What is Plastic Free July?
How to reduce single-use plastics and move to a zero-waste lifestyle with Alicia
What is Plastic-Free July?
Plastic Free July is a fantastic movement that began in Australia by a non-profit called ‘The Plastic Free Foundation’. Its goal is to encourage people around the world to become more aware of and reduce, their single-use plastic waste so that we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and communities.
In 2018, over 120 million people from 177 countries took part, and today this number is even bigger with participants making changes outside of July and also far beyond just plastic waste reduction.
The idea of having a completely plastic-free month may sound impossible, and sadly at the moment it almost is especially with the pandemic and needing to place an even bigger priority on our health and safety than normal. So don’t be too hard on yourself, or discount Plastic Free July this year, instead of doing what you can. There are instances where it’s possible to reuse some items like masks and health experts agree that they are just as safe as single-use items.
If you’d like to join the movement you can sign up on the Plastic Free July website, where you’ll find so many awesome ideas and resources to help you reduce your plastic waste.
Why should we go plastic-free?
We’ve all heard that we should reduce our plastic usage… but what’s less talked about is why. So here’s what I’ve found out from my research.
Plastic is made from fossil fuels which means that it is a non-renewable material and as a result isn’t sustainable.
Plastic has been in our lives for a little over a century now and is very much the ‘go-to’ material for a lot of your everyday items like bags, drinks bottles, straws, packaging, etc. What’s shocking about this is that every bit of plastic that we’ve made over the past 100 years for these everyday items, is still on Earth today.
The material is not biodegradable and very little of it is recycled (only about 9% of our total plastic). Most of our plastic ends up in a landfill or being broken down by the sun creating microplastics - neither of which are beneficial to us or our environment.
The negative effects of plastic pollution and the impacts of drilling for fossil fuels to create it in the first place are the reasons why we need to reduce the use of plastic as much as possible and as soon as possible.
However, I do just want to note here that Plastic Free July is not about getting rid of all your plastic instantly - after all, if you bin usable plastic you’ll just be adding to the landfills sooner. Instead, Plastic Free July has a focus on reducing single-use plastic - anything we use once but stays on the planet forever.
Reducing single-use plastic is a vital step towards living a sustainable life and helping to protect our planet. It’s getting to the forefront of everyone’s minds which is great - for example here in Canada we can see that the Canadian Government is already rolling out bans on some single-use plastic items such as grocery bags, straws, and plastic cutlery over the coming years.
Steps like this are encouraging and are also a great reason to start changing our habits now
what is zero-waste living?
Plastic Free July encourages so many people to look at their waste and participate in plastic-free challenges throughout the month. What’s even better is the fact this movement also gets people to think about their waste on a bigger scale.
Have you ever stopped to notice how much garbage you create? Or what you’re throwing out exactly? Let’s look at how we can take Plastic Free July a step further by moving towards living a zero-waste lifestyle.
Don’t worry! As always these are steps to do in small, manageable chunks - it’s not a complete change to your life.
Starting with some definitions, we often get asked if zero waste is the same thing as plastic-free… in short, the answer is no. Being plastic-free is a small part of being zero waste, but it’s not the whole thing.
Going back to our example of not throwing out all your plastic items because it’s Plastic Free July:- if you were to do this, it would be increasing your waste - therefore not part of the zero-waste mentality at all. Instead, if you’re moving towards a zero-waste lifestyle, try keeping your plastics as long as possible and repurposing them until they’ve reached the end of their life (more tips on this later!).
why do we need zero-waste living?
A zero-waste lifestyle is the logical next step towards minimizing our ecological footprint. A zero-waste lifestyle means reducing all types of waste – including recyclables.
One of the byproducts of the Plastic Free July movement is increased recycling waste. This is to be expected as logically consumers trying to avoid plastic will opt for goods packaged in recyclable materials like cardboard. On the surface, this seems like the better option, but in practice just how much better is becoming unclear.
In recent years the effectiveness and economic viability of recycling have come into question.
More and more countries that were once accepting our waste for recycling are now refusing it because the demand for recycled materials does not match the cost of cleaning and processing it. This means that a lot of what we are putting into recycling could end up in a landfill anyway, especially if we aren’t recycling it properly.
Have you ever heard someone talk about the ‘Rs’? Recycle. Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. As recycling becomes less effective we need to shift our focus to the other Rs. To refuse, reduce and reuse are the underlying principles of a zero-waste lifestyle.
tips for starting a zero-waste lifestyle
1. Don’t Throw Plastic Away
As promised! Some tips on how to make the most of the plastic you have already. It can be tempting to rid your home of all plastics at the start of your plastic-free or zero waste journey, but this is just adding to the problem. One of the biggest issues with plastics is the effect that they can have as trash, so finding ways to reuse your plastic is key. If you don’t like the idea of using plastic containers for food, use them to organize and store other items such as stationery, tools, or hair accessories. If you can’t find another use for your plastic, sell, swap or donate them instead of throwing them.
2. Create A Zero-Waste Toolkit for Home
You’ll have noticed that a lot of the waste that we deal with on a day-to-day basis is the packaging. The family and I have started finding alternatives to packaging as a start to our zero-waste lifestyle. More and more bulk and zero-waste stores are popping up which are making it easier to shop waste-free with minimal compromise of convenience.
The list below is not exhaustive, but we’ve found it’s a good place to start for some easy wins:
- Use tote bags to replace the need for plastic bags, but if you already have plastic bags - use and reuse them until you can’t anymore!
- Lightweight produce bags for loose items such leafy greens or smaller fresh items like berries a bag or container is a good idea.
- Jars and reusable containers for purchasing bulk dry goods such as snacks, nuts, and baking supplies.
- Beeswax wraps are a good replacement for plastic cling film but putting food in a container works well too.
- Absorbent microfiber cloths to replace paper towels - you’ll find this works out cheaper overall for you too.
- Reusable pump, squeeze, and spray bottles for personal care items like soap, and home cleaning solutions. If the bottles you already have in your home are refillable, consider washing and reusing them.
Be Prepared with a Portable Zero Waste Toolkit
Fast food and take-outs are also a large source of waste. The easiest way to avoid single-use plastic and waste when you are out and about is to prepare food from home or eat at the restaurant when you can. Just be sure to look at what the food is served in – many places still serve eat-in meals with plastic cutlery, straws and disposables so maybe add that to your selection criteria when picking where to eat.
If you’re looking to take things seriously, something we have found really useful is having some zero-waste food basics to hand for example:
- Reusable coffee cup (and if you’re really good at convincing people to get on board you could suggest getting your office's kitchen filled with reusable mugs so that all of your coworkers can do the same).
- Refillable drinks bottles
- Reusable cutlery
- Metal, bamboo, or silicone drinking straws
- A reusable take-out container for leftovers.
Where to Shop Zero-Waste
produce & farmers markets
Farmers and produce markets are great places to source fresh produce – not only for zero-waste but also to support our local community and reconnect with local produce. Vendors and independent market owners are generally more open to accommodating your zero-waste requests, especially if you develop relationships with them.
If you can’t make it to specialty stores and markets, you can also find solutions at traditional grocers. Some grocers such as Whole Foods Market, Loblaws, and Save-on-Foods have a small bulk food area selling dry goods. If you do get stuck and need to buy something packaged, opt for something you can reuse (such as a glass jar) or something that can be recycled (such as aluminum, cardboard, or hard plastics).
How to Recycle in Vancouver
Despite your best efforts, it’s likely your first attempt at zero-waste will leave you with some waste. We’ve been trying for a little while now and still have waste to deal with.
Hopefully, some or all of that waste will be recyclable. As we saw earlier, recycling is far from a perfect solution, but it is still an option worth taking. Even if it is to simply encourage more mindful waste disposal.
A big issue with recycling is contamination, so if you do have items left to recycle, make sure they are accepted by your local council’s curbside recycling program and are washed and sorted accordingly. If your items aren’t accepted by curbside recycling, look for local recycling drop-off areas or depots that will accept them.
Things to Remember When Going Zero-Waste
Zero-waste and plastic-free living are still ‘alternative’, which means that finding solutions can be a challenge as we’re still in the minority of the population taking these actions. When it all feels like too much, I like to remember the following to help keep us on track.
There Will Be Surprises
Just because something is packaged in a cardboard box on the outside, doesn’t mean that there will be no plastic on the inside. This has caught me out a few times and it’s always a little disheartening. If you have a cardboard packaged item in your hand, shake it to see if you can hear the rustle of plastic inside, ask the store attendants if they know, or do a google search of the product before you buy it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
One of the most helpful things I found was to tell my friends and family about the changes I was wanting to make to our lifestyle. Many of them actually wanted to learn more themselves and now we can swap tips and keep one another on track.
Asking stores and business owners if you can bring your containers can be intimidating at first, but the worst that can happen is they say no. You’d be surprised at how accommodating and interested people are when it comes to zero-waste. You may even send them on their own plastic-free journey!
You Can Make a Difference by Voting with Your Dollars
As a consumer, your dollars make a big difference. If you have brands or products that you love to use, get in touch with them and ask them about their plans for zero-waste solutions… who knows you might spark a change in the right direction if there’s nothing in place at the moment.
How is AspenClean moving towards zero-waste?
In our household cleaning services, AspenClean uses refill and reuse practices for all our clothes and bottles. This gives our clients the option of having a clean home with reduced waste and without forfeiting any convenience.
For our products - great news for bulk option fans! We’ve introduced refillable options for our Dish Soaps and Laundry Detergents and are continuing to work on adding more products to that list. We're always interested in making our bulk products available to more people interested in all-natural and eco-friendly cleaning, so if you are interested in carrying AspenClean bulk products in your store or want your local refiller/greengrocer to carry our products, you can always reach out to us!
All AspenClean products currently use 100% recycled plastic but as always, we’re looking to do better. We have an exciting plastic-free product option coming soon… so watch this space, we’re going to be making the announcement in the coming weeks.