Becoming a little more free

Gina Dempster
Gina Dempster
With everything that’s been going on in the world, Plastic Free July has snuck up on me this year, writes Gina Dempster.

Like most people I know who are lucky enough to have a job, work has become busier than ever in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Plastic Free July has just been a vague guilt ringing in the background, like 4am tinnitus.

But biking home in the dark this week (regretting that fixing my bike lights hasn’t made it to the top of the list either), I finally got my plastic-free mojo back.

I was talking with some of our reuse crew at Wastebusters earlier in the day about Plastic Free July and it clarified for me what it is not about. It’s not about everyone feeling guilty if we take home something in plastic. It’s not about doing it perfectly. It’s just about giving it a go.

It’s not too late to make your July a little more plastic free. PHOTO: ABBEY LEWIS
It’s not too late to make your July a little more plastic free. PHOTO: ABBEY LEWIS
Our food system relies on disposable plastics, and that makes it hard to live completely plastic free. So Plastic Free July is an opportunity to see which simple swaps we can make to reduce the single-use plastic coming into our homes.

The 2020 Colmar Brunton Better Futures report found that 69% of New Zealanders are highly concerned about the build-up of plastic in the environment. Imagine if all of us concerned people swapped just three single-use plastic items out of our lives each week for the month of July. That would be 41 million less plastic items used and thrown away. And if we keep up just one of those swaps for the next year, that would be 179 million fewer single-use plastics discarded.

A lot of us doing a couple of easy swaps is way more powerful than a few people being perfectionists.

Many of the swaps you make during Plastic Free July turn out to be improvements that stay with you for the rest of the year. Bamboo toothbrushes and waxed silk floss in a refillable glass vial (it’s so cute!) are normal in our house now, and many others. Buying milk in refillable glass bottles, and ordering dried foods in refillable jars is so easy.

So even though I’m a little late, and definitely not perfect, I’m going to celebrate Plastic Free July with three simple swaps. I’m going to try making my own oat milk again (a change that didn’t stick from previous Julys). I’ll only buy meat in my own containers (apologies to all my vegan friends) and I’m going to leave all the plastic fruit stickers at the supermarket.

It might not be the biggest plastic stream, but it’s certainly one of the most annoying when they end up scattered through my soil via the compost. And there’s something satisfying about taking a small and peaceful guerrilla action against unnecessary plastic waste.

So if you’ve ever thought about giving Plastic Free July a go, join me in being late to the party. Don’t try to be perfect. Just try.

Photo: Abbey Lewis
Photo: Abbey Lewis
Swapping out the plastic

1. Swap cling wrap for beeswax wraps or reusable containers

Long-lasting, easy to make, and quick to clean, beeswax wraps (left) are a great alternative to that cling film on your bowl of leftovers (or just use a plate, tea towel, or reusable container!) Make your own at the Waste Free Fair in Wanaka next Saturday.

2. Learn to love bulk bins (and loose tea)

Look for shops that sell food from bulk bins and allow you to use your own containers. Check The Rubbish Trip Zero Waste Shopping Guide (online) for suppliers in your area. Get your rice, pasta, beans, seeds, nuts, baking ingredients, cereals, oils, herbs, tea, coffee and much more, often at a fraction of the price.

If you love tea you should know that plastic loves to hide in tea bags. One of the best ways to avoid sipping on polypropylene (and then putting it in the soil) is to get hold of some loose leaf tea.

3. Milk & mylk

Whether you drink dairy or non-dairy milk, the issue remains: sourcing it without plastic bottles or the non-recyclableTetra-pak. Fortunately this swap is getting easier. Around the country there are now return and refill glass bottles schemes for dairy milk, check The Rubbish Trip Zero Waste Shopping Guide for your area. And making your own nut or oat milk at home is pretty quick and easy for some recipes, the only tool you need is a stick blender. Why not give it a go this July?

Other quick swaps:

Try gift-wrapping in fabric or old sewing patterns.

Decline receipts whenever possible as they’re often coated in a thin layer of plastic.

Shop at second-hand stores like Wastebusters, no new plastics!

- By Abbey Lewis




Buy milk powder. No need for plastic wrapped fruit and vegetables if using your own shopping bags. Use public transport.

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