Plastic Free Living
Have you heard about Plastic Free July? What started as a small movement in Australia in 2011 has now expanded worldwide with millions of participants. This month long challenge is intended to encourage people to stop producing single use plastic waste during the month of July, in hopes they’ll form more sustainable lifestyle habits yearlong.
This time last year, I was researching how to live sustainably. I had made my first DIY beeswax wraps and was regularly using reusable bags. I'd heard about the plastic free challenge on instagram, but was not prepared to participate in the challenge. I remember looking at my heaping rubbish bin, wondering how on earth zero waste influencers had only a mason jar of trash for their monthly waste production.
It was intimidating to say the least. But, I didn't let that picture perfect ideal scare me away from trying to do my part. After all, I don't believe in perfect. I believe in progress. I'm glad to see that mason jar trend fading away. It's not realistic! A year later, after much continued research and effort, I still produce plastic trash and recycling. However, I've been able to reduce my household waste significantly.
I consider this to be a huge victory, because it is not an easy task. Admittedly, I still have a long way to go - we all do. But, I'm glad you are here with me, following along my sustainable living journey.
This year, I feel ready to participate in Plastic Free July. Throughout the month, I’ll be setting aside any single use plastic waste that I produce. I believe that this will be a good opportunity to become more mindful of my impact, and discover ways to make adjustments in order to live more sustainably. I've compiled a list of tips to help you participate as well - even if it's just a little bit. I wish I had found guidance like this last year.
If you’re up for it, I’d love to have you join the challenge along with me!
In recent years, plastic has earned it’s spotlight moment in mainstream media - as it should. It’s good to see our global impact in regard to our plastic usage - however devastating it may be. I do want to clarify that it’s important not to demonize plastic itself. Plastic does have many uses that are very important to the overall well being of the human race and our planet. My focus on the use of plastic free living is in regard to cutting out the use of single-use plastic, newly purchased plastic (when there is a better alternative available), and plastic that is often tossed out. Single-use plastic is extremely wasteful and has devastating effects on the planet. So, in my effort to live plastic free for the month of July, and through out the rest of the year, I’m focusing on wasteful plastic primarily. I’ll avoid other plastic, only when it’s appropriate. I’ll also let you determine how best to find that balance in your own life.
In my zero waste journey so far, I’ve learned that if I want to live my best life while also avoiding single-use plastic, I must prepare in advance. Here are some helpful tips to help us both remain plastic free this July, and beyond.
Stash Reusable Bags Everywhere
I have found that even the most well intentioned trip to the store can become wasteful if I don’t have a backup re-bag stashed somewhere convenient. I stash them in my car, in my backpack, in my purse, in my kitchen, and in my travel suitcase. If I had children, I’d have one or two in the stroller and diaper bag as well. The point is that you never know when you’ll need them and It’s better to have some on hand, than to have forgotten them at home.
Don’t forget about the mesh produce bags as well. A last minute grocery store haul could end up wasteful if your reusable produce bags are left out. I always keep reusable produces bags in company with my large re-bags.
Ditch Plastic Wrap
I haven't used plastic cling wrap for almost a year now. I can tell you now that these beeswax food wraps are a total game changer in the kitchen because they’ve help me prevent so much unnecessary plastic waste. They keep food fresh for so long, stick very well to any shape, and are easy to clean. Don't be afraid to squish and press these around food or containers. I've also made my own beeswax wraps and share my tutorial here. Making your own is a fun zero waste craft project and allows you to make any size you need. It’s quite easy and definitely worth it.
Stock Up on Jars
When I shop at my local market, I’m always looking for the items I can purchase in glass containers as opposed to plastic or paper packaging. Namely because glass won’t produce plastic waste and I can reuse the jar in a number of ways. Additionally, glass (and stainless steel) can be recycled endlessly without loss of quality - unlike paper or plastic.
I remove the labels on the jars with rubbing alcohol, then use them for bulk shopping. I also use them to store food in, or my own homemade products. I’ve reused an old jam jar as a travel size shampoo container, and an old honey jar to keep herbs crisp in the fridge. Glass jars are extremely versatile and one of the best resources to have when trying to become less dependent on single use plastic.
In general, purchasing an item made of (or packaged in) glass, steel, or other natural and reusable material, is always preferable than purchasing newly made plastic, and especially single-use plastic.
Shop Package Free Food
One of the most common places to rack up single use plastic is at the grocery store, or eating out. Much of the food available for purchase comes in plastic packaging that cannot be reused. I have found that by altering the way I shop, and the ingredients I purchase, I’ve been able to cut down on loads of plastic waste.
I now make it a habit to avoid the inner aisles of my local supermarket, and only stick to the produce section. I also purchase as much fresh and locally grown produce as I can at the Farmer’s Market. Most often, local farmers are growing more sustainably than mass producing farmers.
Buying locally grown, organic, and seasonally available food is the most sustainable option when it comes to grocery shopping. Of course, growing your own organic produce is even more sustainable, but even the best gardeners need to make a trip to the market every now and then. If you’d like to learn how to grow your own food, check out my sustainable gardening articles in Waste Free Planet’s digital magazine.
By purchasing package free produce, I’m not only eating healthier, but I’m producing a lot less waste. Now what about spices, baking ingredients, grains, snacks, coffee and all the other essentials? For dry goods, I load up my glass jars and head to my local bulk store. I admit it, it’s a bit of a drive into the city, but it is the only bulk store available to me. I’m just grateful to have access to one and be able to work the costs into my food budget. Loading up on fresh produce, as opposed to packaged goods, enables me to afford to shop in bulk.
I’ll be honest, having access to bulk shopping is a highly privileged opportunity that many demographics around the world don’t have. This concerns me because it means that there is a socio-economical gap that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many people on this planet to live sustainably. Unfortunately, regardless of our socioeconomic status, we all have to deal with the consequences of our climate crisis. I believe that because I have the privilege of shopping in bulk, and acquiring fresh organic produce at my farmer’s market, I must do my part to live as sustainably as I can.
Meal Plan and Preparation
Meal planning and preparation has been an incredible life changer for me in so many ways. It has enabled me to be more mindful of the food I eat and my portions. It has enabled me to cut out unhealthy impulse purchases, which has improved my physical health. It has also enabled me to zero in on my weekly grocery bill and cut down costs significantly.
I have converted to eating mostly plant based, which also means that I’ve cut out a significant amount of wasteful packaging. I do still get some nutrition from meat and dairy, but I’m striving to acquire these ingredients from local agriculturalists, rather than from farmers that operate great distances away, and raise unethically. This small change has impacted my health, my wallet, and my environmental impact in many positive ways.
Yes, meal planning and meal preparation requires time and discipline. I’ve gotten into the habit of spending Wednesday mornings (before work) planning my meals for the following week. I base my meals on what I currently have in stock at home and in the garden, and what I’ll need to restock at the end of the week. On Saturday mornings, I go to the store, or farmer’s market, and harvest from my garden. On Sunday mornings, I prepare all of my meals by measuring, cutting, washing, and dividing portions into containers per lunch, dinner, and snacks, for each day of the week. I usually freestyle my breakfast meals because they are the most simple. In total, it takes me about 3 ½ - 4 hours per week. It’s a small investment of time that produces a huge return.
I’m not referring to the speed in which you eat, although eating slow and mindfully is absolutely a great idea. Rather, I’m referring to how your food is sourced. Slow food is a worldwide movement that promotes local food and traditional cooking. It was originated by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 as a resistant response to the opening of McDonald’s in Rome. Slow Food is now an organization championed by Petrini and acts in direct opposition of fast food organizations, and their harmful impact to the environment and our global food culture. The slow, in slow food, is an acronym for seasonal, local, organic, and whole. It’s a movement that strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock, characteristic of the local ecosystem.
What we eat really matters, not only for our bodies but also for the planet. Regardless of your stance on eating meat or dairy, I do believe that eating mostly whole fruits and vegetables reduces plastic waste significantly (in addition to a myriad of other positive impacts). I’ve also found that buying eggs and meat at my local farmer’s market allows me to cut out plastic packaging with these food types. Currently, I see validity in sourcing a balanced diet from local, sustainable, and organic farmers.
I encourage you to eat slow, too. Shop for locally grown, organic produce. Don’t eat out often. Don’t eat fast food. If you eat meat and dairy, opt for locally raised, and organic livestock products. Prepare meals for yourself and your family using seasonal ingredients. See how this change affects your wellbeing. It will absolutely have a positive impact on the planet.
Bring Your Zero Waste Kit
Single use plastic dining ware is a huge culprit to our planet’s plastic waste problem. Think of all the plastic plates, cups, water bottles, lids, caps, packaging, forks, knives, spoons, straws, stir sticks, styrofoam containers, and take-out bags that are used on a daily basis when people around the world dine out. Even a simple trip to a coffee shop with a small order will produce loads of plastic trash in just a brief moment.
Now is the time to opt out of the convenient consumerism epidemic by building, and using, a zero waste dining kit. Commit to taking it with you wherever you go so you always have a sustainable option. Here’s my advice on how to build your own zero waste dining kit.
Swap Personal Care Products
When it’s time to restock your personal care products, opt for low waste alternatives as much as you can. Consider making your own deodorant, toothpaste, or facial toner. Select a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one that will never break down. Invest in a stainless steel razor instead of a disposable one that you’ll need to replace often. Try filling up your products at bulk store, if you have access to one. Before making an automatic purchase at the store, do a bit of research online to discover new plastic free brands. It may take a little time and experimentation before you find a new product that you love. In the long run, you’ll be able to cut down at lot of plastic waste produced from your personal care products.
Swap Household Cleaning supplies
Similar to personal care products, when it comes time to restock your household cleaning supplies, look for low waste, and plastic free, alternatives. Many bulk stores also offer cleaning ingredients in bulk as well. I stock up on bicarbonate soda, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and biodegradable soap to mix my own household cleaners. I love using Cleaning Essentials glass spray bottles because they portion out cleaning ingredients, for different surfaces, directly on the bottle. A little drop or two of essential oil introduces a nice smell as well as antimicrobial properties. I’ve also found wonderful and sustainable home utility products from Helen Milan.
Opt for Natural Fashion
You might be surprised to learn that the majority of your clothes are made of plastic. Any synthetic fiber is chemically rendered from some form of plastic. Although the performance of the synthetic fibers can be nice, the problem is that every time the garment is washed, microscopic plastics break down in the wash and dry cycle. The weave of the garment weakens, and the micro-plastics end up in our water system. It is now understood that the fish we eat, and the water we drink contain micro plastics that were once our clothes. Even wild rivers, in seemingly remote places, contain micro-plastics.
On the other hand, natural fibers, such as wool, cotton, silk, hemp, bamboo, and linen, biodegrade as they break down. They are not harmful to animal or human life because they came from the natural world and haven’t been manipulated significantly to produce our clothing. When buying clothes, opt for natural fibers over synthetic. And of course, using what you have is always more sustainable than buying new.
Part of living plastic free is knowing how our actions impact the world around us, then doing what we can to mitigate the negative impact of plastic waste. Although it’s not possible to live entirely plastic waste free, there are efforts we can all make, that are quite simple, yet significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce. I encourage you to give one or all of these tips a try. If you produce single-use plastic waste, don’t agonize over it. Understand that there is no such thing as perfectly sustainable or living truly zero waste. Simply resolve to keep trying.
Are you ready for the challenge?
What will be your first plastic free swap?