Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Plastic Free July - the autopsy

Plastic Free July has come to an end. I didn't completely avoid single-use plastic but I made some small improvements.

"The Big Four"
It was easy to avoid plastic bottled water and plastic shopping bags, as I am already in the habit of taking my Swell bottle and cotton tote bags everywhere I go. I used my KeepCup for takeaway coffees (except for a coffee my boss bought me on her way to work one day - it came from Muzz Buzz, who irritatingly serve their coffee with a plastic lid AND a plastic straw). I had the most difficulty avoiding plastic straws and accidentally used four straws throughout the month, at restaurants. I also avoided using a plastic plate and cutlery at a work dinner, by getting the non-plastic versions out of a cupboard and washing them when I was done.

Food packaging
It is almost impossible to avoid plastic packaging at the supermarket. Plastic Free July gave me an additional excuse to buy some of my favourite local brands - Sunnydale (and yoghurt!) comes in glass bottles that the dairy collect and reuse; Two Fat Cows ice cream comes in cardboard tubs; my favourite bakery bread comes wrapped in brown paper.

Some foods appeared to be in cardboard boxes but a layer of plastic was hiding inside. A couple of times I forgot and bought bread in a plastic bag. (Oh, and while I'm confessing, at the beginning of the month, I accidentally accepted a few plastic-wrapped lollies offered to me). Overall, I didn't challenge myself too much because I didn't run out of much, I didn't buy any meat and the only groceries I bought were fresh fruit and veges (avoiding the plastic bags, boxes and trays), bread and milk. If I had run out of breakfast cereal I would have gone somewhere like Loose Produce to fill my own vessels with bulk ingredients.

I eat at cafes and restaurants frequently and although I didn't consume any single-use plastic when eating out (except the aforementioned straws), I'm sure the establishments go through a lot of it in meal preparation.

Toiletries and cosmetics
There are very few toiletries and cosmetics without plastic packaging (except paper-wrapped soap). Even eye-liner pencils have plastic lids. My Aesop products come in glass bottles but they still have plastic lids and the company does not offer refills. Some health-food and bulk-food stores sell toiletries and cleaning products in bulk and you can refill your own bottles - something to consider in future. The Plastic Free July website has suggestions for making your own. Also to consider in future - Juju.

I sometimes use single-use plastic at work. It's much better in the community than in the hospital (where infection control is a huge issue and there are many medical procedures taking place) but I still used the occasional plastic thermometer cover and a lot of alcohol hand gel (from plastic bottles). Obviously, I'm not going to reuse plastic sterile disposable equipment or stop washing my hands.

Are there worse alternatives?
I pondered this a few times during the month. I saw ice cream in styrofoam boxes, which can't be better than plastic. I bought cheese in wax - is that better? If single-use glass and aluminium are not recycled after use, are they any better than plastic? Obviously it's better to consume less packaging overall. 

My "dilemma bag"
This is all the single-use plastic I used this month. Except the bread bag, it falls into two categories: used blister packs from medications (I had three bad colds this month) and plastic wrapping from mail. I never realised how much of my mail comes wrapped in plastic, much of it unsolicited.

Lessons to take home (in a reusable bag)
1. One month isn't a long time to go without single use plastic. I think this is because I don't buy many groceries and my toiletries all last me six months or more. It would be far more difficult to do this with a large family or for a longer time period.
2. It would also be difficult if you don't have the luxury of spending $5.29 on a litre of milk or $5.70 for a loaf of bread.
3. I did not participate in any Plastic Free "communities" online or in person. I'm worried they would be full of smug rich people like me.
4. I will keep using the KeepCup and avoid takeaway coffee cups, which are usually not recyclable in addition to having plastic lids.
5. I need to get some of those medical journals and newsletters cancelled and write to the editors suggesting they switch plastic bags for paper envelopes.
6. Juju! If I get one, who would like a review?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Links

I have been thinking about what I would do with all my stuff if I moved away for a year or two. I could rent my apartment fully-furnished but what would I do with all my clothes? Books? Magazines? Liquor? Art? Fancy pieces of frippery? I would take very little away with me, which would leave the options of storing it, giving it away, loaning it out or trying to sell it. Giving it away is the most appealing option in terms of cost, time and effort. It definitely discourages me from accumulating any new "stuff". I've written a few posts on this subject before and I always go back to The Story of Stuff for inspiration (I highly recommend watching the original video if you haven't seen it before).

I come across many minimalism blogs (mostly American). People are trying to embrace a minimalist lifestyle for various reasons (financial, environmental and mental health, to name a few) across many aspects of life. Here's some recent finds on this theme:

  • Remember The New Joneses? They set up house in Melbourne's Fed Square during Buy Nothing New Month last year. For one week they had to find second-hand sources for life's necessities (and luxuries). The video explains it much better than I do.
  • Ignoring the terrible grammar, I agree with most of the points in this article from Apartment Therapy.
  • Erin from Design for Mankind questions her excessive (yet pretty normal for most women I know) wardrobe, illustrated by the beautiful sculptural fashion of Nadine Goepfert
  • Wardrobe de-cluttering guides are pretty ubiquitous but I like this practical one from econest. (And if you do decide to buy some "new" threads, she follows up with this great guide to op-shopping from former Vogue Japan editor, Peppermint Magazine contributor and "Queen of Vintage" Leeyong Soo.)
 Here's some other reads for the week. Mainly clothing-related, for some reason.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Plastic Free July

 I just discovered Plastic Free July via the Peppermint Magazine blog. And, as a joiner, I joined the challenge. It's an initiative that was started by the Western Metropolitan Regional Council (incidentally, comprised of the most elite Western suburbs councils) in Perth.

I'm sure you all know that plastic is bad news. It takes thousands of years to break down and creates havoc with the environment. I won't go into the science here but I obviously think it's worth reducing my personal plastic consumption.

Cut and pasted from the Plastic Free July website, here are "The rules":
  1. Attempt to consume no single-use plastic during July.
  2. Remember it's not going to be easy! It is a challenge, not a competition so don't worry about being perfect.
  3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep in a dilemma bag and share it with us at the end of the challenge.
  4. It's up to you regarding how long you participate. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose will still make a contribution.

I figure that it will be easy to avoid the "top four" single-use plastic items  - plastic bags, coffee lids, plastic bottles and straws. It will reinforce other habits like using tote bags for shopping, not drinking non-fair trade takeaway coffee, not buying drinks from fast food outlets, avoiding soft drinks, etc.

Avoiding other single-use plastic is much more challenging. My prescription medication comes in plastic packaging, for one thing. Many toiletries and cosmetics involve disposable plastic - I won't buy any replacements this month but I will need to think hard about non-plastic alternatives.

Looking at Step 3 of "The rules" above - I really hope that no one puts used nappies, continence pads, sanitary pads or stoma bags in a "dilemma bag". (Those who read my other blog will know that I have a healthy obsession with body fluids.)

I'll post an update later in the month.