Plastic is part of our everyday lives. And while it is undoubtedly convenient, it is unfortunately very detrimental to the environment, as much of it is designed to be used briefly, but it lasts forever.
While some plastic can be recycled, most ends up in landfills or in the ocean, where it takes hundreds of years to break down, if it ever does. Plastic has a terrible impact on marine life. It finds its way into the stomachs of fish and marine birds, and, now, even humans who eat seafood are ingesting small amounts of plastic as a result.
Plastic is not biodegradable, and, consequently, it clogs up the stomachs of animals who eat it and pollutes our waterways and land. If we don’t change our ways drastically, there could be more plastic, by weight, than fish in the sea by 2050.
Luckily, there’s a growing movement to solve the world’s plastic problem, and you can be a part of it. In fact, this month, participants across the globe will be doing all they can to reduce their use of plastic, all in the name of Plastic Free July®!
What is Plastic Free July®?
Plastic Free July® is an annual global movement that encourages people to reduce their plastic consumption for an entire month. What started from humble beginnings in 2011 has since attracted the masses, with an estimated 326 million people joining in last year.
The campaign, which aims to inspire people to consider their everyday plastic usage and make small lifestyle changes, shows how everybody can help to reduce the impact of plastic on our planet.
While the number of plastic items being produced these days is practically never-ending, there are four items that make up the bulk of our plastic consumption: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups, and plastic straws. By eliminating these items and replacing them with reusable versions, we can make a huge dent in our plastic use.
That said, the thought of reducing plastic consumption can feel totally overwhelming because plastic is just about everywhere! The key is to start by focusing on one small change at a time. Take note of what plastics you are using on a daily basis, and slowly pick one at a time to substitute.
For example, commit to eliminating the use of one item – be it plastic water bottles, cling wrap, plastic shopping bags, Ziploc bags, single-use coffee cups, disposable makeup wipes, or straws – for a week. If it goes well, you can expand the number of items you do not use and increase that list throughout the month.
Even if you manage to reduce your plastic consumption by only a small amount this July, adopting any of these habits in your day-to-day life is an excellent step towards decreasing your plastic consumption.
Plastic free during the third wave
Some plastic use, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), is inevitable amid the pandemic. But there are steps every household can take to minimise the impact of these single-use plastics:
- Disposable plastic face masks pose a huge environmental risk – it is estimated that they are produced on a similar scale to plastic bottles, approximately 43 billion per month. But, unlike plastic bottles (of which 25% are recycled), there is no official guidance on mask recycling, meaning masks will end up polluting our environment. So, switch to reusable fabric face masks to reduce plastic waste. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that fabric masks can be used by the general public under the age of 60 and those who do not have underlying health conditions.
- Ditch the plastic gloves. The use of gloves by the public in public spaces is not a recommended or proven prevention measure, according to the WHO.
- Swap single-use hand wash for a bar of soap. Anything with a plastic pump mechanism is difficult to recycle, and it will either end up being burned or sent to a landfill. If you already have one, you can reuse it by buying liquid refill soap or simply swap it for a bar of soap.
Get the kids involved
Although many adults are taking action to leave behind a cleaner planet for the next generation, it is also important for children to get involved in these efforts. By teaching them the importance of eliminating plastic and seeking out other options early on, it will help them adopt new, more eco-friendly habits that they will carry into adulthood.
- Watch a documentary: an easy and effective way to teach children (and adults) what plastic is doing to our environment is to watch a documentary on the topic, as it helps people visualise and more fully understand the issue. (Some documentaries can upset sensitive viewers, so be sure to choose one that is age appropriate.)
- Host a clean-up: the environment is already full of plastic litter. So, why not get your children to host a clean-up in your area? They can meet up with their friends and see how many bags of litter they can pick up. It is a great way to reduce plastic in the environment and protect local wildlife.
- Make something from scratch: a big part of going plastic free is figuring out how to make homemade replacements for things you would normally buy in plastic packaging. There are a number of fun projects for children to try, such as baking their own bread or making yoghurt. Another great idea is to turn some seasonal fruit into jam.
- Try beeswax wraps: beeswax wraps offer a reusable, compostable alternative to single-use plastic wraps. They can be bought or made at home, so get your children involved in turning a piece of their favourite fabric into a DIY beeswax wrap – there are great tutorials online.
- Upcycle and save: upcycling is a fun and clever way of turning something old into something new. There are endless ways to upcycle plastic. A fun suggestion to help your children upcycle and save is to turn plastic bottles into cute piggy banks. A quick Google search will reveal some creative examples.
Going plastic free can seem like an insurmountable challenge. The key is to make small changes to become less reliant on plastic eventually. The important thing is to be mindful of all the plastic you are using on a daily basis and to get into the habit of using less – one step at a time.
Join the Plastic Free July® campaign here.
By Danielle Barfoot