Guest Contributor Emily Dowding-Smith shares with us her nearly plastic-free journey during Plastic Free July
What’s Plastic Free July all about?
Plastic Free July is nearly over and here’s my nearly “plastic free” update. My colleagues and I at the Sustainable Business Network decided to try and walk the talk this month, by participating in Plastic Free July. On the work front that is quite easy. It’s really at home where the plastic heart is for me. Rules of the game in this house were simple – avoid all plastic purchases for the month but keep any wrappers from previous purchasing decisions. It’s a little cheesy in a “hug a seal” kind of way, but my motivation for taking part is purely ocean focused. I cringe at the thought of turtles trapped in plastic in the ocean and the knowledge that fish cannot swim backwards, so once inside our plastic pollution, they’re stuck.
How are we tracking?
So far we have bought a block of cheese (which is wrapped in plastic), had a few beer bottle lids (cheeky things, they have a plastic lining!) and my disposable contact lens cases. The rest of the items that feature in our “Dilemma Box”* are hangovers from former, less thought through purchases, or gifts from people that we inherited, including our house mate’s loot. In our household we decided to include all plastic, not just the recommended single use, in order to better understand our consumer impact.
*A dilemma box is a nice way of collating those little plasticy items and reflecting on them.
Top dilemma items
- Plastic wrapping for a pack of EarthCare toilet paper, that’s a tricky one!
- Plastic around cheese – we love cheese!
- A plastic sleeve that arrived around a card someone sent us.
- A restaurant served us miso soup in takeaway cups, even though we were dining in. Damn we wish it was in bowls… So the lids made it into the dilemma box
- Beer bottle lids have plastic inside, after discovering this we switched to wine. (Not to mix up Dry July with Plastic Free July and complicate life further)
- I’m allergic to hard contact lenses, so I use disposables and those nasty little things add up my plastic impact
There is always a trade-off:
A dilemma item for us was milk bottles. We avoid Tetra Pak because this isn’t recycled in New Zealand, so plastic bottles from milk are a common item in our fridge. This month we joined a friend on her milk run. She is part of a milk collective that orders weekly and gets farm gate raw organic milk from Drury, South Auckland, in their reuseable jars. Trade off: For us this meant driving a good 15 minutes from our house to collect milk once a week. We usually don’t drive during the week so it seemed a little silly that we were suddenly driving for milk! Regardless, Plastic Free July gave us the chance to try raw, local, organic milk and avoid added permeate (watery by-product of milk processing. Some dairy companies add it into milk to dilute or substitute the protein levels throughout the year).
Sometimes plastic is useful: In healthcare products in particular, it keeps things nice and sealed.
We need to be more organised: Glass jars for storing bulk items, buying ingredients to make your own food, like muesli, bread and tortillas, requires a bit of planning ahead.
Non-plastic items are often more expensive: Glass is heavier and more expensive. Even items like soap can be more expensive when wrapped in paper. This is a generalisation but the best example is cheese – we tried to alter our cheese eating habits by purchasing cheese from our local farmers market. But that ends up being $5 per 100 grams for local, organic cheese that I was hoping to be wrapped in paper. It was sold to us in aluminium foil! Oh dear…
You find fun new alternatives to plasticy items, it just might take longer: We made our own tasty granola, discovered cardboard wrapped ice blocks for a treat. And we have also been making our own tortillas from masa flour to avoid buying packaged ones. Fresh is best, super tasty and healthy.
Some things you can easily do without: In our case, yoghurt was an easy thing to forgo this month and we haven’t really missed it. We haven’t had corn chips either and that is probably better for us!
Can you counter-plastic?
I tried to offset some of the items in my dilemma box by picking this massive lump of plastic out of Cox’s Bay at low tide. Saving the fish from entrapment and cleaning up the harbour makes me feel a little better about my dilemma box even if it’s not quite the same… but you get my drift.
It’s a wrap!
In summary, plastic is everywhere and is damn hard to completely avoid.
It’s in all my electronic devices and items around me. Even if I can’t see it the plastic poltergeist floats in behind my food and health items from the production, manufacturing, distribution through to the shop. Even if I’m not wearing or using plastic directly it would have been involved in some part of my item’s lifetime.
But among all this, as a consumer, you do have the power to cut out the final layer by making conscious decisions.
The boxes that the crates of my bulk binned food arrived in New Zealand in would have been wrapped in plastic, but at least I’m not having plastic at point of sale or risking the wrapper blowing away. This makes me feel a little better, especially as it’s those items that end up in our rivers and oceans.
The biggest thing Plastic Free July has given us is a discussion point and a way to alter some of our behaviours and check in on our habits, because everyone can improve, no matter how plastic-free their lives are.
Emily Dowding-Smith is the Transformation Leader for Restorative Food at the Sustainable Business Network. When she’s not trying to restore our food system and catalyse riparian planting on the Million Metres Streams project, she is a keen diver, bike tourer and ocean conserver recently snorkelling in the Arctic to raise awareness about sea ice melt and the impacts of climate change.