3 plastic habits to break
It’s almost the end of July, and with the end of the month comes the end of another challenge: Plastic-Free July, which asks people to avoid all single-use plastics for 31 days.
Why? Every piece of plastic you use, if it hasn’t been recycled or produced via a new environmentally conscious technology, chips away at the planet’s limited, precious, non-renewable resources. Why? Plastic is made from fossil fuels, namely oil. So every time we buy a broccoli head that’s been been placed on a Styrofoam tray and wrapped in cling film, or ask for a plastic bag for our groceries, or use plastic cups at a party rather than washing up, we’re putting a dent in that amazing carbonaceous matter that’s taken hundreds of thousands of years to accumulate. We use it for minutes then throw it in the bin. Um, why?
For most readers out there, this “challenge” of giving up single-use plastics mightn’t be groundbreaking. I imagine many of you think in great depth about living in a sustainable way and actively minimise your impact on the planet. I thought I was like that too, but the truth is I was nowhere near as “sustainable” as I smugly believed. This month has revolutionised my little cosmos by helping me change three bad habits that weren’t good for anyone.
3 pesky plastic habits to break
1. Using takeaway coffee cups. I freely admit it, I live in a city and I drink coffee. I have a reusable cup that travels with me everywhere, but sometimes I forget to pop it back in my bag when I wash it. And I still get (got) a takeaway coffee, in a bio cup, with a plastic lid. Crazy, right? So this month I cut out takeaway coffees altogether (why not save a bit of money at the same time?). I slipped up once and got a takeaway cuppa, but asked for it without the plastic lid. Phew.
What can you do? Go cold turkey on the coffee. Invest in a good-quality cup you can take with you and that will last for years. Or, if you only have coffee from the coffee shop at work, take your own mug down — it’s a great way to crank up some conversation and do a bit of educating at the same time.
2. Using plastic bags. These little land-jellyfish are scary. Planet Ark says that we use 3.9 billion plastic bags annually in Australia in 2012, which equates to 10.6 million new bags every day or 175 a year per person. That’s a lot of bags. Plastic bags are a complex issue, so for more info have a read of this Planet Ark leaflet on plastic bags or watch the doco Bag It. I’ve got a few reusable bags I use for shopping, but I sometimes forget to bring them. This month I stowed a canvas bag in both my backpack and my handbag, for any carrying occasion. If I had to buy one thing, I’d just put it in my handbag or carry it in my hand. There’s no shame in showing people you just bought a capsicum.
What can you do? Go plastic bag free. You don’t need them. If you need to carry lots of groceries, ask the store assistant if they have spare boxes. Little kids love boxes, and you can even use them for mulch later, if you’ve got a garden.
3. Buying food with plastic packaging (yep, that goes for takeaway food as well). This was tough. The theory is that processed foods are the packaged ones, while wholefoods aren’t. That’s true to an extent. Fruit and veg are easy enough, you just have to put them straight in your basket without bothering about the pesky little secondary plastic bags you’re “supposed” to put them in. Straight in the canvas tote they go. Herbs are problematic: in the supermarket they often package them in little hard plastic cases. My fix? I just used the herbs in my garden or bought a plant. Milk’s a nightmare. I drink almond or rice milk, but even though the containers are cartons they have plastic twist tops! I guess the trick is to make your own.
With some foods though, like grains or seeds or lentils, they often come packed in plastic, even in healthfood stores. I’m lucky to live in a city, so I hunted down a store with bulk basics and decanted them into paper bags or into glass jars I brought with me. Meat’s also tricky. It’s always packaged in plastic in the stores, so I went to a good butcher for the month. The first time, he put the meat in thin plastic bags before wrapping it in paper. Oops! Next time, I took a large plastic container in for them to fill up. Luckily, the butcher got right on board, but it might not be possible at your supermarket. You could always ask.
What can you do? Hunt around for a store that has grains, seeds etc in bulk and bring in your own containers. Buy bulk quantities of staples direct from suppliers, alone or with friends. Buy meat in bulk then freeze portions in containers.
I ended up with a small bag full of plastics I used this month, but changing these three habits helped me cut a lot of single-use plastics from my life. The experience clarified for me that when we approach our lives consciously, making even the smallest of our decisions in line with our values, we can make the world just that tiny bit better. Those small choices we make each day really add up.