We Did It!!! Plastic Free July Is Over.

Sorry about the illustration quality… a quick lunchtime squiggle then rendered with a very outdated Paint program! :)

Well, we made it! Today is 1st August which officially draws to a close the Ehlers household’s Plastic Free July Challenge. What an unbelievable month it has been; challenging, eye-opening, exciting, comical and – at times – infuriating! If I tried to get down everything that happened to me this month then we’d need a virtual Falcor to ride through the Never Ending Blog-Story so instead I am going to try get this down to some fairly succint (for me anyway) points. Here is my list of moments and lessons…

Wins

The health kick! Pre-July I was convinced that I only ate wholefoods. Really, there were quite a few things that were slipping through – the sort of things that had numbers in their ingredients list. I have now learnt to make so many things from scratch (I have listed and provided links for some of them below!).

Chips and Gravy (or as I like to call it Yay-vy). My work friend and I like to have chips and gravy to celebrate Friday. We get it from a small deli that is always busy and sells many deep fried food-like substances. I did not think that they would be overly supportive of my challenge but they were amazing. They even started teasing my friend about the fact that he did not bring his own container. Win. Hot saucy win.

Fails

  • Berries. I have not been able to find any breed of berry (unless you count cherries) that is not somewhat plastic wrapped. Trying to recreate some awesome childhood memories, I researched ‘pick your own’ farms but there aren’t any in Perth – boo! I even visited three seperate farmers markets and called two organic delivery services to ask if I could have my berries sans plastic and have them reuse the container. Sadly they all said they would probably just throw away the container. Yeah I’d get them plastic free but that’s hardly the point is it? My only solution here is to grow my own… which I have been wanting to do for years now anyway so I guess I should count it as a win?
  • Straws. Those sneaky buggers got me every single time! When my lust for berries became too much I would head to our pub and get myself a berry mocktail. Maybe it was karma for cheating because every time I forgot to mention “No Straws” and not one but TWO would arrive with the drink. So pointless. I have now ordered some stainless steel straws to add to my plastic free kit.
  • Rice and/or Oat Milk. See below.

Funniest

For context it is important to note that I am pregnant. So imagine the face of my coworker when he asked me what I would do for plastic free milk and I cheerfully replied;

“I am just going to make my own and drink that”

His face was the most perfect mix of shock and disgust that I am giggling while I type. I was of course referring to trying out nut milk (like this recipe here). I didn’t have success with my cashew milk but I will continue to try other recipes.

Worst

Day 3. I spoke about it in this post summing up Week 1 but to recap; the true scale of the plastic dilemma we are in hit me. Hard. Sifting through the aisles and finding perfectly good glass jars shrink-wrapped in plastic, seeing plastic straws wrapped in plastic and not being able to see one trolley (bar mine) with reusable shopping bags in it. Too much for this hormonal little beast. But my mum (counselor/hypnotherapist/all-round awesome lady) has always told me that the 3rd of anything is always the biggest hurdle. For example it is very common for smokers or dieters to relapse on the third day, week, month or year. So maybe this was just that first hurdle?

Apples belong in tummies and trees NOT plastic

Frustrating

Week 2 brought us Ehlers’s a real challenge. Hubby’s birthday meant we had to host 3 seperate dinner parties for the 3 sets of parents. First lunch, Parent “A” asked what they could bring. Feeling awkward about it anyway my hubby explained the challenge and then suggested a garden salad; knowing that was Level 1 in terms of plastic free ease. A plastic wrapped lettuce, a punnet of mushrooms, two polystyrene trays of tomatoes and mandarins all carried in a plastic bag. Jaws literally hit floor. Not one of those items needed to be in plastic… in fact they are the easiest items to get without!

“All great changes are preceded by chaos”

                                                             -Deepak Chopra

Parent “B” is equally well-intentioned and will never leave my house without lamenting that my fridge looks scarce and then proceeding to fill it with whatever goodies she can find (read; packaged nom noms). First world problems? Entirely. In no way am I anything but grateful for the fact that we have such generous, beautiful parents looking out for us! What I am frustated about is that for Parent A and B (who don’t have the word PLASTIC running through their mind 24/7 x 365) these choices were the easiest and most acceptable choices. This perceived convenience is a farce – having more rubbish in your home that has taken time and energy to create and ship is not more convenient than handling only loose produce and putting the peel in your compost. We need a massive paradigm shift!

Innovations

I have concocted and experimented and facilitated and implemented so many little innovations in my life and home that I have decided to dedicate part of my blog to it. When I get a spare minute I will be changing the menu’s and have a designated plastic category that will be chock-a-block full of resources, recipes and ideas. Here are some of the changes I have made – they won’t be the last!;

  • DIY Toothpaste – this is a winner. See the recipe here.
  • Make Your Own Cleaning Products. Good for you, good for the environment! Recipes here.
  • DIY Deodorant – easy and so much healthier than the chemical alternatives! Recipe coming very soon.
  • Lots of beauty products like this Facial Cleanser (made from cucumber!) or this simple herbal toner!
  • Get yourself a wrapping pile! I managed to wrap this present using only waste paper that I have save from previous occassions.

  • Or you can make pretty wrapping out of old magazines like this one!
  • Paleo (grain and dairy free) Pizza Crust. Recipe coming very soon.
  • We very rarely put any rubbish into our green bin now and we reuse so much more – whether it is plastic or not! We have a bucket plus a Bokashi Bin for our green waste so we can compost it and use it to enrich our soils. We have a bucket for recyclables. We have storage space for reusables. You would be amazed at the things you can make from old aluminium cans or toilet rolls. Will share the photo’s soon.

Getting a small green waste bin makes it easy to put on your kitchen bench while you cook. Just put the scraps in there and then ferry out to your compost bin! Simple.

Habits

The best new habit I have adopted is certainly “Take 3”. Readers of this blog will be aware of my long standing admiration for environmentalist Tim Silverwood (follow his blog here) and his organisation, Take 3. Quoting directly from their website

“the Take 3 message is simple: take three pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or… anywhere and you have made a difference”

Rubbish from a 30 minute beach walk. TAKE 3!!!

How simple. I always used to take whatever plastic I could hold from the beaches but not I take down a reusable bag and fill it while I walk (whether I am on the beach or not). It only takes one plastic bag to kill a dolphin so I know I am making a difference. I love this campaign by Take 3;

(Here is one my favorite posts from Tim. This post really inspired me to be a bit brave and approach people that I see doing the wrong thing. Be strong and try to educate. Some people may just be oblivious… others may just be old dogs).

Advice

Assemble a Plastic-Free Survival Kit

Make sure you always have on hand whatever plastic free alternatives you may need – a BYO coffee cup, your own knife and fork, your own food container (for chips and yay-vy), a water bottle and/or reusable bags. If you don’t want to lug them around leave the pack where you need it ie; your car or work desk.

Find Great Suppliers and Support Them.

Once you find those stores/suppliers that help you live plastic-free support them! Firstly, it makes it easier on yourself. Secondly, it sets the example of voting with your dollar. It also makes me feel like my grandma must’ve – you know, where they knew suppliers by their first names and actually conversed with them about the produce. My husband will always support our local butcher because they were so supportive of his challenge… one of them went absolutely gang-busters and threw his plastic gloves to the wind and was in there with his hands. A madman – but funny nonetheless. I will but a list up in the coming weeks of the best places to shop plastic free in WA. I will always patronize Planet Ark in Fremantle and Kakula’s  Brothers and Sisters (Perth and Freo stores, respectively). This being said while your ol faithful’s should be supported it is also vital that we…

Speak Up. 

Being interviewed for Western Earth Carers, reflecting on my journey.

I was SO inspired by the Western Earth Carers regular ‘Plastic-Free’ weekly newsletter that was circulated to keep our spirits high. Within one of those newsletters (which for the life of me I cannot find in my inbox) were stories about people who had seen unnecessary plastic being used and had written to the companies to explain why this was a problem and suggest alternative solutions.  If companies do not know there is a demand for something they will not change it so make sure you let them know. This inspired my husband to write to the brand he uses for his Ventalin (and unavoidable plastic casing). He wanted to know why it was that they cannot just provide the canister new to be inserted into the plastic shell rather than having to throw it all away each time. I will update you as soon as we hear back.

Future

Now that it is August I guess I could lock all these experiences away in a dark dark memory box and pretend it never happened but the reality is I am forever changed. I have had a plastic wake up call and I don’t want to go back now. In fact I think that a month is actually the perfect transition time. It takes a month for all your little changes to really settle into an effortless routine.

The big change I have taken from this is a serious interest in ‘growing my own’. My husband and I are planning an entire week off this month to turn our garden into an edible sanctuary. Before I was formulating so many different ideas and options for the layout that really I was just procrastinating the whole plan into oblivion. What a great kick in the butt.

SO… I’d love to hear from you. How did you go? Challenges? Best changes to your lifestyle? Let me know in the comments…

If you liked this article you may like some of my other plastic related posts…

5 Steps To Be Plastic Free

Congratulations! – you have registered yourself for the Plastic Free July challenge! Be proud of yourself for taking the leap. (If you haven’t signed up yet, that’s okay too… just click here to go to the registration page). I can guarantee you that after this challenge you will look at your buying habits very differently. Even the seasoned ethical consumer can trip up on an overzealous plastic addiction because these polymers are just so damn abundant in our society and sometimes very sneaky too! This is why it is great to be as organized as possible for the challenge. I will borrow some pretty words from a Mr Henry Hartman here;

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity”

Thanks to this amazing Western Earth Carers initiative we have all got the opportunity, now we just need to get ourselves prepared! Here are my Top 5 tips on how to get prepared;

Step 1: Audit Yourself

Monitor your plastic habits. Look at everything you consume for at least a few days but ideally try for a week. There are plenty of ways to keep track of how much plastic you are accumulating depending on how pernickety you want to be;

  1. Mark it in your diary.
  2. Keep a notebook on hand.
  3. Keep all your receipts and highlight every product that contained plastic.
  4. Collect it all. One of the rules of the challenge is to have a Dilemma Bag to store every bit of plastic you accrue. Why not have a ‘Before Bag’ and collect all the plastic you use when you aren’t being conscious about it. Then you can compare it at the end of the challenge to see how much you saved. It can be kind of like those infomercial diet adverts – except it would actually be real!

If you want to be particularly fastidious about it be sure to note down the incidental plastics too, things like drinking straws.

Step 2: Highlight Your Problem Areas, Create Solutions

After you’ve monitored your habits you will basically have your own tailored infographic detailing how much plastic infiltrates your life on a day-to-day basis. This is a great way to forecast any problem area’s and ensure that you have a contingency plan in place!

I originally listed every possible problem area I could think of within the article but it is such a heeeuuuuge topic that the post started to look like War and Peace.  So I am formulating that to be a separate article for next week. In the meantime, here are some examples of my problem areas and solutions I am thinking about employing;

Lunch on the run

I always seem to end up with a bunch of Chinese takeaway containers that once carried my salady goodness. It is all down to being rushed and disorganized!

Solution #1: Going to make up a task board at home to be more organised.

Solution #2: Will take my own container everywhere

Solution #3: Will eat at the actual café more – enjoy a good ol’ fashioned plate of salad!

Cosmetics – mascara and concealer especially.

Solution: Researching companies that do not use plastic.

Skittles

I am pregnant and slightly obsessed with these delicious little pebbles…

Solution:  BUT they have no nutritional value so I am happy to cut these out altogether.

Crackers 

Why do they come wrapped in plastic in a cardboard box?

Solution: Investigating how to make my own.

Milk

Unfortunately all rice/soy/oat milk containers come in those tetramilk packs which are lined with plastic and often have plastic lids too.

Solution: I am currently investigating how to make my own.

**Editors Note: Since last year I am now pretty professional at making my own nut milks! See how here.

Step 3: Assemble Your Plastic Free Living Kit

There are a few tools that will make living a plastic free life a hell of a lot easier. I have made the rule that if the only option is plastic I will abstain from buying it – you can draw your own line in the sand on that one – but with this kit you will rarely need to go without. One thing I do recommend is having a slightly roomier handbag, satchel, laptop bag or backpack to accommodate for the extra loot. Here is my list of must haves;

Reusable shopping bags

If you go to the E-String Bags website they have a plastic bag counter in the left navigation column. It shows the Australian and Worldwide Year To Date usage of plastic bags. Watching those numbers fly by really drives home the scale of the issue with plastic bags. I don’t think there is anything more tragic than a major problem that has such an easy solution. Either way, hopefully you already have a few of these but if not you can find them everywhere.

The Original Onya Bag

I can’t go past a WA hero Onya BagsBONUS you get to support a sustainable local business! They are convenient, colourful and made from recycled bottles. You can buy these online as well as all around the country (in cities and regional areas). See the stockists here.

Onya also have a bazillion other awesome products like a reusable food cover and FINALLY a reusable doggy poo/nappy bag.

String Bags (for fruit and veg)

Using plastic bags for vegetables is really bloody unnecessary. It is a funny one though because I bet most people don’t even realise they are doing it – I certainly didn’t. One day a friend picked me up on the fact that I was wrapping one capsicum in a bag; I was on autopilot. Since that day I just load all my lose fruit and veg into my basket but some people may find it a bit time consuming. If you are one of those people then…

  • E-string bags are perfect and they are only $3.25 each. They’re made of organic cotton and can be bunched up to be really small but are also super stretchy so can accommodate for any surprise shopping excursions too! Buy them here.

E-String Organic Cotton Bags

BYO Coffee Cups

Here’s a mindboggling thought – 500 billion disposable cups are manufactured globally every year; that’s about 75 disposable cups for every single person on the planet! There is no need. Reduce your waste by getting yourself a BYO Coffee Cup. Here are my faves;

  • Onya Bags are back to the rescue. They have a range of colours and sizes of BYO Cups (I am partial to the Olive Green one) and are all made from food safe silicone. See the range here. You can buy everything online too!
  • For international readers there are local options too! Keep Cups have offices in Australia, UK and USA and allow you to not only order online but also customize your cup size and colour into the craziest combination you can think of! Have a play and make your perfect cup here.

Needless waste.

Water Bottle

Here are some interesting stats on bottled water (care of The Gruen Transfer). “It costs more than petrol. It takes 3 bottles of water to make 1 bottle of water. Fill an empty bottle a quarter full of oil and that’s the content of petroleum used to make it. So why is it a $500 million dollar industry in Australia when we have some of the healthiest drinking water on the planet straight from our tap?” Couldn’t of said it better myself!!! Get yourself (and your family) a reusable stainless steel water bottle and take it everywhere you go. They are available at supermarkets, chemists, health-stores, kitchen stores and sports stores.

  • Again (I swear I don’t get commission – I can’t help the companies I love!) Onya have great Reusabele H2O bottles in a massive range sizes and colours. See them here.
  • If you have teenagers that are a bit finicky about their ‘dorky’ mum buying them things then SIGG (another Australian company) have bottles with all sorts of designs on them (see here). Kids will love getting involved and being able to pick out a sustainable style that suits them.
  • Envirosax (based in Queensland) have a great range to (see here). They also sell Internationally!
This is one of those images that really hit me hard. It is an amazing image by Chris Jordan and it depicts 2 million water bottles – that is the amount of water bottles that are used in USA every 5 minutes

Amount of bottles used in USA every 5 minutes. Image by Chris Jordan

(For the full Bottled Water episode of The Gruen Transfer see the link here. Very, very clever. Did you know Mount Franklin water is not from Mount Franklin? It is just filtered tap water.)

BYO Food Container 

If you know you are going somewhere that will require you getting a ‘takeaway meal’ be prepared and take your own containers. I remember chatting to Jess from Plastic Freo (amazing girl who is going plastic free for a whole year! Read more here) saying that most cafe’s or food vans or whatever were really impressed with her and were more than happy to use her container instead. It is also a great conversation starter in the food line – if you are a chatty type – and again spreads a really fantastic message.

BYO Knife and Fork 

I keep two sets of knives and forks in my bag at all times. I consider plastic cutlery one of the sneaky plastics. Sometimes you don’t even ask for them but before you know it they’re in your hand and out the door. If you don’t want to ruin your kitchen set then just pop into an opshop – they always have mismatched cutlery there which won’t set you out more than $2.

 Metal Straw – optional

While some of us are plenty accustomed to using those funny pink pillows that line our mouths to drink, some peeps are particularly partial to straws – and what’s not to love about a straw. Tubes of yum! Avoid the wasteful plastic varieties though and get your mits on metal straws like these ones from the Ash n’ Jules Eco Everyday Basics.

Step 4: Get Inspired

Aren’t we lucky that we have so many fantastic people to look up to and so many helpful resources available when it comes to fighting for our planet?

Tim Silverwood – Take 3

  • Wise Up – If you want to get a few more tips and tricks (as well as meet like-minded people) then head to any of the free Plastic Free July events that the Western Earth Carers are holding. See the event details here – there are cooking classes, movie screenings and workshops. Fun fun.
  • Tim Silverwood / Take 3 – What a hero. Tim really shows people that one person can make a massive difference. As an ocean lover he founded the  Take 3 Organisation where the message is simple – “take 3 pieces of rubbish when you leave the beach, waterway or…anywhere and you have made a difference”. Follow his facebook page for daily information and inspiration about being plastic free. Why not add the Take 3 rule to your Plastic Free July? 
  • Lisa Griffin / Plastic Free Freo – Again, one girl who made a massive difference. I was lucky enough to be spending a lot of time around Lisa when this initiative was getting off the ground. This lion haired (and hearted) maiden knew that a ban on plastic bags was a huge step towards keeping her beloved community beautiful. So she lobbied. And lobbied. And got local attention. Then national attention. Then won! Check out the Plastic Free Freo website here. Why stop at banning plastic from your life only? 
  • Beth Terry / My Plastic Free Life – The epitome of the ethical consumer. Beth saw practices and effects that she didn’t like and then voted with her dollar. If a company used plastic she would avoid it and then go one step further. She would write to the company, let them know that consumers do care enough about the environment to avoid purchasing the product and would have great success. One company changed their whole packaging from one bit of feedback. Keep that in mind throughout your challenge! (You can see Beth’s amazing story within this post or see her website here).

Step 5: Think Positive – You Are Doing Something AMAZING!

Well – you are ready to go! Before you set out on this crazy mission though make sure you remind yourself of all the fantastic benefits you get from abolishing plastic from your life. Your health, the oceans, money, time – the benefits are endless.

I think the best thing is you can wake up every morning knowing that you are consciously focused on making a difference to the planet and setting a great example for everyone around you. Remind yourself of that every time you say no to a piece of plastic. Good luck!

Leave the world a little better than you found it. 

– Baden-Powell’s Last Message (1941)