Can a month without plastic save the planet? It’s certainly not enough, but Plastic-Free July is still an opportunity to raise awareness on the issue of plastic waste and to ensure that more and more people take action against the indiscriminate use of plastic - which has now seriously endangered the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems.
Plastic-Free July is an awareness campaign, launched in 2011 by the Plastic Free Foundation, that aims to reduce the use of single-use plastics and promote a more sustainable lifestyle for (at least) a month. The initiative is a real global movement that brings millions of people closer to this issue, inviting them to reduce their impact on the environment. With 326 million participants worldwide in over 100 countries, Plastic-Free July hopes individuals continue these positive habits beyond a single month.
The goal of the campaign, of course, is to make us understand how - even with little effort - a world without plastic is achievable.
Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s, and around 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment. The report from the UN is alarming: today, we produce about 300 millions tonnes of plastic waste every year. That’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. And the majority of it is single-use plastic, that has become integral to our daily lives.
We all are aware of its horrors. That's why reducing plastic waste as much as possible throughout the entire month of July, is not only doable but also necessary. Here are 4(+1) tips to try that will help you stop using plastic.
1. Say goodbye to bottles of water
In 2019, approximately 2.8 billion liters of bottled water were consumed in the UK, and only a small percentage of those bottles were recycled. So let’s start by changing this habit.
Plastic bottles are one of the most frequently found items on beaches and in the oceans, to the point that they have become one of the most common causes of seabird death. Not buying (and throwing away) plastic bottles for your water or drinks can have a huge impact on the planet. Instead, carry with you a reusable water bottle to fill at your convenience.
2. Pay attention to what you buy (and how you do it)
You unpack your weekly shopping and are faced with a mountain of plastic packaging waste that only gets bigger as the week goes on. Sound familiar? For many households, most of the plastic waste is generated in the kitchen. Every year, between five billion and one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide. These bags, extremely common at the supermarket, have a high environmental cost and are one of the most common forms of garbage: a single plastic bag can take a thousand years to degrade.
So one of the best ways to reduce the build up of plastic is to choose supermarkets and stores where you can stock up on bulk products. Otherwise, try to shop at a supermarket with a fresh meat and fish counter (if you can) or shop at your local butcher and fishmonger. Finally, take your own reusable bags to bring food home in.
3. Change your lifestyle
Think about your daily habits: which plastic objects can you replace? Maybe you can avoid using cling film in the kitchen, replacing it with glass containers or beeswax sheets. Again, you can eliminate plastic bottles and you can also use compostable dishes rather than disposable ones; ditto for cutlery. Another suggestion is to eliminate objects such as straws, even in bars (do you really need it?) and shopping bags (just carry a tote bag with you) from your daily consumption.
Let's change some purchasing paradigms. If we manage to do that, our lifestyle will change with it.
4. Watch out your beauty products
Beauty products, hand and face cleansers and creams for our skin routine fill entire drawers in our bathrooms with plastic bottles. Being products of frequent and daily use, once emptied they are thrown away, thus increasing the amount of plastic waste.
An easy and immediate solution to start solving the problem is to prefer and use bars instead of liquid products. Today there are an infinite number of products available without containers: shampoos, hair conditioners, deodorants, moisturisers, toothpastes and even shaving creams easily find their place among solid cosmetics.
Ultimately, though, I believe the most important reason to take part in the Plastic-Free July challenge is to raise awareness of the problem itself and all its nuances. For example, I feel like these kinds of movements demonise the use of plastic, but at the same time create an unattainable vision of “zero waste” perfection. There is a hyper-focus on individual accountability, but many people, myself included, do not have the privilege of always making the plastic-free choice. And this is even more frustrating when thinking about the fact that a handful of companies, 20 to be precise, are responsible for producing over 50% of the throwaway single-use plastic that ends up as waste worldwide.
While I recognise its importance and the added value to a specific cause, maybe this movement is not the be-all and end-all. But it's still a great place to start. Besides, if we want to save the planet, the time has come for each and every one of us to take action. So might as well start by reducing the use of plastic for the month (and beyond).
Written by Miriam Tagini