The tricks I used to change my plastic habits

5 April 2016
When I made the decision to sign up for Plastic Free July in 2013, it was a challenge. Saying no to single use plastic was SO hard. The difficulty was not in the lack of options to replace my single use plastic habits. The challenge was in the changing of my habits. 

Pre 2013, I was used to never thinking about my purchases. If I was thirsty, and forgot my refillable bottle, i'd buy a plastic packaged water bottle from the store. If I was shopping for groceries, I'd use the plastic bags the store offered me. If I was wanting a snack, I'd buy one pre packaged, ready for me. No thought, only convenient consumption.

There are plenty of replacements for all these plastic items. In fact, these replacements existed well before plastic came along. My reusable water bottle, replaced my need for buying packaged plastic water bottles. I have cloth bags that now replace the plastic bags when I shop. And snacks are now collected in reusable containers or reusable cloth snack bags. The solutions are there. What I needed was a way to remember these solution.

Getting into a new habit of remembering, was the bridge I needed to cross.

According to James Clear, writer on behavioural psychology and habit formation, every habit we have follows a pattern known as the 3 R's of habit change. These are Reminder, Routine and Reward.

The reward for me was using less plastic. The tools to start the routine were readably available. It was the reminder, the first step in the pattern, that needed the most work.

Below are some of the tricks I used to change my plastic habits

Electronic reminders
Most people have smart phones these days or some kind of device that will send electronic reminders. I used my calender on my phone or my email calender, setting up events with phrases like:

“don't forget your water bottle”
“write your shopping list tonight, put bags at front door”
“put your reusable bags into your handbag”
“say no to plastic bags”
"don't get a straw in your drink at the pub tonight"
"sit in and enjoy your hot chocolate"

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits
Putting reminders into my secondhand phone. Photo by Anthony Strong.
My phone would beep throughout the day. When I received one reminder, I would put one in for the next day. The constant repetition of reminders worked well. After a month, the reminders had become so engrained that I expected them, and so I began consciously asking myself if I had my water bottle before I left the house or if I had a cloth bag with me.

Visual reminders 
I would hang my cloth bag on the front door. Did I forget from time to time? You betcha. But seeing it there and rehanging the bag each time, became a visual reminder that, like the phone reminders, I expected it to be there.

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits

The tricks I used to change my plastic habits
Photo by Anthony Strong
I also stuck notes on my handbag, the fridge and anywhere that I passed by often during the week. I even had one in my wallet.

It might be daggy or cumbersome to put notes about the house or into your phone. But it's not forever. As each day moved along, the reminders helped to action new habits, that did eventually stick to become a new normal.

How did you remember to bring your reusable bottles or bags? Is changing habits as big of a hurdle for you?
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