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Plastic Free July? But what about the plastic in the computer you're typing on right now?
As a precocious 11 year old, I remember being absolutely outraged when they replaced my beloved glass milk bottles with plastic ones back in the 80's and have probably had a chip on my shoulder about the whole business ever since.
However, it's only been in the last few years that our community voice has become loud enough for some manufacturers and businesses to start paying attention to a collective concern that there is, in fact, too much plastic.
Being involved in discussions and forums about the challenges of reducing plastic consumption over the last little while, there are two common questions that I see repeated often, especially by those who may be only just tuning in to the idea of kicking the plastic habit;
But it's impossible to go plastic free, what about my fridge/washing machine/computer/car/kettle?
It's certainly true that we are swimming in a sea of plastic (and our actual seas are full of it as well). Plastic is an incredibly useful and versatile product and that's the reason why it's become one of the most widely used substances of our time. Lightweight, malleable, strong, durable and resistant to a range of temperatures, we use it for everything from medical equipment to telephones, car parts to spectacles.
However, we also use it for everything from banana wrapping to Christmas cracker toys and ice-cream spoons to lollipop sticks. The idea behind Plastic Free July (PFJ) is not to demonize this product as a substance that should never be used anywhere - but rather get to grips with how much of it we're consuming. Considering it is such a valuable resource, and so energy intensive to produce, doesn't it seem crazy that we so casually use and discard it in such great volume every single day?
The main culprits under attack during PFJ are the single use monsters, mostly found in the convenience quarter of our modern consumer-driven lives. Plastic bags, straws, takeaway cups and containers, disposable cutlery, drink bottles - there are a dozen or more spur of the moment uses of plastic that can see it go from our hands to the bin in under 5 minutes. PFJ is all about challenging us to identify where single use plastic is coming into our lives and to try and find alternatives - or just say no for a month and see how things go. Difficult? Absolutely. Enlightening? Very likely!
Does this mean I have to throw away all the plastic things I have and replace them with something else?
Not at all. In fact unless it's in a bad state, replacing a perfectly serviceable item with a non-plastic alternative for the sake of de-plastifying your life isn't very environmentally sound.
If something is broken or lost then that's the perfect moment to opt in to an earth friendly replacement but until that's necessary then we're not doing the Earth any favours by filling a skip with plastic just so we can upgrade to a bamboo lifestyle. Even though I try and consume as little as possible, there are still lots of plastic items in my house; things I pick up second hand, salvaged items and possessions that I bought long before the plastic issue was so widespread. So, while I think a timber handled hairbrush would be lovely, I'm not about to throw away my sturdy 15 year old plastic handled hairbrush just for the sake of it. Previous attempts to declutter my life have also left me confronted with the reality of a pile of pre-recycle logo plastics that I know will just sit in landfill for hundreds of years to come and forced me to ask myself if there aren't some alternative uses I could come up with for at least some of it.
(Bonus question) But what will I use for a bin liner?
A lot of people either buy bin liners or use old shopping bags (which is what I used to do). The thing is, this problem will mostly just sort itself out if we make the commitment to ditching the disposable plastic. Between what I compost, and what I recycle - these days I find that there's not much left for the general waste bin. Personally I just use paper or newspaper bags, although some people just ditch bags altogether and just give their bin a hose out after garbage day.
In short - although we lived without it for most of our history, plastic is, for now, pretty firmly entrenched in our modern day culture and it's almost impossible to escape it completely. It has a lot of important and essential uses, as well as a lot of superfluous and wasteful ones. However, consumer pressure can make a difference and we can definitely find ways to get by without the excess of it much more than we realise. There are more and more plastic free alternatives appearing every month as well as abundant online resources from people who have taken the plunge to live plastic free - for a month, a year, for life.
So remember, plastic is going to be with us for many years to come - but together we can lead the movement to phase out some of the more frivolous uses for this petroleum based non-renewable resource!
Some other ideas:
Is your pooch plastic free too? These corn starch bags are a great alternative to plastic poop bags
Cane baskets are making a comeback - shop like your nanna did!