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.
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.
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?