Plastic Free July starts on Saturday and I’ve starting organising things so we’re ready to take part in the challenge. The idea of the challenge is to refuse single use plastic for the month and set goals to either:
- avoid single-use plastic packaging
- refuse the top four: bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups
- go completely plastic-free.
This will be the third time we’ve done the challenge and I’m glad it’s coming up as we’ve had a lot of plastic sneak back into the house. If you start looking into plastic it’s a pretty dreadful environmental problem. It’s causing a great deal of harm in the oceans and will never go away. It’s also an endocrine disruptor and bad for your health. Our goal is to take more responsibility for our plastic consumption and reduce our use of single use packaging.
So here’s my top ten tips for getting the family ready for the challenge.
1. Find plastic free food
The biggest use of single use plastics in our house is from the packaging on our food. Have an explore and go to food shops in your area and see what they have in bulk. Take notes about what’s available and their prices. Often the bulk is cheaper but sometimes the prices can vary a lot between stores. For example, the exact same item was $9 a kilo at my local Foodland and was $24 at Goodies and Grains.
Take note which shops stock favourite items of family members or items they consider as essential – eg only one place sold bulk cornflakes. Make a game of it with the kids and see if they can find plastic free food. Find a good place to get your local fruit and vegetables as this will be the bulk of your shopping. The Adelaide Central Markets are a bit of a one stop plastic free shopping spot to go if there aren’t many options close by.
2. Find ways to bring the food home
So now you’ve found your bulk food supplies you’ll need to get it home somehow. Get plenty of cloths bags to use in place of those thin plastic bags and packaging. These can be made, bought or repurposed. Save old bottles to bring home things like oil, vinegar and tamari. Some bulk places will sell you new bottles to refill and reuse. Bottles can also be bought at kitchen stores and places preserving items are sold. Wide mouth flip top jars are good for things like meat and cheese. Just make sure they tare the jar before weighing your items.
When you get home you’ll need to store the food in something. Save jars large and small for storing your food. I found gumtree and op shops were good for getting fowlers jars. These jars are really useful and used to be part of every home many years ago. Lids and seals for the fowlers jars can be bought at mitre 10. They can also be used for preserving.
The main thing is you don’t need to spend a fortune to get organised with containers. Reuse and repurpose what you can. One thing the family have made clear is that they need things labeled so they know what’s in the jars. I just use a bit of masking tape, stick it on the jar and write on that. To keep your vegetables fresh in the fridge put them in the crisper part of the fridge, get a pillow case, wet it then wring it out so it’s damp and lay it over the top of your vegetables. Keep it damp and replace it at least once a week.
3. Plan a plastic free menu
This is simultaneously the easiest and hardest part of the whole month. It’s easy because you have to work with what you can get and usually what’s in season so the menu is almost planned for you. The hard bit is making sure everyone knows what they can eat. On our first plastic free July I got a phone call from home saying they they were facing plastic free induced starvation because they had no idea what to eat. It only took me a minute to explain what was for planned for dinner and what snacks were in the house. They were then able to get dinner started. Unfortunately there are some things that you’ll just have to give up finding plastic free in the shops like potato chips, corn chips and berries.
4. Pack plastic free lunches
Packing a plastic free lunch also needs a bit of preparation. As an adult it’s fine to take a jar with soup and your own bowl and spoon to reheat at work but for kids they don’t have that option. The focus of this prep is for kids lunches. Purchase a small food thermos for each of your kids so that they can take a warm meal of left overs or soup to school. Pack a fork or spoon in their lunch box.
Pack your own water. There’s really no need to buy bottled water, even less need to buy water imported from overseas. When your children’s plastic drink bottle dies, which it will, replace it with a stainless steel drink bottle. Kleen canteen has a good range and sell a plastic free lid made of bamboo, steel and silicone. I’d personally stay away from the aluminium drink bottles.
Pack a tiffin. Get some two or three tiered tiffins. If your child gets three breaks in the day get a three tiered tiffin. One level for each meal break -eg fruit time, recess, lunch. Stainless steel tiffins are a great investment, they will last forever and can be used to transport food when you have to bring a plate to share or are going on a picnic somewhere.
Pack using a cloth napkin. These can be used to wrap sandwiches, cake, biscuits and any other dry food instead of using plastic wrap. I use the Japanese Furoshiki way of wrapping which is simple and effective. There are lots of products available, to wrap sandwiches etc, I used a fair few but I’ve found napkins go the distance and are easy to keep clean and double up as you guessed it – a napkin.
Again keep your eye out at op shops, I’ve picked up a thermos, stainless steel drink bottle and napkins from op shops. I don’t recommend packing glass drink bottles or glass jars in your kids lunch boxes – they’ll break and the school won’t be happy. For the grown ups, when your plastic containers die replace them with a good quality stainless steel lunch container. BYO cutlery and say no to straws. Take your own keep cup when you buy a coffee on the run.
5. Slow the flow of plastic in the bathroom
If you are looking for some quick wins then this is your room. No need to get anything, just swap to plastic free alternatives as things run out. Check online for more plastic free alternatives and ideas when things run out. Here are some of the main things you might run out of during the month.
Soap – get rid of the pump pack. Since when did soap need to be pumped out of a plastic bottle? Swap it out for unwrapped bar soap, this can be easily bought.
Toilet paper – most brands are wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately I found out that the Safe brand that I thought was wrapped in paper has a sneaky layer of plastic under the paper. The only brand I’m aware of that’s plastic free and easy to get is ‘Who gives a crap’. We get it in bulk in a box delivered to our house.
Tooth brushes – there are a few brands of bamboo tooth brushes around. We get ours in bulk from Environmental Toothbrush, again delivered to our door.
Shampoo and conditioner – there are lots of blog posts around on diy shampoos and conditioners. I haven’t tried any of them. Shampoo bars are available and look much like a soap bar. The Honey Shoppe and Soapbox at the central markets sell bulk shampoo and conditioner so you can refill your old bottles. Take small jars and trial a few first to see what works best with your hair before filling up a big bottle. You can reuse an old shampoo and conditioner bottle.
Tampons and pads – Without getting up close and personal menstrual cups are a far superior experience than tampons. There are also plenty of tutorials around on making your own reusable pads. These can also be bought online at places like etsy.
6. Make your own cleaning supplies
Bicarb and white vinegar will become your new best friend. You don’t need all the cleaning products on the market. They’re expensive and full of toxins. If you do want to buy some they can be refilled at a bulk shop. Here are some of the main things that might run out during the month.
All purpose cleaning spray – can be made by reusing an old spray bottle and half filling it with vinegar and the other half water. Add half a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil.
Bathroom cleaning spray – can be made by tightly packing orange rinds in with white vinegar for 2 weeks and then decanting into a spray bottle without the rinds.
Use a cotton face washer to wipe up spills and to use as a cleaning cloth.
Glass cleaner – spray with vinegar and wipe off with scrunched up newspaper to stop streaks on the glass.
7. Ditch the synthetic clothes
If you need to replace any clothes during the month replace with 100% natural fibres like wool, cotton, linen or hemp. Plastic microfibres get washed out with each rinse and end up in the oceans and in the bellies of fish and then in your belly if you eat fish.
8. Ditch the plastic toys
You could be doing really well during Plastic free July and all of a sudden someone will give your child a plastic toy. Even worse the kids will pester you for some plastic widget that all the other kids seem to have – think fidget spinner. It’s really surprising how these things weave themselves into the house. It takes active and sustained vigilance to stem the flow of plastic toys.
If people want to buy a gift for your child suggest things like books, Waldorf/Steiner style handmade toys, or an experience – eg trip to zoo, cinema ticket. Some kids ask people to donate items to a charity thats important to them. Older kids might ask for money. When your kids ask for plastic toys it’s a good way of having the conversation about plastic. When people offer you or your kids plastic toys as freebees politely say ‘no thank you’.
9. Go for cloth nappies
If your kids are young enough to be in nappies there are a few plastic free options available and I’ve tried them all. Mine are well and truly out of nappies so there may be some other alternatives out there now. Different things will work better at different times. Choose what works for you:
- cloth nappies – a good option, cheap to set up, dries quickly but not so good if you have to rely on tank water in a drought to wash them
- designer cloth nappies – fitted nappies that you don’t need to fold, look good but take longer to dry and can be expensive to get set up
- elimination communication – when done well its a great way of toilet training babies, saves on nappies and boosts confidence of the child.
Rather than using polyester wipes to clean your babies bum use cloth wipes. These can be bought at baby stores but I’ve found that target and Kmart sell them in packs for a very reasonable price. Get a small tea thermos and fill with hot water. When you need to clean the baby use the hot water to damp the cloth. This makes for easy cleaning.
10. Start small
Start small, start with one thing then move onto the next – eg if you get bread in plastic get in the habit of buying loose bread from the bakery. Most bakeries will sell it in paper but you can take a pillow case or other large cloth bag to transport it. Then once you’ve incorporated it into your routine move on to the next thing.
The thing about plastic is that it almost always needs replacing, it weakens with exposure to light, breaks and can’t be repaired. When a thing need to be replaced see if something else you’ve already got can do the job. Does it actually need to be replaced? If it does opt to replace with steel, wood or glass alternatives.
Another good swap out is to grow your own herbs rather than buying them from the shops in plastic. Salad greens and other greens like silverbeet are really easy to grow at home either in the garden or in containers, they are much fresher too and don’t need to be bought in plastic. If you can grow your own berries and enjoy them when they’re fresh and in season. Visit a farm and pick your own berries and take your own container. Work out what is doable and go for it.
Read books like Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson to get more ideas about plastic free living with a family. Check out online – No need for Mars, Treading my own path, Trash is for tossers, Zero Waste Home, the rogue ginger for ideas. This is a big challenge but well worth the effort. Good luck!