9 June 2016

Busting the myths of plastic free living

Plastic Free July kicks off in 22 days. Even with this being my fourth year participating, I still get excited when it rolls around. The challenge is reaching more people each year. Last year 36,000 people joined! Individuals, schools and business are participating from all over the world. As a result, more people are making the decision to take the plastic free challenge well beyond July, adopting it as a full time lifestyle. Along with the increase of individuals and families joining the plastic free movement, some popular myths have emerged too. It’s time to bust them.  

Busting the myths of plastic free living
Photo by Anthony Strong
Myth # 1 – Hoarding your plastic waste in a glass jar

I keep my waste in a jar, because it is a fun tool that I take along to talks with schools kids, community groups and businesses. It’s a visual example that allows me to show how waste can be reduced if we all started thinking differently. It is not a prerequisite for a plastic free lifestyle. 

My husband lives plastic free and does not keep his rubbish in a jar. Keeping a jar of plastic waste (the stuff that cannot be reused or recycled) will not make you more or less successful at living plastic free. However, it is a good way to understand what waste is being produced. If you want to do this, then consider using an old box, plastic container or bag. Plastic Free July encourage the use of a dilemma bag, essentially the same as keeping plastic waste in a jar.


Myth # 2 – Emptying the house of plastic

There is no rule anywhere declaring the removal for each piece of plastic from the home. My washing baskets are made of plastic. I still use old plastic food containers to collect my food. I have jars of pens made of plastic. Even this keyboard is plastic. The train I catch is mostly plastic.

I focus on not buying NEW plastic. It’s about rallying against the misuse of the wasteful plastics made. Resources went into making the plastic I already had. Keeping and using the plastic puts value onto a material that is often seen as replaceable.

Busting the myths of plastic free living
Photo by Anthony Strong

Myth # 3 - Cook everything from scratch and become a DIY master

For a time, I believed being plastic free equaled DIY master extraordinaire plus being able to cook everything from scratch. Making everything yourself, is not a requirement of the plastic free lifestyle. Usually, it is born out of the necessity for a particular food or product holds for each person. A lot of the items I used to make from scratch are not made at all anymore, because over time I deemed certain things unnecessary for me and my life. Questioning what is necessary kinda happens naturally.

For instance, I buy my hummus from a deli. I used to make it from scratch, and then I reassessed how much time I was spending on making it vs getting it ready made from a deli, using my own container. I could not find tomato sauce anywhere in bulk. I made my own for a while but then quickly realised I did not enjoy making it enough to keep doing it constantly. I like tomato sauce, but it’s not a necessity for me. However, I love making pasta and my toothpaste. I originally went down this path because I saw other people doing it. It’s that old Keeping up with the Joneses mentality. Thankfully with some practice, I’ve managed to shake it off.

Depending on what is available, some items might need to be made, like cleaning products or making something like hummus or tomato sauce if it’s something you need. Mascara and lipstick can be bought ready made in reusable or compostable packaging too. I have a post about this coming up soon.


Myth # 4 – Too expensive

When I completed my first Plastic Free July, I did not buy anything to complete that challenge. In fact, it was not until after my second year of living plastic free that I started to invest in reusable goods outside of what I already had. These have been handy, but are not absolutely needed.

I sell kits on my blog and have made a listicle of items that would be helpful, simply because I want to be of service. These are more for the people who don’t have time to make their own bags or cutlery wraps or can’t find second hand items. None of them are necessary. And if you can, find items that are second hand first.

The premise of Plastic Free July is to avoid NEW single use plastic. As I said before there is no rule that you are required to remove all plastic from your life. Truthfully, I still use plastic containers from that first Plastic Free July to collect food. Use up your old plastic, just try not to buy new.

Below are simple hacks to reduce plastic without forking out any money.

Reusable shopping bags
If you don’t have a stock of reusable bags gathered from various stores over the years, ask friends and family if they have any to spare. Another way is to use a pillow case.
Money spent = 0.

Water bottles
Work in an office like I do? I use a glass. Out and about, try reusing an old glass bottle or pop into a café. Another is to ask friends and family if they have any reusable bottles lying around their home. Clams exchanged = 0.

Take away coffee/tea/hot chocolate cups and take away food containers
Try this revolutionary idea, sit in. Relax, let someone else do the dishes. I’m very passionate about sitting in. We are worth taking 10-30mins out of our day to sit down and relax. Or, grab some of your plastic or glass containers that are sitting in your cupboards and take these with you. See if the local restaurant/cafe will fill it for you. Call ahead, have a chat about your desire to use your own containers. I keep a three year old take away container at my desk, only using on days I did not bring my lunch.
Coins = 0.

Take away cutlery and straws
Plastic takeaway cutlery is an easy swap. No doubt there is a a knife, fork, spoon and even chop sticks sitting in a draws at home. Grab a cloth napkin, roll cutlery into the napkin and put a rubber band around it. A pencil case works well too. Straws are not necessary. Drink will taste perfectly fine without a straw. Trust me.
Moolah = 0.

Another is the beeswax wraps. They are super handy but not a necessity. I love using tea towels, plates on top of bowels and containers I already have to store my leftovers.

This lifestyle does not have to be expensive at all. It's up to the individual to make that choice.


Myth # 5 – One person’s actions won’t make a difference

OUR actions, big or small, always make a difference, because simply every action, has a reaction. As Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.” 

Replying with the phrase “I don’t need a plastic bag, I have my own, I’m trying to reduce my plastic” has the potential to impact many. Saying no to a plastic bag, plastic straw, plastic bottle, will keep one plastic bag, one plastic straw and one plastic bottle out of landfill. That one less bit of plastic has been kept out of the environment for the next generation to deal with. Declining the plastic bag, straw or bottle, sends a message to others. 

The clerk at the store and a person standing in the checkout line, could hear the declaration and think about their plastic footprint. It’s a ripple effect. Moving away from single use plastic impacts generations of life. So while you might not see an immediate difference, the kids of today will in their futures. 


What other myths need to be busted? If you are looking at moving towards reducing your plastic, what about the lifestyle holds you back? 


Plastic Free July aims to raise awareness of the amount of single-use disposable plastic in our lives and challenges people to do something about it. You can sign up for a day, a week or the whole month and try to refuse ALL single-use plastic or try the TOP 4: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws.


  1. I love this! It's so refreshing to hear that someone else thinks having to make everything yourself or being a DIY-er isn't a requirement! Or that your house has to look like it's straight out of a hippie magazine or an antique store to qualify as a zero waste home! I would much rather buy my makeup from someone else who's made it in a natural, zero waste way, or use what I already have around the house (even if it's made of plastic), rather than buy new.

    I'm new to zero waste, and didn't know about Plastic Free July either, so thank you!

    Nikita
    https://plantsnotplastic.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks for your words of encouragement :) You should definitely get onto Plastic Free July.

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  2. Erin, this is such an important post! I think people like to come up with all sorts of creative excuses to not live more plastic-free. I'm not sure why this is, but my best guess is that living plastic-free and getting creative with alternatives just takes a tad more effort; let's face it: single-use plastics are all about convenience. I think it is hard for people to accept their environmental responsibility, so they end up being ignorant about it - makes it easier, right?

    I think you have touched on some very important points here; points that we seem to debate over and over again with a skeptical non-zw-er. I think your #5 is huge. I spent a long time with my students discussing how one person's actions CAN make a difference, and that even if we start with one voice, the point is is that we are starting somewhere and you are making a choice to change something.

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    1. Thanks so much. Coming to the realisation my voice and actions are so powerful was the last roadblock for me on my journey. Plastic might be marketed as convenient, but alot of people loose out as a result of our choices.

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  3. I've been trying to be green and sustainable for years, but I have only recently come across the zero waste concept. I am very glad I did! I have set myself a zero waste challenge in June and it has really made me think of all the unnecessary waste we produce as a family. I have also discovered bulk buying options, which are in reasonable distance from me.
    The biggest problem I have faced is soft fruit. I don't seem to be able to buy strawberries, raspberries or blueberries without a plastic punnet. At least it's possible to buy them in a recyclable plastic punnet, without the non-recyclable film... We don't buy strawberries out of season, so we always look forward to summer!
    If I took part in plastic free July I think my husband would divorce me for missing the entire soft fruit season... I couldn't blame him!
    I will continue with my zero waste efforts, but strawberries will remain my Achilles heel, at least for now...

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    Replies
    1. It can be hard to go without something you love. If you wanted your fruit without the plastic, are their options to go to a berry farm and pick your own?

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