The End of #PlasticFreeJuly – a long, musing post.

So, July is drawing to a close and I’ve been trying my best to live without plastic packaging – how did I get on?

It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. I jumped on board with this at the very last minute with absolutely no forethought as to how I was going to talk about it all, so I’ve not done any prep whatsoever. Had I been an organised soul, I would have photographed what a week of plastic looked like pre-July so we would have a comparison.

Alas.

I do, however, have a particularly heartbreaking photo of a swan’s nest I took in Amsterdam harbour in 2012. Yikes.

Anyways, I did take pictures for each week of the challenge, so at least we could have a look at what’s there.

If you’re not interested in reading the breakdown, head straight to the conclusion.

WEEK ONE

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2 x plastic milk bottles, Sweet wrappers, 2 x ‘Rice & Grain’ sachets, Channa Masala Kit, Croissant box, Meat Tray, 2 x Mozzarella bags, A bag for bread rolls, A bag for tatties, Strawberry box, Misc. bags, Postage material.

I recycled the meat tray, strawberry box, the two milk bottles and the cardboard in the packages which were mixed materials.

WEEK TWO

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Croissant box, Meat Tray, Mozzarella bag, A bag for bread rolls, Bag from a brownie mix, Pack of sunflower seeds, Crisps, Butter pack, Bag from muesli, Antihistamine blister packs, Coffee bag,Tomato Paste cap, Top of a chocolate spread jar, Cheese packet, 3 black foam trays, Bag from a salami.

The meat tray and card from the croissant box went in the recycling bin.

WEEK THREE

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Jiffy bag, 3 x vacuum packaging, replacable dish-brush head, granola bag, almond bag, cream lid, crisp packet, 2 x croissant box, jelly baby bag, dog food sack.

I recycled the croissant boxes and will reuse the jiffy bag and dog-food sack.

I’m adding this picture, because when I take out what I can recycle/reuse, this is the volume of plastic waste for my family of 4 in week 3…

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WEEK FOUR

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Coffee bag, muesli bag, cover from a multipack of cans, cocoa powder pot, crisp bag, yeast box, 2 x mozzarella bag, cheese bag, butter pack, scotch tape pack, Costco sandwich box.

I’ll recycle the lid of the cocoa tub, the yeast box and the scotch tape holder. I’ll use the sandwich box as a propagator in the spring next year.

CONCLUSION

Even though I didn’t notice a huge difference to usual in our plastic consumption, this was an incredibly interesting exercise. Having the weekly picture and analysing each one really made me focus on the areas I haven’t managed to reduce our consumption of waste in – animal products being the obvious one. Were plastic my only focus, I could change this easily by buying from the deli counter at Morrisons and bringing my own tubs, but outwith July, I do try and think of fuel consumption too. I’m not sure how to balance this one long term, but hopefully a solution will become evident.

The other big area in which I noticed waste was surrounding convenience – trays from lunch out, the sachets from our camping food…. All things designed to be grabbed and consumed with minimal thought and effort. Coincidentally, mid way through the month, Surfers Against Sewage posted the following infographic on Twitter :

It’s really interesting to note that with the exception of Tesco, all of these are convenience brands – things that are designed to be ‘grab and go’. There are three ‘stimulant’ brands – Red Bull, Lucozade and Costa Coffee – designed to keep your fuelled for longer. I can’t help but feel as though if we all slowed down – rested instead of caffeinated – we’d make less mess.

And I know that slowing down isn’t always an option in a world full of such sweeping inequality. There are hundreds of posts I could write on the subject, but in short, a lot of people actually aren’t paid enough to slow down and many of us have been conned into thinking we aren’t paid enough to slow down – trapped in debt we’ve used to pay for things we don’t need. In addition, a 2018 study found that women have an average of 5 hours less leisure time a week than men. Until we address these inequalities which are eating into our time, convenience – perceived or real – is always going to sell.

So what’s the answer? The single most effective thing we can all do is ‘buy less’. It sounds easy, but in a society where even the bus stops are designed to tempt you into wanting something you don’t already have, it can be harder than you’d think. It’s especially hard in a country where poverty is increasingly viewed as a moral failing.

Those of us with the luxury of a disposable income need to stop over-consuming because it widens the class divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – it fuels the desire for debt and the idea that happiness can be purchased. We need to start by being honest with ourselves about the difference between want and need, then we have to act accordingly. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to cancel junk mail (I talk about that here), unsubscribe from all promotional emails (if a shop’s worth going back to, I’ll remember it), and install an Adblocker on my internet browser (I use this one).  It means that I have to actively search out things I’d like to buy, rather than succumb to outside influences. Adding the layer of Plastic Free July and Buying Nothing New has really helped to focus that effort too.

I can only speak for myself – in this as in all things – but I would love to hear your take. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? Will you be continuing with any of the swaps you’ve made?

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