I signed up to Plastic-Free July on a whim.
I’d already been doing what I could to reduce my plastic consumption, so surely avoiding all single-use plastic would be easy for me, right?
Avoiding single-use plastic and going about an ordinary, everyday life is hard. Sure, the conversation about throwaway solutions has been in the media more over the last couple of years, but things haven’t changed drastically. And that means you’re going against the norm.
I found planning helped a lot—I felt prepared when I had my KeepCup, my stainless steel water bottle, and a supply of snacks in my bag. (Yes, many of my single-use plastic conundrums centred around what I could eat and drink. I live to eat, but I also have low blood pressure and lack of food makes me very dizzy.) I packed lunches. On the non-food side, I kept some canvas bags with me, and when I needed to buy a new cleanser, I made sure I got a solid one from Lush and stored it in a glass jar I already had.
But despite all the routines we create, life has a habit of sending hiccups our way. Like the day I had to spend in London for work. (Well, I say work, but we were mostly there for fun.) I knew there’d be breakfast pastries when I arrived, so I didn’t eat anything before I left, but had to cave in and eat one of my emergency snacks on the train. It wasn’t enough, so I got an apple and a croissant at the station, which were both packaging free. There was water in glass bottles available throughout the meeting, too.
I was disappointed when it came to lunch though. It was a junk food feast—burgers, fries, and pizza—and it was all served in single-use wrapping. We were given paper plates with plastic cutlery and sauce in those teeny plastic pots. I know the atmosphere was supposed to be casual, but surely they could get some colourful, reusable plates or something? Even M&S offer biodegradable bamboo cutlery these days.
It feels like for every company trying to introduce plastic alternatives, there’s another one that stubbornly carries on. It’s frustrating when you’re making an effort and they won’t meet you there.
“I wish the bigger companies took care of it all,” one of my co-workers said when we were talking about Plastic-Free July. And I agree.
We can make all the changes we want—and I’ll always be an advocate for doing what you can—but until the system changes, there’s only so much we can do. I don’t have access to a local package-free shop, so I can’t maintain a varied, healthy diet without buying some of my produce in plastic. My medication comes in plastic and is sometimes given to me in a plastic bag, because it’s delivered to the pharmacy that way.
I’m gradually phasing plastic out of my toiletries and beauty products, but there are still some things I struggle with, mostly SPF. And I can’t not wear it, because a) I get burnt quickly, b) I use salicylic acid on my face and take SSRIs, both of which increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, and c) because it’s important to protect yourself from the sun regardless.
I guess I’ve come to the conclusion I always seem to reach with ethical and sustainable living: do as much as you can. Support the companies that are trying to make a difference. Give your custom to zero waste shops in your local area, if you’re lucky enough to have them. Use what you own, instead of buying new all the time. And try not to beat yourself up, because perfection is impossible.
Companies that are doing something:
- Ananas Anam make their products out of Pinatex—a natural textile made from pineapple leaf fibre. It’s a byproduct of existing agriculture and looks very similar to leather and plastic faux-leathers, but has a much lower environmental impact.
- Buy Me Once sells products that are made to last, instead of encouraging their customers to keep shopping or pick single-use products.
- Kind Beeuty allow you to send your empty packaging back to them for free, so they can use it again.
- Leon have switched to compostable packaging and biodegradable straws and cutlery earlier this year.
- Lush will take your (clean) pots back from you and send them to their base in Dorset, where they’re used again. And again. And again. Give them five and you get a free face mask. More recently, they’ve started making package-free skincare and make-up, like this dreamy highlighter.
- MacRebur use plastics that would otherwise be sent to landfill and add them to asphalt for road construction.
Have you heard of any companies trying to reduce their plastic consumption? Share them in the comments below.
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!