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?


  1. Congratulations! Using less plastic is something I've pondered but have been quite lazy about actioning. I do use a Juju though - there's definitely a bit of learning curve with using it, and you have to get over the ick factor (and remind yourself that the interiors are equally ick really AND produce a lot of waste), but overall I think it's pretty good. It really came in handy when travelling and I think it's the best option when doing long hikes. Just stick with it if it's a bit weird at first :) There's a great LiveJournal community with heaps of reviews of different brands - let me know if it doesn't come up in your research and I'll send over a link.

  2. Hi there, I discovered your blog while hunting for ethical underwear - it's very hard to find! Well done on the plastic free challenge. I am slowly weaning my family away from plastic, one product at a time. We decided we couldn't go cold turkey all at once!
    I did use a mooncup at one time, but it was made of latex rubber, and I think I had a reaction. I might try again with the silicon version though, because it was very convenient, and wonderfully plastic-free!