Go Plastic Free: Find your Strength

plastics mindmap-low-res

Last year, scientists did an autopsy on a dead sperm whale that was washed ashore on the Spanish coast south of Granada.

What the scientists found inside the stomach of this whale shocked them – 18 kilograms of plastic made up of toothpaste containers, pots, rope, bags, and bottles.

It’s a no brainer that this is the freakish byproduct of our throwaway lifestyles.

Think about this for a moment – when you throw something away, where is away?

There is no away.Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.55.30 PM

“Away” is overflowing landfills, rivers and oceans. And ultimately animals’ stomachs.

Here’s the thing – plastic lasts forever and just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. The Director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, Carlos Duarte states –

“Whales, turtles and seabirds are perhaps the most visible victims of death by plastic, but this extends to most marine animals; particularly those feeding on plankton, from tiny copepods (a few mm in size) to whales. They all ingest plastic particles, often causing death. Moreover, it is not just the physical blockage of the guts by the plastics, but the load of contaminants they carry that also damage the organisms”.

And it’s not like humans are immune to plastics either. Chances are you probably have a few plastic contaminants in your body too.

As a result of these negative impacts, a growing number of people around the world are now taking a stand to eliminate single use disposable plastics from their lives.Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 2.57.34 PM

They are going beyond the simple mantra of ‘Reducing, Reusing, Recycling’ and now are refusing to consume single use disposable items (e.g. cups, cutlery, straws and bags) as part of the Plastic Free July Challenge.

Do you really need to put your bananas in a plastic bag?
Is that plastic straw that you’ll use for a few minutes really necessary?
And do you seriously need to double bag your meat?
Hang on…do you need a bag at all?

“Oh but I use the bags as bin liners” I hear people say all the time.

But people who are living plastic free have no such excuses. They are exploring alternative ways to line their bins (click here for example), amongst other plastic free ways of living.

A lot of our behaviours are unconscious and automatic, but the whole point of the Plastic Free July is to disrupt our usual habits and become more aware of our consumption patterns.

So what can you expect when you deplastify your life?

When I made the decision to give up plastic, I was surprised by how much healthier, mentally stronger and creative I became. Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 3.00.16 PM

Have you ever noticed that most processed and unhealthy food comes in plastic packaging with a whole lot of additives and preservatives thrown in?

Biscuits. Chips. Lollies. You name it. They all come wrapped in plastic. Sometimes individually wrapped in plastic and then placed in a plastic bag.

By making the decision to deplastify your life, you automatically cut out these junk foods. You tend to steer clear of fast food places too because what does your food/drink usually come in? Plastic lined containers with little plastic packaged sauces thrown in.

Don’t get me wrong, cutting plastic from your life is no walk in the park. It takes something to refuse plastic in a world obsessed with convenience and cheap products. But the skills you learn and develop by taking on this challenge can help you to be stronger and more effective in any area of your life.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 3.13.04 PMFor instance, plastic free living requires learning to cook from scratch with staple ingredients. If you don’t think you’re much of a cook, just remember that cooking is like any other skill, the more you do it the better you’ll get at it.

As part of this years Plastic Free July challenge I organised a ravioli making session with friends. Not only did we produce a delicious meal but we had a wonderful afternoon together full of laughter and fun.

I’ve noticed that Plastic Free Living has also strengthened my self control and organisation skills. You see, they say self discipline is your number 1 success strategy and it can be strengthened through resisting the temptation to give into short term rewards.

Usually when you consume products wrapped in plastic you are opting for the quick and easy option of instant gratification. To resist this temptation, requires planning and thinking ahead “How can I do this differently?” and “What do I need to learn to be able to make this?”

So every time you resist taking the easy option (i.e. single use disposable plastic items) think of it as strengthening your self control muscle.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 3.33.16 PMThe mind map above contains some ideas on how to kick the plastic habit once and for all. If you try to take on everything all at once, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Just take baby steps. Take on doing one thing and once you’ve got that sorted, take on something new.

Useful Resources

If you’re unsure about how to do something or need some inspiration, check out the resources below –

Plastic Free July website
: Contains useful resources for cutting back on plastics in a range of areas.

Bag it movie: An environmental documentary on plastic. After watching it, you’ll never think about plastic in the same way again.

My Plastic Free Life
: Beth Terry has been living plastic free for several years now and has created many informative posts on plastic free living.

At the end of the day, plastic free living requires taking a stand for the things that sustain us and are most important. Just remember, a healthy body is not possible without a healthy environment. So I invite you to deplastify your life.

23 thoughts on “Go Plastic Free: Find your Strength

  1. Fantastic post. I’m doing plastic free July too I;m finding it very challenging and stimulating. I’m sharing this post on my NZ Ecochick’s facebook page. Keep up the great work Mx

  2. Why does Google get to have plastic if I don’t? Wait! How do I get to Google without plastic?

    Why are these the comprimises we make?

  3. There are so many ways to cut down our plastic use! Check out The Soap Dispensary, who accepts Vancouver’s Seedstock Community Currency as well!

  4. Jane,
    Although I’m making large strides to de-plasticize, I have a few thoughts:
    1) Not everything clear is plastic, some of it is cellophane which is plant based (made from cottonwood trees purposely grown, farmed and harvested for “Cellophane” production) http://www.cellobags.com/Cellophane_Bags_Scoop_s/82.htm

    2) I think that poly-cotton fabric blends may, in the end, be more sustainable. I had a poly cotton fitted sheet that I bought in 1962 and used until a few years ago (almost 40 years). I have recently purchased 3 organic fitted sheets and they have ripped within 2-3 years each requiring replacement because they shredded so completely. One was Target the other two were expensive online ones. Poly cotton men shirts are probably more sustainable because of the tremendous amount of energy (electric & human) that goes into ironing a 100% cotton shirt – the cotton poly blend takes just a quick pass.

    3) There are limited milk choices in glass bottles; many of us are lactose intolerant and we have no choice but waxed cartons for LF milk, soy, almond etc. I do recycle the waxed cartons but wish they’d do away with the silly plastic pour spouts.

  5. Ann,

    Please add cows in India (and other land based stray animals) to the Whales, turtles and seabirds listed in your piece as seriously endangered beings. It is painful to hear of the agony we cause to our strays due to the plastic we throw away.

    Plastic bags which choke our storm water gutters are the routine culprits whenever we have water logging in our cities. It is a regular occurrence and the entire blame is placed on the city administration. What are we doing to help?

    Ban on plastic bags are regularly imposed, only to be overruled on the plea that the plastic bags producers and distributors are mass employers! Where do we go from here?

  6. Sorry, the comment of mine should have been addressed to Jane (and not to Ann!)

  7. I think this is an excellent idea and of course I’m very supportive of using as little plastic as possible. But two critiques of this “mind map” (1) some people with disabilities need straws to drink from anything, whether it be a glass, mug, or plastic bottle; so maybe you can say yes to reusable straws? Or saying no to unnecessary straws? and (2) you advocate using soda stream…which is problematic for being made in illegal Israeli settlements, and the fact that it still produces a lot of waste, with all those refills! See: http://www.whoprofits.org/content/production-settlements-case-sodastream

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  10. Question really. I have found that in buying meat fish etc if o bring my own container the person still needs to use a bag to pick up the item for health regs I could refuse the bag but they will throw it out so why don’t I take it wash it a reuse it . I buy bulk meat to reduce the bag use but still they want me to pre order so a bigger bag gets used . I buy chicken whole organic it is in a bag I could buy ialready cut up pieces but the bag the chicken arrived in and I usually buy still exists . I see people say all the time take your own container but no one addresses this issue . To me my rubbish or butchers rubbish . It works for deli food where they use a spoon for say salad olives. But not for meat chicken or fish ps have Minsk landfill and am trying to reduce my plastic waste. Red cycle does not like taking plastic that has had meat in it. What to do what do you do

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Yes! This is an issue I frequently faced until I cut meat out of my diet and turned to a plant-based diet 6-months ago!
      Life is so much easier doing the plastic free thing because I no longer have to deal with butchers 🙂

      I’m assuming you don’t want to cut meat out of your diet though, so you need to navigate the tricky situation of dealing with your local butcher(s) and reducing plastic carefully.

      If you live in Western Australia (where I’m based), I’ve heard from friends that there are butchers out here who understand the whole plastic free living thing and won’t use a plastic bag to pick up the meat (most butchers just aren’t there yet though).

      Buying in bulk and reusing the plastic bag is a good start. But if you want to eliminate plastic altogether, this is going to take some time and a little education. My best advice: always be polite to the butcher and explain why you’re motivated to reduce your plastic. Go in when it’s quiet and when the butcher isn’t under the pump to have this kind of conversation. A pair of tongs is a good solution.

      Don’t despair if you don’t eliminate plastic from the equation after the first conversation. Persevere!

      Goodluck 🙂


    1. Thanks for this Lisa!

      Yes, best to avoid nasty microfibres. I’ve always felt funny about jackets that are made from recycled bottles …
      Now we know the harmful impacts.


  11. Really enjoy the mindmap and how easy it lays out the whole plastic free solution. We have adopted some of the suggestions already, like making our own nutmilk and purchasing in bulk and refusing single use plastics when offered. It is a real discipline to remember to say no or choose otherwise on a daily basis with so much focus on convenience instead of environmental responsibility. Really great to share with the students to show just how achievable moving towards a plastic free life is for all of us.

  12. If you can’t buy all organic decide which items are most important to you. For produce check the Dirty Dozen list and always try to buy those organically and worry a bit less about the others. If you want to avoid GMOs choose organic for items that may be GMO, check the Non-GMO Project for more information.

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