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Five ways to go plastic free for July – and beyond

Plastic Free July is a global movement that challenges participants to avoid using single-use plastics wherever possible, and encourages users to change their habits.

Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade, leaving a huge impact on our environment, but the good news is that positive change starts with you.

It may seem like a lot to take on, but you just need to start with a few small actions and build it up from there – every small change makes a difference.

Here are 5 ways you can rise to the challenge and go plastic free this July.

1. Avoid

The best way to reduce your plastic use is to avoid plastic products from the get-go. Here are some plastic products you can avoid and their more sustainable alternatives:

Shopping bags

Though plastic bags may seem a necessary convenience, they’re certainly not convenient when it comes to the huge environmental issues caused when they end up littered, and in our waterways and ocean.

Replace the single-use shopping bags with reusable alternatives. Reusable shopping bags come in all sorts of styles and are made from materials like jute, bamboo, cotton and PET.

You can also get compact, foldable bags that fit easily into handbags, and even some that come as a key ring – nifty!

Vin’s tip: Store your reusable bags in your car so they’re ready to go for your next visit to the shops. And if you do forget your bags, you can always ask a shop assistant for a cardboard box to store your groceries in.

Produce bags

Avoid using plastic produce bags for your fruit and veg by investing in reusable produce bags. There are so many types to choose from, or you may even consider making your own.

Vin’s tip: Be sure to keep them with your reusable shopping bags so they’re ready for the next time you head to the shops.

Polystyrene

Expanded polystyrene (aka styrofoam) is sometimes used for meat trays and fruit packaging, and cannot be recycled through kerbside recycling.

Pre-packed meat and fish

When doing your grocery shopping, look for meat packaged with a rigid plastic tray, as these can be rinsed and recycled. Or better yet, support your local butcher or fishmonger and take reusable containers for your meat and fish to be packaged in.

Pre-packaged fresh fruit and vegetables

When it comes to produce, choose loose, seasonal fruit and veg that can be packaged in your produce bags.

In general, you pay more when you buy pre-packaged fruit and veg, so by packing your own fruit up you’ll likely be saving money too – bonus!

Takeaway coffee cups

Avoid drinking from a takeaway cup and instead treat yourself to a barista-made coffee, at a table, in a warmed ceramic cup.

Contrary to what you might believe, single-use coffee cups are not recyclable through the yellow-lid recycle bin. They’re lined with plastic and/or wax, which is very difficult to separate from the paper, and they’re also contaminated with coffee and milk residue.

Plastic takeaway containers

Choose takeaway items that don’t come in a plastic container, like pizza – who doesn’t love pizza? If they’re soiled, cardboard boxes and paper wrappings can be composted, and can be recycled if they’re clean.

When you’re headed out for dinner, you could even try out taking along your own reusable containers to bring home any leftovers in.

Plastic cling wrap

Plastic cling wrap is bad for the environment and is often unnecessary. Store your leftovers in reusable containers, or invest in reusable coverings like beeswax wraps and silicone lids.

Coffee pods

Coffee pods are made from plastic and aluminium and are difficult to recycle. It’s estimated that a massive 3 million pods end up in landfill every day in Australia – that’s enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every fortnight.

But we get it. Sometimes you just need that coffee fix. So some good alternatives are to invest in refillable coffee pods, or to switch to using an espresso machine, plunger or percolator instead. There are plenty of options available in the market, from fully automated machines to more basic models, depending on your preference and budget.

Bottled soft drink

You can save on cavities as well as waste by going without bottled soft drink, but if you can’t do without your bubbly, sugary fix, consider making your own with a Sodastream, or just go for soft drinks in cans or glass bottles, which can be recycled.

Plastic bin liners

Who needs plastic bin liners when you can use newspaper instead? Check out this video to find out how.  

Alternatively, you could opt for compostable bags. Brands like Biobag or Compostapak are available in most major supermarkets.

Vin’s tip: Be sure not to confuse compostable with biodegradable. Biodegradable bags are usually still made with plastic, but just break into tiny pieces.

2. Reduce

Some plastic products are unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce the amount of plastic packaging you purchase. Here’s how:

Buy in bulk

When it comes to buying things like cleaning products, shampoo, conditioner and body wash, a great option is to buy in bulk. Have a look online for your nearest bulk store and make a visit armed with your empty bottles and containers – think pump bottles, jars and milk bottles – to refill with new products.

Make your own

Another low-waste option for cleaning products is to make your own. Try out these simple recipes that use items already likely to be in your pantry, like baking soda and vinegar. Not only will you be reducing waste, you’ll also be avoiding harmful chemicals used in cleaning products.

Plan ahead

Before you head out to do your grocery shopping, take the time to make a list of what you need. By planning ahead, you’ll be less likely to buy things you don’t really need and will reduce the amount of plastic waste you bring home.

3. Reuse

Many single-use products have a reusable alternative – think drink bottles and coffee cups. Here are a few reusable items to sustain-ify your life:

Drink bottles

Using a reusable drink bottle can save a considerable amount of plastic – and money! Australian consumers pay almost 2,000 times more for bottled water than tap water.

Coffee cups

If you can’t take your time to enjoy your coffee (or other hot drinks) at a café, or wherever you’re getting your drink from, consider investing in a reusable coffee cup.

They come in all sorts of colours and sizes and are made from a range of different materials, including ceramic, glass and stainless steel.

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, reusable cups will probably also keep your drink hotter (or cooler, if you’re into that) for longer.

You don’t even need to purchase a special cup – just use a mug or jar from home.

Vin’s tip: To find the nearest café that will welcome your reusable coffee cup, visit Plastic Free SA or Responsible Cafés.

Wipes

Choose re-usable, washable cleaning wipes instead of disposable wipes. You can even cut up old towels or clothes to use as rags around the house and in the garden.

Toys

If you have a young child, become a member of a toy library where you can borrow quality toys and books. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment and giving your little one a bit of variety at the same time.

4. Recycle

Once you’re finished with a product, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the road for it. Many products can be recycled and used to create new products, or they can even be used by someone else.

Get recycling right

It’s important to use your recycling bin properly, and to not contaminate it with non-recyclable items.

Most packaging you get from supermarket items can be recycled through your yellow bin, and most hard plastics coded 1 to 7 can be recycled in your yellow-lidded recycling bin. This excludes expanded polystyrene foam #6.

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) has been developed to help people understand recycling information, and many brands are starting to include the recycling symbols on their packaging.

Visit the ARL website for information about the system and what each of the symbols mean.

Buy recycled products

More and more products made from recycled materials are now becoming available.

When you’re in the market for something new, take some time to see if you can buy a version made from recycled materials – phone cases are a good one.

You can also encourage your local council and schools to purchase outdoor furniture and play equipment made from recycled plastic.

5. Compost

Compostable items are made from plant-based materials, such as corn-starch, and offer a great alternative to plastic.

Be sure not to confuse compostable with biodegradable. Biodegradable bags are usually still made with plastic, but just break into tiny pieces.

For a product to be classified as compostable in Australia, it must meet the Australian Standard for compostability AS-4736 and will have this symbol:

Here are some compostable items to keep an eye out for:

Compostable bin liners

Compostable bin liners are commonly used to line kitchen caddy/food scrap baskets and are available through most local councils and at some supermarkets.

Compostable pet waste bags

Your pet’s droppings are compostable, so why scoop them up in a plastic bag? Get yourself a roll of compostable poo bags and pop the whole lot into your green organics bin.

If you don’t have any bags on hand, you can also wrap the droppings in newspaper before placing it in the green bin.

Compostable plates and cutlery

Got a big bash at home coming up that you’re definitely not going to want to wash dishes for? Not a worry. There are lots of options available when it comes to compostable plates, cutlery and food containers.

These items are commonly made from bamboo, recycled paper and cornstarch, and can go straight into your green organics bin – food scraps and all!

Vin’s tip: When shopping for these items, always check for the seedling certification AS-4736 logo.

Compostable coffee cups

If a single-use coffee cup is labelled as compostable, it’s good to go in the green bin, but be wary of the lid.

Check for the seedling certification AS-4736 logo and the letters PLA to know if the lid is compostable.

Some lids – that is, those labelled with PS or PET – are plastic and need to go in the landfill (red/blue lid) bin. If the cup AND lid are 100% compostable, then the whole lot can go in the green bin.

For more environmentally friendly alternatives, visit the Replace the Waste website.

So now you know how, why not register your commitment on the Plastic Free July website?