By Christabel Watts - posted on July 30, 2019

Lessons from Plastic Free July

Our colleague Nicki has just completed her second #PlasticFreeJuly and we asked her to share some of the lessons she has learned from these challenges, here they are:

Unwrapped foods
  1. Because of the challenge, I discovered new organisations and activities that support this cause. I had weekly milk deliveries in glass bottles from Milk & More and fished plastic out of the Hamble River on a paddleboard thanks to Plastic Patrol. I even made a couple of friends along the way.
  2. Most people I’ve bumped into haven’t heard of the challenge. Their curiosity is piqued when, for example, I ask to use my own Tupperware at the market or tell a salesman I can’t purchase their product because it’s Plastic Free July. If we don’t end up having a conversation about the challenge and what it entails, there’s usually at least a glimmer of recognition that it’s a difficult task and a look of gratitude that someone is tackling the problem.
  3. I hate cooking, especially for one. Combine that with my terrible meal planning and the lack of easy access to package-free goods, it makes for far too many eggs-on-toast dinners. Recipe boxes delivered to your door sound very appealing and I’ll have to investigate if any of them are truly plastic-free yet.
  4. The lack of access to unwrapped fruit and veg has meant that I cherish everything I buy that little bit more. Practically, it’s meant that I spend more time considering what I already have in the pantry and fridge and making sure it doesn’t go to waste.
  5. Not only has my general waste drastically reduced, my recycling has also gone down. I imagine that’s because most of this month’s purchases have been free from packaging – recyclable or not.
  6. The challenge has inspired me to push my own boundaries and to do a heck of a lot of research on products that could replace my plastic habits. Am I willing to sacrifice the taste of ultra-minty toothpaste for the less potent toothpaste tablets? How long should I rummage through second-hand shops for the perfect pair of heels before giving up? What techniques are best for remembering things like asking, “No straw, please” or packing extra reusable bags/Tupperware? I’ve asked myself these types of questions over and over again throughout the challenge.
  7. Finding alternatives can be expensive. I am lucky to be in a stable financial situation and can afford to try new things that I realise may not always work out (that £10 natural deodorant and I DO NOT get along). But I’ve also discovered products that have been brilliant and, despite the upfront cost, have saved me plenty of money in the long term.
  8. When I had more time and less money, I was better at budgeting, batch cooking, freezing and finding/making recipes using only ingredients I had on hand. Now that I have less time and more money, I’m more inclined to find quick and easy solutions that, oftentimes, includes ready-made meals or tried-and-tested products. Do I hear calls for a 4-day working week?
  9. Foraging is a great date night! Not only do you get to spend time outdoors with the person you love, you get to share fresh, local, seasonal food at its peak. If you don’t know the good berries from the bad, you can find foraging groups who would be more than willing to share their knowledge with you.
  10. It’s okay to decide that you can’t part with certain plastic items (in my case that includes contact lenses and solution and a few other small items). Plastic is not intrinsically bad; it’s the way we use it – especially single use plastics, that are the problem. At its heart, the challenge is really about lots of people doing what they can to reduce their plastic use and not just one person eliminating all plastic from his/her life.

It’s been a difficult challenge but one that’s allowed me to learn a bit more about the plastic problem, many practical solutions and a whole lot about myself and my local area. Although the challenge is coming to a close, it’s not too late to get started on your plastic-free journey. We put together a list of organisations you can support and be inspired by in the fight against plastic pollution here.