Plastic Free July 2020 looks very different to previous years. With the pandemic, most countries have some form of lockdown or social distancing. There are restrictions on using your own coffee cups and containers at refill stations. Loose produce and bulk items are often unavailable. Eating in cafes and restaurants with reusable crockery and cutlery is limited. Medical waste and PPE, though necessary, are heavily used single use plastic.
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Sustainability is about resilience and using what you have. This plastic free July (and every day!), I encourage you to look for the best options in your situation. Living zero waste and plastic free is a privilege most people don’t have. People around the globe live below the poverty line where living plastic free is not a priority, many communities are food deserts, and millions are struggling with the pandemic in terms of health, finances, and other personal circumstances.
I am not going to put people down if they are not able to reduce their plastic waste. There’s a lot going on and we are all just trying to stay afloat. That said, I thought I’d create this post as a resource on ways you can reduce your plastic waste (if you are able). See also Zero Waste and Plastic Free Living- Part 1 and Low Waste during a Lockdown.
Reusable face mask
There is a lot of conflicting information about wearing face coverings. If you are in a country where a mask is required or encouraged, opt for a reusable/washable mask. Lots of stores carry them, including independent businesses on Etsy, and if you have spare fabric and can sew, make your own. There’s nothing wrong with using a medical mask if it’s your only option, or if you need to do so, but if you have the choice, switching to a fabric face mask or using a scarf is a plastic free alternative.
This isn’t for everyone, but I’ve been making one sourdough loaf a week using Bernerd, my sourdough starter, and flour purchased in paper or at a refill shop. This saves us buying one commercial bread loaf in plastic each week. I’ll talk about my sourdough in a future post!
Reuse and Recycle Plastic Bags
If it is safe/hygienic to do so, try using your bread bags and Ziploc bags a few times (washing between use). I find plastic bags can go in the freezer a few times before I need to bin them. I don’t think the recycling bins for soft plastics are currently available at supermarkets in the UK, so we just keep a stash of bags and will recycle them when possible.
Stop Chewing Gum
I love gum, but it isn’t healthy, and has plastic in it which never breaks down and contaminates the environment.
Buy in Bulk
Continue to support your local zero waste shops if they’re open, and use the bulk refill where possible. Our local zero waste shop is called Wast0, and we also use the Waitrose refill section. Moreover, buy in bulk in terms of looking for the largest packaged quantities that you can afford. Buying larger amounts is often more economical and reduces packaging. For example, try to buy packaged whole foods like a bag of dry beans that makes 10 servings, rather than a single serving package of prepared beans.
Store in Glass
I opt to buy products in glass when possible and then I reuse those jars for storing bulk food, making salad dressing, catching rain water, and storing DIY cosmetics (see DIY Zero Waste Toiletries). You can also freeze in glass so long as you wait for the food to get to room temperature and leave space at the top for expansion.
Glitter and Balloons
Glitter is tiny bits of plastic… so is confetti. Balloons pollute the oceans and choke wildlife. Please find a better way to celebrate.
Consider whether you need to wear disposable gloves when grocery shopping. I’ve heard the argument that if you put gloves on, touch the cart, touch the food and surfaces with your gloves on, then throw out your gloves and put your groceries away at home, it is the same as using your hands. Any germs that were on the gloves make it on to your food. You are better off washing your hands frequently, and washing your produce, in my opinion.
Look for large bottles of hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial soap instead of mini bottles. You can refill your travel-size containers. You can also make your own hand gel using high % alcohol, and consider using anti-bacterial spray with cloth wipes at home instead of disposable wipes. If you do use wet wipes, do not flush them down the toilet.
Unless you are specifically using only anti-bacterial soap, bar soap works just as well as normal hand soap and saves on a load of plastic.
Dispose of your PPE safely!
Littered plastic masks and gloves are harmful to our health and the environment.
I’ve seen so many disappointing news stories about heaps of garbage polluting beaches and public spaces, including used nappies and toilet paper. In Oxford, a cow died from eating garbage that people had left behind. If you are going outside, please be responsible at take your rubbish home with you.
Make your own popsicles
Ice lollies and ice cream bars come with a lot of packaging, so why not try making your own!
Minimal Plastic Gardening
Buying seeds and growing them in recycled pots, toilet rolls, and empty yogurt pots and milk containers has less plastic waste than buying all your seedlings at the garden centre. If you do buy plants in pots, be sure to reuse the pots! I’ve also had success using empty compost bags as containers for potatoes (with holes for drainage).
Some plastic free swaps you can continue to do despite COVID-19:
- Reusable water bottle
- Reusable shopping bags
- Beeswax wraps for home use
- Microfibre catcher for the laundry (see Cora Ball Review)
- Buy food in glass, aluminum, or cardboard
- Reusable period products
- Cloth nappies (diapers)
- Prepare meals at home from scratch
- Learn about plastic pollution (check out Sustainability and Environmental Documentaries)
- Minimize your consumerism and support ethical brands!
For more information, check out some of my previous posts on plastic free living: