Plastic Free July is a challenge to refuse and avoid single-use plastic in the month of July as a way to build awareness and change habits. Plastic is a great material in many ways, but it is essentially designed to be permanent, which is problematic when used for things that are designed to be used once and thrown out. And unfortunately, huge amounts of plastic waste don't even make it to landfill, but instead pollute our land and waterways.
How did we go?
Dr Ann Smith
Why did you sign up? "I am horrified by the amount of single use plastic that I end up with at the end of each week even though I already try and avoid plastic. I really want to see what is possible and I am looking forward to the challenge of working out how to get around some of the scenarios I face each week. For example, I like to buy from the bulk area in the supermarket. They provide ziplock plastic bags but I could use the paper bags from the mushroom section."
How did you go? "I ended up with a plastic bag for bagels and a plastic tray from crackers – both of which I bought before July but I have kept both to reuse them.
"Where I fell over was when I got up really early to travel to Wellington so skipped breakfast expecting to get something in the Koru Lounge and I ended up at the regional gate. The Koru Lounge there uses plastic for everything – so I ended up with the top on a coffee, a plastic knife and a little butter container, all of which would have ended up in the airport waste disposal as there were no recycling bins in the regional Koru Lounge.
"Having been caught out by that, since then while travelling I managed to get take away soup and coffee without the plastic lid. I have deliberately not bought some things that I would normally buy because the only options had single use plastic. Instead, I am going to go with my non-plastic shopping bag to a farmers market or local vendors that sell fruit and veg loose. I deliberately chose the organic milk in the cardboard container (I guess it might be plastic lined though) and eggs in cardboard containers (which get reused by my neighbour as he sells eggs into our local community)."
Why did you sign up? “Plastic packaging that is just designed to go to waste drives me crazy, but it can be really hard to avoid. I’m hoping this challenge will get me thinking about more solutions and hopefully build a few new habits. For me, food packaging will be the hardest, especially meat and dairy products.”
How did you go? “The challenge has been a mixed bag for me. I think what I’ve noticed most is just how cheap and easy plastic is – in many cases it requires extra effort or time to avoid plastic, which is a bit strange when you think about everything that goes into a piece of plastic packaging. You’d think it should be precious, not disposable!
"My bulk bin store is a great option for pantry staples as I can just fill my storage jars and bags directly, and I have a stash of small cloth bags for produce. And it was a great excuse to make my own tortillas for dinner one night. On the downside, I’ve identified a need to invest in a good alternative for clingfilm and I’ll be looking into purchasing or making some beeswax cloth wraps.
"Of the main single-use items in the challenge (coffee cups, straws, bags, water bottles) I only ended up with some bags, all of which are stashed away and I’m trying to figure out something useful to do with them. I wasn’t really able to avoid a lot of food packaging. I’m going to try and figure out a way going forward to minimise more of the food packaging, which for me will mostly involve new habits and plans, so hopefully there can be continual improvement. I did well with personal products though – I already use solid shampoo bars without plastic packaging, and my other products either come in glass or in containers I can repurpose for other uses. I’m planning to sign up with TerraCycle for dental product packaging. I’m also inspired to write to my favourite companies and ask them if they have any suggestions or plans to help me use less plastic in packaging."
Why did you sign up? “Plastic Fantastic?! Not when it ends up polluting our oceans and harming our marine life. I’m participating in Plastic Free July to really focus on my reliance on plastic. I think my hardest challenge will be avoiding plastic packaging around meat products.”
How did you go? “Well plastic really is everywhere when you start looking for it. Once I realised how ubiquitous it was, I aimed to reduce rather than altogether eliminate. I bought less meat, which immediately meant less plastic and remembered to take my canvas shopping bags. Thankfully, I discovered my local supermarket is participating in the soft plastics recycling scheme. So any that I can’t avoid currently I’m saving up and taking back to the store.
"Another small win this week for refusing plastic – homemade bread! Ok, so it only happens once a week. But it is fresh, tastes better and I know exactly what’s gone into it. In other areas, I’m still yet to find an alternative to plastic in the meat section.”
"In general, it certainly wasn’t plastic-free but was plastic-less July. I’m lucky that some local supermarkets and stores are now participating in soft-plastic recycling so I gathered up all plastics I couldn’t avoid, to try and quantify how much I accumulated even whilst trying to reduce. In total, I collected about a full shopping bag a week easily – yikes! What I managed to avoid was the use of 'new' plastic at home – my clingwrap didn’t make it out of the drawer once. But I did have to invest in a few more reusable plastic containers. What made me happy was the number of family and friends who have been interested and asked about the challenge and will hopefully change their own habits too."
Why did you sign up? “I’m always looking to avoid unnecessary “stuff”, and plastic packaging is an obvious area to of my lifestyle to look at. Meat and milk packaging is what stands out to me as my hardest thing to avoid. I just saw the tip on lining your rubbish bin with newspaper rather than plastic bags – I will be giving that a go for sure”
How did you go? “Most of my plastic collected so far has been bags and containers that I have reused a couple of times for storing/freezing leftover meals and food, so I'm feeling good about that – they then get a bit crusty so I toss them out after that. I had a big challenge with my daughter's birthday party and waste to be collected from presents and party material.
"I’ve concluded that unless I travel all over the place to access places like Bin Inn, I have to accept that we’ll be getting at least some food in plastic. Because from a pragmatic / practical angle, all my food shopping gets done at the local New World. No point travelling around the city just to chase down special items.
"But, in general for any purchases, not just food, I’ve concluded the best way to minimise my plastic footprint is to simply not buy “stuff” in the first place unless it’s really really needed. Purchase with Purpose I say, and maximise time spent on experiences rather than stuff.
"I’m also going to be giving some homemade cloth bags (upcycled from from scraps of cloth of course) to friends and family because I was surprised to see how many of my friends and family still using plastic shopping bags."
How did you go? "I’ve now got a cupboard with extra plastic containers for food storage; the rest go in a big bag waiting for that momentous day when all councils will take 5+ plastics. Stock feed bags (moosli) when purchased are used to collect macadamia nuts; until they break which they haven’t yet; and can be used repeatedly until the sun rots them at the seams!
"I bought veges without putting in separate plastic bags – all went into one plastic bag or direct to cloth bag. Sealed plastic food items were difficult to avoid – but going to the deli for slices of ham is ok – but still get them in plastic bag only (less volume); paper packaging in supermarkets should be reintroduced."