A Letter to Planet Earth from Our Plastic Free July
Dear Planet Earth,
We humans treat you like shit. We pulp your forests. We blow smoke into your atmosphere. We cut great chunks out of you. And we fill you with plastic in return. Lots and lots of plastic.
Sad, I know. But that was my catalyst to attempt Plastic Free July with my family. The concept is simple. Eliminate plastics from your purchases, including recyclables, for a month. A four-week plastic detox. All to help you out, dear Earth – even just a little bit. After all, how hard would it be?
Well, my dear blue orb, turns out it was pretty effing hard…
I consider myself a pretty woke bloke. My family has two worm farms. Our own compost. Chickens (3). And veggie patches as far as the eye can see – provided you’re short-sighted…
However, this week proved one of the hardest of my life. And I’ve lived in a desert before!
The first changes were small but significant. I’m a big lover of berries (blue/straw and rasp) but there’s no alternative to the plastic tubs they come in. Strike one – NO berries!
Bread also was a challenge – but I finally found a bakery willing to slice a fresh loaf into my waiting calico bag.
Meat proved more difficult. My suburb has no local butcher, so I was forced out-of-area. With an extra 20-minute drive, I wondered about the affect on my overall footprint – trading plastics for petrol? Plus, the butcher insisted on weighing the meat in plastic bags (which they tossed out) defeating the purpose entirely.
Meanwhile I sourced alternatives for the usual suspects – e.g. biscuits in boxes, sauce in glass bottles, cold meats fresh from the deli – even toilet paper wrapped in paper (the scary single-ply type). I replaced milk bottles with cartons – which are only served in 1L units. But at 3x the cost, my family of five were racking up a hefty grocery bill.
All done, the weekly shop cost an extra $20-$30 more than usual… and took an extra hour to do.
Phew! We’re friends, dear Earth, – but I hope you appreciate this.
Some habits are tougher to change. On the weekend, I unthinkingly grabbed a bottle of water at the cinema. My wife turned on me: “Are you even trying?” “What? Ohhh,” I exhaled as the plastic penny dropped.
I stopped to gauge our progress… Had our behaviour shifted our plastic footprint? Seemingly no. Our bag of soft plastics was just as full as the previous week. Damn!
I needed to change my behaviour to suit fresher food. Baker’s bread often turns mouldy after only 3 days. Fresh meats also spoil quicker – making me simultaneously pine for the convenience of regular packaged stuff, but also dismayed by how many preservatives they must contain. Nevertheless – a change was required. Smaller portions, bought more often.
A win! After some cajoling, my local Woolies agreed to weigh meats in my tupperware – eliminating excess plastic trays. Sweet.
Weeks Three and Four
The same attendant at Woolies was told off by her boss. He argued my packaging may be contaminated – and I might sue them if I get salmonella. Like, that’s me all over…
At Coles, on the other hand, I found a deli-man willing to take my plastic trays. Ta!
Around this time, both Coles and Woolies announced their plans to release tiny plastic carpet bombs nationwide… in the shape of Shopkins and Lion King Ooshies. Super disappointed. And hypocritical given their “green posturing” re. single use plastic bags. Of course, the bottom line is their bottom line – and sadly kids flock to these little plastic magnets.
My habits had comfortably shifted. Things were more expensive, and still more time-consuming, but I’d settled into a groove. Final measurements revealed a HUGE change: we’d eliminated around 70% of soft plastics. And our usually-overflowing plastic recycling bin was 90% empty. Boom!
A small victory for you, dear Earth!
Nevertheless I couldn’t help feeling relieved it was over.
What did I learn, my dear planet?
It IS possible to go plastic free (mostly). But it requires sustained effort. And there would still have to be a seismic shift in the food industry to eliminate plastic packaging from the purchase cycle. It’s literally EVERYWHERE. Even my ‘green’ Earth-Choice dishwashing tablets contain a plastic skin inside of the cardboard box. Some of my critical avoidances, were admittedly a case of waiting till August rolled around.
And the result of our Plastic Free July? I’ve decided to adopt some long-term changes. No more disposable snack plastic! Cardboard boxes over plastic bags. Fewer single use packages. Fresh meats over the packaged kind. And I’m generally more aware of my footprint, and the fact that recycling isn’t as effective as NOT buying plastic to begin with.
But I AM delighted to return to my comfy double-ply bog rolls!
Apologies, Planet Earth, but everyone has an Achilles Heel. Some are just in an unusual place.