental impact, the water it saves outweighs the plastic label, I reckon.
Sunscreen – I don’t think I have ever used so much sunscreen as I have this summer! With temperatures reaching nearly 30°C (around 86°F), it’s something I’ve been applying pretty much every day. After using up my previous products, I’ve currently settled on JĀSÖN Suncare, as it’s cruelty free and reef safe, whilst still being in a reasonable price range. All of the plastic-free options I’ve seen so far are either too pricey or have to be ordered from the US, which isn’t very practical.
Film – the two pieces of film are from strawberry punnets. The local farm shop takes the actual punnets back to reuse for other items. I only buy UK strawberries grown during the main season, so this is a bit of a treat.
Cheese wrappers – the scrunched up plastic and the little white strip in the bottom row are from cheese purchases. Sadly, round here there are seemingly no plastic-free organic options. Whilst I am trying to massively cut down on animal products, and have been vegetarian for the last 16 years, I do still love the occasional piece of cheese. I always try to opt for organic for the sake of countryside management and animal welfare.
Eyeliner – I had been using the Lush eyeliner in a glass bottle until recently, but found that the product spoiled before I could finish it, and that it was almost impossible to clean out. So plastic-free eyeliner recommendations welcome!
Toothpaste – Anything But Plastic have recently started selling toothpaste tablets with fluoride. This is pretty big news in the plastic-free dental world (if such a thing exists!), as until now, all the toothpaste alternatives have been fluoride-free. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been almost consistently sold out since they were launched. But once they’re in stock, I will definitely be giving them a go. Until then, Kingfisher Toothpaste is the most ethically-made product I can find.
Whilst there’s more plastic than I’d like due to the unusual circumstances of last month, I’m actually quite happy at how little plastic I’m now using on a regular basis. I’m also very lucky that our council collects almost all of the plastic above for recycling (even crisp packets!) and that my Terracycle Zero Waste Box can take the rest.
From looking at this plastic waste, one thing is abundantly clear – that refusing plastic is both a concerted effort and a choice, but one that is not always easy to make. Whilst there are a lot of plastic-free alternatives out there, they are not always readily available in mainstream shops, or in many cases affordable to people on low to middle incomes.
People across the world are waking up to the environmental problems of single-use plastic. However, ordinary people should not be expected to have the knowledge equivalent of a degree in waste management to try and decide what the most environmentally-friendly option is!
What we need now is for government and business to do their part rather than merely paying lip-service (such as in this Starbucks news story, which points out that their new straw-replacing-lid uses more plastic than the straw it replaces). Companies must start accepting their part in the disposal of their packaging, looking for innovative ways to reduce packaging in the first place, and make what’s left easier to recycle. Governments must put in place legislation that puts the environment first, and enable good scientific research and science communication to flourish. I’m all for people power, but this issue also needs a top-down, whole-system approach to solve the universal problems of plastic waste.
So, how was your Plastic Free July? What did you struggle with? And what plastic ‘cheats’ do you allow yourself? Or is that just excuses? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!