Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Expecting to be able to go from using plastic to completely cutting it out of your life in one month is obviously near impossible, but I think the main point is to give it a go and do it imperfectly rather than not doing it all! So, I want to put it out there that I failed miserably at going completely plastic-free for the month of July. However, It did make me use less plastic than before and notice things I was using that were 'secret' plastics that I hadn't previously realised. So here are some of my plastic-free fails, what I've learnt along the way and why choosing to go plastic-free is a privilege.
Things I failed at while going plastic-free!
Due to COVID, I haven't been venturing outside as much as I normally would. This means I was much less likely to buy things or food while out and about, which cut down the risk of me buying anything wrapped in plastic massively! However, as lockdown started to ease and new rules with reusable containers were introduced which made avoiding plastics somewhat harder.
For instance, many coffee shops are currently not accepting reusable coffee cups in order to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID and are using plastic single-use cups when you take away and eat in (which I don't really understand as restaurants aren't making you eat off plastic plates, but I digress). Additionally, to the rejoice of many people pubs were reopened, but many are using plastic cups instead of normal glassware and aren't allowing you to reuse the plastic cup you were given. I, like many others, have gone into coffee shops and pubs since they were reopened which meant that I had to use a plastic container (straight away a fail, although I let this one slide a bit more as it was out of my control)
One thing that I'd never thought of before, which may be quite unique to me, was baking paper! I wanted to make a snack for when I was out, so I didn't end up buying something from the shops that would inevitably be wrapped in plastic. So I decided to make flapjacks... It wasn't till afterwards when I went to tidy up that I realised the baking paper was laminated in a plastic coating (again another fail). I did some research and found that there is a plastic-free alternative out there, although I'm yet to try them out myself.
Photographic evidence of my fail using conventional plastic laminated baking paper (left), but alas there are reusable and plastic-free alternatives out there (right)!
Even though, this may seem quite negative I accepted from the start that I was never going to be perfect at trying to be plastic-free and wanted to make sure that others knew that that's okay. As a lot of the time, and especially on Instagram, you are shown people doing it perfectly all the time and not the day to day mistakes people inevitably will make.
Plastic-free alternatives that work for me
Through trying to cut down on the amount of plastic I was using I quickly found out the plastic-free or reusable alternatives that I used on a regular basis. The first thing and probably most obvious it a water bottle. I've carried around a reusable water bottle for years and find I feel very lost (and dehydrated) when I don't have it with me. A new thing I used in July was reusable wax wraps as an alternative to cling film. I made them following Mimi's brilliant blog post (read it here), and honestly they cut down my plastic use massively! I use them to cover leftovers in the fridge and to the wrap smaller on-the-go snacks. Other honourable mentions are reusable bags and Tupperware, both of these are things you probably already have in the house! You don't have to always buy new things (even though there are a lot of cute and stylish versions out there), old takeaway containers or 'bags for life'/old tote bags that you probably have stored in a draw somewhere, work just as well!
Wax wraps (left), water bottles (centre) and reusable bags (right) are reusable alternatives that I reach for the most!
Don't buy every plastic-free alternative you see!
I am guilty of doing this. I see the aesthetic pictures on these plastic-free alternatives and think I must have them and then end up never using them! The best way to see what you need an alternative for is to go about your day and see what you are consistently using that has plastic in and see if you can get an alternative for it. For instance, there is no point in buying a reusable coffee cup if you never buy coffee on the go... no matter how pretty it might be! Or if you already have a plastic-free water bottle, you don't need to buy another one because you keep seeing a cuter one online - it just creates more waste and energy to make and send to you (although again I am guilty of doing this).
The privilege of choosing to go plastic-free
Going plastic-free or even trying to attempt to reduce your use of plastic can take more time, effort and money than if you didn't. For example, a lot of cheaper meals, like frozen foods, come in plastic bags. Cutting out these types of food and switching to exclusively fresh foods isn't feasible for some people. Eating fresh food every day can be much more expensive and a lot more time-consuming. Alternatively, you can buy things like rice, pasta and grains from 'refillable' shops, which cuts down plastic packaging (which are an amazing idea). However, these kinds of shops are usually more expensive than the packets you buy from supermarkets. You may think well the least people can do is buy in bulk so less plastic is used and that it works out cheaper in the long run. But, what you may not realise is many people live paycheck to paycheck and even though it would be cheaper in the long run, if you only have a small amount to last you till the end of the week or month the long run saving isn't always justifiable in the short term
DIY's are often seen as 'free' or a cheaper way to make your own plastic-free alternatives. However, they often require equipment to make (e.g. sewing machine) so aren't necessarily accessible for everyone. They also require more time than going out and purchasing items, which is something people may not have to spare.
Having access to the money and time to be able to go plastic-free is a privilege that not everyone has! It is important to remember that choosing to reuse the same thing continuously because you want to reduce your plastic waste and not having to because you can't afford to rebuy an item is also a privilege. There are a lot of people out there that judge people for the way they choose to or don't choose to reduce their plastic intake. I think it's important to understand that plastic-free looks different for each and every person.
Going plastic-free isn't something that is easy or will happen overnight. You will make mistakes and you will end up buying things with plastic in sometimes. There can be a toxic culture around these kinds of 'ways of life' that perpetuate this idea of having to do something perfectly all the time and to be all or nothing with it. But, lots of people doing it imperfectly is better than a few doing it perfectly. I think the most important thing to remember is that just because you can do something quite easily (like have spare money to buy plastic-free alternatives or have the time and money to do DIYs), doesn't mean that everyone else does and that you should realise that you have a level of privilege that others don't because of that.
P.S. If you want ideas on some great plastic-free alternatives or DIYs we have a great collection of blog posts on our 'how you can help' section - click here to have a look