5 easy ways to go plastic free at home

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 leaves a huge impact on our environment, but the good news is that positive change is easy, and it starts with you.

Just start with a few small actions to Replace the Waste and build it up from there – every small change makes a difference.

Here are 5 easy 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 it from the get-go.

Take some time to consider the items you purchase that contain plastic – whether it’s part of the actual product or just the packaging – and what a plastic-free alternative might be.

For example, you can avoid plastic cling wrap in most situations by using reusable containers or reusable coverings, like beeswax wraps and silicone lids, and plastic soft drink bottles can be avoided by buying canned drinks, or by making your own soft drinks with a SodaStream.

When you’re ordering takeaway, consider options 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 placed in the green bin, and can be recycled if they’re clean.

2. Reduce

Some plastic products are simply unavoidable, but there are ways you can reduce the amount of plastic packaging you purchase.

Buying in bulk is a great option when it comes to things like cleaning products, shampoo, conditioner and body wash. 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.

Taking the time to make a list before heading out to do your grocery shopping will make you less likely to buy things you don’t really need, and will reduce the amount of plastic waste you bring home.

3. Reuse

If you can buy something as a single-use product, chances are there’s a reusable alternative available somewhere. Here’s a rundown of single-use items you can say goodbye to.

Plastic shopping and produce bags

Ditch the plastic and opt for reusable shopping bags and produce bags. They come in all sorts of styles and materials, and can also come compact and foldable so they easily fit into handbags or even on a keyring.

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

Expanded polystyrene (aka Styrofoam)

Say goodbye to Styrofoam meat trays that can’t be recycled, and hello to supporting your local butcher or fishmonger. You can even ask them to pack your meat and fish into your reusable containers for a package-free transaction. Otherwise, look for meat packaged with a rigid plastic tray, which can be recycled.

And when it comes to produce, choose loose, seasonal fruit and veg that can be packaged in your reusable produce bags, rather than pre-packed good.

Takeaway coffee cups

Single-use plastic coffee cups are not recyclable. They’re lined with plastic and/or wax, which is very difficult to separate from the paper, and they’re also often contaminated with coffee and milk residue.

Instead of drinking from a takeaway cup, take your time to sit down and enjoy your coffee at your local café. Or if you’re on the go, bring along a reusable coffee cup – you don’t even need to purchase a special cup, just use a mug or jar from home.

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 can’t scratch that coffee itch. If you do use coffee pods, take the time to cut the pod open (check out the rePodder to make this a simple process) and empty the grounds, either into your garden or green bin, before recycling the case. Alternatively, think about investing in refillable coffee pods, or switching to 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.

Wipes and cloths

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.

For more ideas, check out Replace the Waste's library of alternative items to consider investing in.

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.

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, as can most hard plastics coded 1 to 7.

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. Head to the ARL website to learn more about the system.

To recycle things like clothes, toys, books and furniture – given they’re still in good condition – donate them to your local second-hand store and give them a second life.

And 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. Or head to your local second-hand store to see if you can find a pre-loved version of what you’re after.

5. Choose certified compostable

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

More and more compostable items are becoming available, like compostable bin liners, pet waste bags, plates and cutlery, and coffee cups.

For a product to be classified as compostable in Australia, it must meet the Australian Standard for compostability AS 4736 or AS 5810.

Products marked with AS 4736 and AS 5810 are good to go in your green organics bin, and AS 5810 products can also go in your home compost system. These are the logos to look out for:

From left to right, the AS 4736 logo and the AS 5810 logo

Be sure not to confuse compostable with biodegradable. Biodegradable products are usually still made with plastic, but the plastic break into tiny pieces, which does not return to an organic, or ‘nature identical’ material. It’s still plastic, just tiny plastic.