People around the world want to use less plastic, and are mindful of the effects plastic can have on the environment and our health. Taking the Plastic-free July’ Challenge is one way that everyone around the world can do something locally to clean up oceans and use less plastic worldwide. (Please see Plastic: The Ocean’s Deadliest Predator to learn more about the issue of plastic in our oceans.)
Why Do We Have So Much Plastic?
I work in the small local government waste education program in Perth, Western Australia called Earth Carers. After a tour of a curbside recycling facility we started to think a lot about plastic. The sheer volume of what we consumed was overwhelming as was the energy involved in the sorting, transport and reprocessing of our recyclables. In an instant our attitudes towards recycling went from a feel-good moment to questioning why we have all this stuff in the first place and what we could have done to avoid it.
The Plastic-Free July Challenge
So Plastic-Free July was a challenge born in 2011 with a simple aim: to encourage people to raise awareness of how much single-use disposable plastic packaging there is in our lives and to challenge people to reduce it. People could sign up for a day, a week or the whole month and around 40 households decided to join us.
This grew to about 800 people in 2012, not only from Perth but throughout Australia and overseas. When a Facebook page was created for people to share ideas, recipes and ask questions, it started to become a global community working together to figure out how to live plastic-free – we certainly don’t know all the answers.
Plastic-Free July is Going Global
This year we developed a dedicated website: www.plasticfreejuly.org. We found we had so many resources from our Facebook followers and our own experiences from the past couple of years, that our Earth Carer pages just weren’t enough to encompass the breadth of the campaign.
We’ve worked hard during the past few months connecting with like-minded organizations through Facebook, Twitter, blogs (including WeHateToWaste.com) and being extremely active online. We’ve found that the posts which have been most successful have been real life, everyday photos of our own kitchens and lives, showing how we live without single-use plastic. When people actually see how to store food in a fridge without using cling-film plastic or plastic bags, or lining a bin with newspaper, they get it! Simple is best.
As I write, we now have over 3,500 people signed up for Plastic-Free July from all around the world, from New Zealand to Turkey, Michigan to Egypt. Every continent is represented. Every state in Australia, from big cities to remote townships, have participants. And the numbers are growing daily.
How to Take the Plastic-Free July Challenge
Individually, there are wonderful examples of people going plastic-free and promoting it to their community creatively, such as Merren from A Year Without Buying Plastic, making a costume to show how much plastic a family of four uses on average for the annual chilly mid-winter swim festivities in Raglan, New Zealand.
- The Whaingaroa Environment Centre in Raglan, New Zealand is promoting the challenge to local businesses and the community (including holding a weekly ‘Plastics Anonymous’ support meeting for participants at the local pub).
- In the USA the online store ‘My Baby First’ is using paper bags rather than plastic for customer purchases.
- A local activist has started Plastic Free Moncton in Canada.
- Vancouver Aquarium staff have pledged to use reusable cups and limit purchases containing disposable plastic.
- The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River (south-western Australia) has pledged for all its staff to participate in Plastic-Free July and to assist any community group willing to host plastic-free events.
- A number of schools in Australia have taken up the challenge. In Perth, Moerlina School has had students learning how to make bin liners out of newspaper pages and students have drawn up a list of products to avoid such as dishwasher tablets individually wrapped in plastic in a cardboard box.
Get Started Today
We hope you’ll join up today and take up the Plastic-Free July Challenge.
Thanks for spreading the word about this wonderful initiative Gabrielle! It’s great to hear about all of the new approaches businesses and consumers are taking to go plastic-free this month.
I also recommend taking this opportunity to get rid of all of the plastic we have lying around by re-purposing it or recycling it. Even as someone who avoids plastic containers and bags, I still end up with many of them and refuse to throw them away (a bit like a hoarder, I’ll admit). A plastic-free July could mean starting from scratch with no plastic. Bringing single-use plastic bags to places like Whole Foods or Food Emporium where they can be recycled, finding other uses for to-go containers, and finding places that will take unique plastics for recycling, just to name a few.
Best of luck to everyone participating in the challenge!
Hi – I’m always looking for ways to use less plastic so thank you for the ideas. Plastic-Free July – a great initiative! Since it’s July, I’ll address outdoor parties and avoiding single-use dishes, utensils and cups. At my house, we use inexpensive stainless steel utensils rather than plastic for picnics and cookouts. To supplement the assortment of leftover/free utensils we have from various sources, I just bought some at Walmart for only $0.25 each – and thankfully they came with very little packaging. Thrift stores and garages sales may also be a good source. Also, we use non-disposable cups and dishes almost every time. Washing items is a small price to pay for reducing eternal waste in landfills or oceans! For rare disposable needs, we opt for paper cups if available in good sizes, otherwise we get recyclable cups, and the amount of packaging is also considered. By the way, many plastic cups are recyclable, yet they get thrown in the trash. Paper plates – not the best but at least they eventually breakdown. Plastic plates – never, and no styrofoam of any kind.
Added benefits – it’s much nicer to eat with ‘regular’ dishes and utensils than disposable ones, plus it saves money and shopping time.
Luckily my town has a very robust recycling program, so virtually all plastic we use gets recycled, reused or repurposed. Side note – recently, I saw a brand of disposable plastic-ish utensils labeled as ‘eco-friendly’, claiming to be compostable, until I read the small print. It seems the ‘greenest’ disposable utensils are those made from bamboo.
I love both of these comments (as well as the post). Put them both together, and you’ve got gone plastic-free (put whatever plastic you have to the best use possible because you’ve moved it on to recycling, etc.), and now you don’t have a choice but to use stainless steel, etc utensils.
On a related note, I’ve always believed that the greener alternative was the better alternative. Just think how much NICER it is to eat with a stainless steel fork and knife!
I have struggled to limit my plastic use as well. It just seems unavoidable most of the time! When my family goes on picnics we do use plastic utensils and cups, but we buy heavy-duty ones that will withstand the dishwasher and frequent use. We try to be able to reuse as much as we can-from picnic supplies to using plastic grocery bags to line our trashcans (you gotta use them for something). But my family and I are always looking for new ways to cut down on our use use of plastics.
Hooray for PLASTIC FREE JULY and a big round of applause for everyone who is joining in and, of course, the wonderful people organising it. I have been living plastic free for a while now – once you get organised, it really isn’t that hard and there are lots of other benefits. You find yourself eating less rubbish,prepacked food and unseasonal food. You can learn how to make lovely and cream creams and face packs. You don’t tend to visit the supermarket as often. There are a of plastic free alternatives listed on my blog that you might find useful. http://www.plasticisrubbish.wordpress.com
Unfortunately I just found out about this, but what a great initiative. I think I will try a plastic free month on my own just to see if I can do it. I already am good with the top 4 challenges (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles and coffee cup lids) but I’m horrible with plastic packaging. I might have to change some of my consuming habits, particularly with grocery shopping but it will be interesting for me to be a bit more conscious about my use of plastic. I remember being impressed and amused while reading “No impact man”, and it did provide some excellent ideas to limit our environmental impact.
To educate people about plastic bags I like to post the following link:
It’s a really well done and funny mockumentary about the journey of the plastic bag and it’s narrated by Jeremy Irons, whose accent adds to the drama and captivates your attention. Never gets old.
This looks like a good way to celebrate plastic waste reduction!