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Plastic Free July in review, what we learnt

Plastic Free July
A month long challenge where you attempt to rid your life of single-use plastic. Once you realise how happy it makes you it should continue forever more! Goodbye plastic! Hello sustainable happiness

Over the past month millions of people across the world took up the challenge of Plastic Free July. The aim is to simply cut out single use plastics for the month but in reality how easy is it?

Last year I sloppily attempted Plastic Free July but this year I took the go hard or go home approach and it was definitely harder than I thought it would be. If you did Plastic Free July too then brace yourself because you’re about to re-live it all over again!

During the first week I started on a high with great aspirations of all the new recipes I would try and how I could start some life long habits. By the middle of the week my aspirations had been lowered and I came to realise three things: it wasn’t going to be easy, I would need to source new shops with loose produce, and it would cost me more than my usual weekly shop.

Throughout the four week challenge, challenge being the key word, I learned the following:

1. Preparation is key

Thinking of popping to the shops at lunchtime for a plastic free lunch or snack? Think again. Chances are you won’t find much in your local supermarket not wrapped in plastic so don’t get caught out! It’s all about being on your meal prep A game.

Meal prep, although time consuming on a Sunday evening, makes your life a lot easier and quicker in the long run. Either cook up a small batch of food on Sunday evening and then one mid-week or do a big batch cook on Sunday evening with various dishes and freeze them for throughout the coming week/s. Meal prep often prevents food wastage and more often than not saves you money. 

Bulk buy loose produce

2. Bulk buy loose produce

Without loose produce shops your plastic free July is virtually impossible especially when buying carbohydrates and grains. Source your local bulk food store and check online what produce they sell, we used this website to find our closest bulk shops which was really handy.
Try and limit your shop to a once or twice a month as it will make your life easier and going around pay day will make your shop seem more affordable! While shops like these are generally more expensive the produce is usually better quality and often organic.

Travel cutlery

3. Tactically pack your bag

Make sure your everyday bag has all of your reusables packed away because you never know when you’re going to be caught short. Reusable necessities can include but not limited to: water bottle, reusable coffee cup, shopping bag, food containers, cutlery and a straw.
On one of the really hot days I forgot my lunch and couldn’t face a can of hot soup so I improvised. I took my glass tupperware and travel cutlery to the local food market and got it filled up without so much as a bat of the eyelid.

4. Remember why you chose to take the challenge.

On one day I walked around my local supermarket and I looked at all the shelves and trollies surrounding me and thought why am I doing this when most people don’t even care?

Needless to say that throughout the month it was great to have some motivation and I found mine through the BBC series The War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita. The series showed a very realistic depiction of the plastic crisis. The series is really motivational if you’re on a plastic free journey as makes you reflect upon the reasons why you’re doing it.

The biggest challenges for me:

  • Now I love a G&T and up to this point I had, I’m ashamed to admit, been buying plastic bottles of tonic. Even though I’ve made so many everyday swaps this just wasn’t one that occurred to me was switchable because I hadn’t really been aware of cans.
  • Plant based milk comes in mixed plastic cartons and this was a one or the main problems for me in July. Although half way through the month I trialled making both almond and oat milk and they worked out really well. One thing to consider is that homemade milk doesn’t last as long as the carton version, although it’s probably better for you with less preservatives and nasties, but this is a problem for me as I don’t drink much milk. In the end I resorted to making small and more frequent batches and buying cartons when I couldn’t find the time.
  • Bottles of squash are a necessity for me and the only time you’d ever catch me drinking water is at the gym. After a lot of persistence this month I’ve quit buying plastic bottles of squash and instead have been drinking water with mint leaves.
  • Baking is one of my favourite hobbies and it has been somewhat impossible to bake this month. Most vegan recipes call for oil instead of butter but I’m yet to find a bulk shop that does sunflower oil loose. This was one obstacle that I couldn’t quite get around but will look into in the coming month.

While the Plastic Free July journey wasn’t the easiest challenge I’ve undertaken it was probably one of the most worthwhile. The month has made me reflect upon my plastic usage and realise what products I use that I can easily sub out for a non-plastic alternative.

Initially shopping in bulk stores did seem like an expensive habit but it’s much the same as everything, make sure you shop around. One thing I did really enjoy was the challenge of trying new dinners without buying plastic and this is something I will try to do as much as possible.

While it may take months to phase out my existing household plastics and find new more sustainable alternatives, this month has taught me that it’s definitely worth the time and effort!

Lauren works for a public health charity, is our resident vegetarian (11years!) and volunteers for an animal charity in her spare time. Her favourite eco product is the Face Halo.

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