In 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, along with a small local government team in Western Australia, started a grass-roots campaign to encourage people to reduce their use of single-use plastic. They challenged them to go ‘plastic free’ for a month and the Plastic Free July campaign was born. This has now grown to a global movement, with the Plastic Free Foundation being set up in 2017 to support and grow the campaign. An estimated 326 million people took part in the Plastic Free July challenge in 2020 (Source: Plastic Free Foundation Impact Report 2020). In 2021, Rebecca was awarded the WA Local Hero honour as part of the Australian of the Year Awards.
Learn more about the Plastic Free July campaign and register to take the challenge here:
- TEDx talk by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz – How a global movement started in a kitchen
- Plastic Free July website
Whilst we can recycle some forms of plastic, this is not always a viable option and much of our plastic waste ends up in landfill or as pollution in our natural environments. The impact of plastic waste is particularly evident in our oceans. The main challenge with single-use plastic is that it lasts a very long time. The infographic below shows approximately how long it takes for some common plastic items to decompose in the ocean.
It can feel overwhelming when you examine how much plastic waste a household or workplace generates, but even small changes in our habits can make a difference. Here’s some ideas to get you started on your plastic free journey:
- Refuse plastic bags. There are plenty of options for reusable shopping bags now – the trick is to remember to take them with you! These include bags to hold your fruit and vegetables and even cloth bread bags for that yummy sourdough from the local bakery.
- Take your own cup. Cafes and other takeaway restaurants may even give you a discount for not using a disposable cup.
- Use a reusable water bottle. It’s important to stay hydrated and it’s pretty easy to avoid buying bottled water.
- Get a reusable cutlery set. If you are keen on takeaways or if you take your own lunch to work, you can stop using disposable plastic cutlery by keeping a reusable set in your bag, lunchbox, car or office draw.
- Refuse plastic straws. Plastic straws are one of the most common items found during coastal clean-ups but there are many reusable options made from metal, bamboo or silicon. Some even fold or roll up into handy holders for transport.
- Stop using plastic cling film. Alternatives like beeswax wraps and silicon covers are great for keeping your lunch fresh or covering that bowl in the fridge.
- Take containers shopping. Many supermarkets will allow you to use your own containers to buy deli items and butchers may pack your meat in these too. It can’t hurt to ask!
- Shop at a bulk goods store. More stores offering bulk containers of groceries, bathroom and laundry products have started appearing around Australia. If there’s a store close to you, consider taking your own containers along and stocking up your pantry or laundry. You may also find you waste less by only buying what you will use.
- Rather than disposable plates and cutlery, try reusable items. If you don’t have enough, borrow some from family and friends. Whilst it might mean more washing up, your guests might be willing to help out.
- Another option for large gatherings would be biodegradable items made from wood, bamboo, paper or bioplastics.
- Switch to stainless steel clothes pegs. Plastic pegs degrade in the sunlight and will eventually break, contributing to your plastic waste. Stainless steel pegs will last a lot longer.
- Look for alternatives to plastic plant pots such as cardboard, coconut husk and newspaper for seedlings that will be planted in garden beds. For larger plants, ceramic and terracotta pots are a more environmentally friendly option.
- Consider switching to solid shampoo and conditioner bars rather than buying liquids in plastic bottles. If you use liquid soap or bodywash, perhaps you could try using a bar of soap instead.
- Next time you replace your toothbrush, try a bamboo one instead of a plastic one.
- Having a kid’s party? Watch this PALMS Plastic Free July video to get some ideas on how your next soiree can be plastic-free, as well as some more ideas on alternatives to single use plastic.
Whether you take the Plastic Free July challenge or are just inspired to make a few changes to reduce your plastic waste, every little step contributes to a bigger impact.
More ideas and inspiration:
- The PALMS Year 2 STEM Project contains lots of ideas for younger students to consider how we use resources and also shows how to make your own beeswax wraps.
- The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website offers more information on why plastic in the ocean is such a problem and what we can do to help.
- This WWF webpage compiles some more tips from zero waste bloggers for going plastic free.
- The Western Australian government’s Plan For Plastics demonstrates how the state government is helping reduce the amount of single-use plastic being used through legislative change.
- Find out when bans on some single-use plastics will come into effect in all Australian states or territories on the Australian Marine Conservation Society webpage