Plastic Free July is an annual global movement that encourages people to cut out or reduce the plastic they use for the entire month. Launched in 2011, it grows bigger every year with an estimated 250 million people taking part in 2019.
Thanks in large part to David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet, the world is finally waking up to the horrors of plastic. The manmade material stays on Earth without biodegrading, gets stuck in animals’ stomachs and pollutes our rivers and oceans. Despite most households using plastic recycling bins, less than 10 per cent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. Even then, it can only be recycled nine times before becoming waste.
Scientists estimate that if we don’t change our ways, by 2050 there could be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the sea.
By inspiring people to refuse plastic and make small lifestyle changes, the Plastic Free July campaign shows how we can all help to reduce the devastating impact of plastic on our planet.
Change is happening, with the plastic-free movement now gaining traction from large businesses. Last year UK supermarkets pledged to go plastic-free by the end of 2023 and more than 40 major businesses committed to cutting all single-use plastics from their packaging as part of the UK Plastics Pact, which is aiming for a circular economy. The 5p plastic bag levy has also seen the use of disposable bags fall by 90 per cent.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that some commitments to tackle plastic waste – such as the UK ban on plastic straws – have had to be delayed. The use of disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and a resurgence of single-use plastic cups and cutlery has also added to the plastic problem.
It makes this Plastic Free July more important than ever, as we try to get back on track with cutting plastic consumption. To help you succeed, here are our top tips for living a plastic-free life.
1. Buy a reusable coffee cup
Disposable coffee cups cannot generally be recycled. Though largely made from cardboard, they are lined with plastic polyethylene (which is very difficult to recycle) to make them waterproof, which means they in large part end up as waste.
With many cafés including Costa and Starbucks offering discounts for customers who bring in reusable cups, make sure you invest in one before you return to work post-lockdown and you’ll save some pennies too. The rCUP leakproof travel cup is made from old paper coffee cups (giving it good circular economy credentials), while the rustic-looking Global WAKEcup bamboo coffee mug has a convenient handle to keep it from burning your hands.
2. Choose loose fruit and veg
Many supermarkets including Waitrose and Morrisons have introduced plastic-free fruit and vegetable aisles. Morrisons estimates that its new ‘buy bagless’ fruit and veg shelves would save an estimated three tonnes of plastic a week, equating to 156 tonnes a year.
Asda also as a ‘wonky veg’ box where you can buy less-than-perfect looking veg (that still tastes the same) without packaging and at a cheaper price. If you really want to keep your fruit and veg in separate bags, invest in some reusable ones from a sustainable brand such as Earthwise Girls or the Ethical Superstore.
The ‘plastic-free challenge’: living without single-use plastic for one week
3. Get your milk delivered
Having milk delivered isn’t just better for the environment with no plastic waste, it’s a whole lot more convenient for you too. Select how regularly you’d like it to arrive and your milkman will deliver before you’ve woken up, so you’ll never have to go without your morning coffee. Milk & More also offers other plastic-free goods such as yoghurts, cereals, cheeses and tissues, and glass-bottled juices so you can get more of your shopping ticked off in one delivery.
4. Invest in canvas shopping bags
The 10 leading supermarkets in the UK produce a shocking 1.2 billion single-use plastic product bags every year. While the convenience of paying an extra 5p to get your goods home might be persuasive, if you keep a reusable tote bag (or several) in your car you’ll always be prepared. Invest in a bag that’s strong enough to be reused time after time and you’ll save money too. You could try the machine-washable Baggu Reusable Nylon Shopping Bag or make a style statement with the London cotton shopper bag from Accessorize.
5. Use ‘Zero Waste’ stores
Zero Waste stores are popping up around the country and are a great way to cut out plastic. Take your own glass containers and fill up on pasta, cereals, nuts and beans as well as cleaning products (find your local store here). Choose a glass jar like this Kilner one, which will last forever and hold a lot of produce.
6. Go for eco-friendly loo roll
Toilet paper from the supermarket comes in shrink-wrapped plastic, which cannot be recycled. Try an eco-friendly loo roll brands such as Who Gives A Crap, which works on a subscription basis. Its loo rolls are made from natural and sustainable bamboo and comes wrapped in a brightly coloured paper packaging. The company also donates 50 per cent of its profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
7. Think about the plastic you can’t see
Be mindful of products that contain plastic you can’t see. You’d be forgiven for thinking tea bags are made up of just paper and tea leaves, but most are sealed with polypropylene plastic. Researchers have even suggested that micro and nanoplastics could be being released into your cuppa when it’s brewing.
Many tea brands also use plastic packaging. Try an eco-friendly one such as Tea Pigs, which carries the ‘plastic free trust mark’, meaning you can trust it to be sustainable. The clear airtight inner packaging bags are made of a renewable wood pulp, ‘natureflex’. Once you’ve finished with it, you can place it in your compost bin to decompose.
8. Buy refillable beauty products
With 120 billion units of plastic produced globally by the cosmetics and beauty industry alone every year, switching to a sustainable option really does make a difference. There are plenty of innovative British brands – including Suneeta London, All Good Things and Angel Face Mineral Cosmetics – proving that it is possible to make high quality, eco-friendly products with zero waste.
Refillable cosmetics: top 5 zero waste beauty brands