A Month Without Plastic

Around 100 years ago the first plastics were produced. This miraculous new material transformed millions of lives. It was cheap, sterile, easy to mass produce and highly durable. By the 1940s mass plastic production was in full swing and a whole host of incredible new products, from fridges to syringes to tights, were suddenly made possible.

Most of us have never known life without plastic. The food we buy, the clothes we wear, the toiletries we use, the cars we drive, all contain or are wrapped in this so called ‘wonder product’. But is a product that’s so durable really that wonderful? If my waste plastic is going to take the next 500-1000 years to break down, should I be thinking more carefully about how much I consume and where I dispose of it?

My personal love affair with single use plastic stopped rather abruptly after reading a few online articles. Honestly, I had never really thought about where the plastic I consume goes after I throw it away, it just sort of goes, right? Not my problem. It became my problem when I realised the extent of the issue.

There are currently about 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, being eaten by small fish and plankton and gradually working their way up the food chain. That's more than 500 times the number of stars in our Galaxy. Many of these ocean plastics aren't so small; the great pacific garbage patch is essentially a floating island of waste created by ocean currents. It's twice the size of Texas! The plastics we consume are winding up here through badly managed coastal landfill sites, via the rivers that run through our cities and through the waste we flush down the toilet. It doesn't really just go away.

So I took a leap and decided to hop on board ‘Plastic Free July’. As you might imagine, this entailed stopping the use of all single-use plastic for a month. I figured that if I told enough people what I was doing then there’d be no backing out - even when I was craving that delicious plastic wrapped multigrain bar.

I'm not going to pretend that living without plastic has been easy, it's not. For a start it is far more time consuming and requires a lot more planning than my previous shopping habits. Grabbing whatever ingredients inspire me at the supermarket on my way home or leaving my shopping til the last minute is no longer an option. It's also more expensive. Shopping at markets and health food shops invariably means that food and household basics cost more. It frustrates and upsets me that this makes plastic free living exclusive to those that can afford it. I’ve also realised that if you want to diet, going plastic free is probably your best option. Snacks, unhealthy food - the stuff you crave when you've had a bad day - all come wrapped in plastic. Sorry.

Having said all that, I have genuinely enjoyed this month and developed patterns and habits that I fully intend to keep up after July. There are many things about the plastic free life that I prefer to the polymer alternative. I love ordering milk from my local milkman. It arrives on my doorstep in beautiful little glass bottles and leaving them out to be refilled still gives me the same excitement as hanging your stocking up on Christmas Eve (it's the little things). I also really rate buying shampoo in bar form (I get mine from LUSH). It lasts longer and gives you a better wash - why did I not hear about this stuff sooner? My sister bought me a safety razor for my birthday this year. It gives a really good shave and means I will never spend another penny on overpriced disposables, just replacement blades which are cheap and come wrapped in paper. Sanitary waste makes up a huge proportion of the plastics that eventually make their way into the ocean. For the last few years I have been using a menstrual cup which I fully recommend and will rave about to anyone who asks but if that’s not something you're up for then why not try one of the many companies that produce plastic free tampons and pads such as TOTM or Natracare?

Overall I have found going plastic free less challenging than I had anticipated. It has taught me to slow down and consider each purchase more carefully, support local businesses rather than big chains and become more in touch with where the food I buy and the products I use come from. With careful planning and a gradual reshaping of daily rhythms I think that a reduced plastic life is something that everyone can achieve and reap the benefits of.

It’s time to end our love affair with plastic.