Plastic Free July is the perfect opportunity to find permanent, reusable alternatives to the disposable plastic items that have taken over our lives.

Whether you are doing this as part of your own #ChooseToRefuse challenge, to save money in the long term or because you want to stop doing damage to the environment, here are great alternatives to eleven problem products:

 

If you are in Cape Town and would like to learn more about conservation of the animals affected by plastic, consider an Ocean Experience at the Two Oceans Aquarium - a great opportunity for you and your family to meet our conservation team, engage directly with sea turtles that have been affected and contribute to our conservation fund.

Learn more about the Ocean Experience

Coffee Cups

Each year more than 100 billion single-use cups are disposed of globally. Not only do the plastic lids of these cups add to the problem, but the 'paper' cups themselves are often lined with plastic.

Opt for a reusable cup - many outlets will offer you a discounted rate if you bring your own mug (and you get the added perk of being able to use your own mug in the office during flu season).

Our staff love their own 100% biodegradable Ecoffee Cups and sustainable glass and cork KeepCup travel mugs. There are plenty of high-quality glass, porcelain and aluminium mugs and flasks available from most travel stores - there's no need to rely on single-use junk.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 1: When choosing a reusable mug, skip the cheap plastic ones that will leak and wind up in the trash anyway. It is "ok" for your mug to have a plastic lid or seal, as long as it is good quality and will give you lots of use.

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Shopping bags

South Africa alone uses 8 billion bags a year. Virtually none of these are recycled! Rethink the Bag: Get yourself reusable shopping bags (and save yourself a bit of money in the process).

Every major shopping chain offers reusable bags as an option and we particularly love those made from recycled materials. Other amazing locally made bags that we love are those on offer in the town of Greyton, and the lovely bags made by Uzwelo which are beautiful, made from recycled fabric and empower women!

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 2: Buy a few extra reusable shopping bags and use them to organise loose items stored in the boot of your car - that way you'll always have a few handy for an unexpected shopping trip!

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Plastic drinking straws

It's no secret that we think straws suck! The USA alone uses half a billion straws a day, and many of these end up in the oceans - killing our precious marine life. There are now plenty of reusable options, with glass, stainless steel, bamboo and reed straws being the most popular. Business Insider recently reviewed these types of straws and noted the pros and cons of each type.

We've mentioned our favourite straws before - locally manufactured borosilicate glass. These straws don't affect taste, don't conduct heat to or from your drink and are transparent so you can see if they are clean. Stream Straws is a popular Cape Town brand that we've reviewed before, and they've been joined by other local offerings from Restraw, Glass Sipper and Skunk Glass.

 

For those of you looking for a cheaper or more durable option, try metallic straws from Foreva Straw (definitely the most beautiful straws on this list), EbonyMoon and Smart Sip. Bamboo and reed straws are available from EcoPlanet and We Care Collective.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 3: Carry-pouches for reusable straws make amazing gifts!

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Water bottles

With world-class tap water, there is no need to buy bottled water in SA and contribute to the more than 100 million bottles consumed every day. Considering that South Africa is a water-stressed nation, three litres wasted for every one litre bottled is not a fact we are comfortable with. 

Our re-usable bottle pick is Consol Glass's Grip & Go range. Glass products are the ultimate environmentally friendly option: 100% recyclable, chemically inert and infinitely reusable. The Grip & Go is strong and comfortable enough for everyday use.

Other great options (which also make great gifts) are the Earth Warrior stainless steel and cork bottle (part of the proceeds from this bottle support The Beach Co-op), glass KURO-Bō bottles with natural charcoal filters and carbon-neutral bottles from FLOW.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 4: Sometimes buying a bottle is just unavoidable - if you do, try to only buy clear PET bottles as they are the most readily recyclable. Alternatively, you can turn that occassional cheat-bottle into an ecobrick and help build a local community project.

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Produce bags

The WWF recommends buying your fruit and vegetables loose, rather than getting them pre-packaged. These cheap plastic bags break down into microplastics quickly and are never recycled.

Not only can you save money and have the opportunity to select the perfect specimen, but you can skip the nasty plastic packaging and use your own sustainable tote bags. There are several great options including FreshBags, Spaza Produce Bags, Eco Gemgem, Nature & Me and Tiptoe Totes. Alternatively, you can easily make your own totes from any light fabric (eg. An old t-shirt) or simply pack your produce in an old cardboard box.

For small items like rice, pasta, chickpeas, nuts, etc. You can often dispense these into a jar you bring from home (just ask the shop assistant to zero the scale for your jar before filling it). Shop Zero and Nude Foods in Cape Town offer a wide range of produce like this - even exotic grains which you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 5: Pack your empty produce bags and a few reusable shopping bags together in a single reusable bag - you'll always be ready for your next shopping trip!

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Disposable cutlery

Every year 40 billion single-use plastic utensils are produced and consumed. They are not recycled.

There are many options - simply keeping metal utensils in your office or briefcase for lunch instead of taking disposable ones helps immensely. Hosting an event? Why not try eco-friendly bamboo disposable cutlery, like those sold by That Little Shop.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 6: Time to learn to use chopsticks! A nice stainless steal pair is cheap, eco-friendly, easy to clean (a quick wipe with a serviette gets most food off) and can be easily carried - they fit side by side with your reusable drinking straw.

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Toothbrushes

Unless you use the same toothbrush year after year, you've probably disposed of quite a few during your life. None of the parts of your toothbrush are biodegradable - not the plastic handle, rubber grip, PET packaging or the nylon bristles. The USA alone tosses out a billion toothbrushes a year - imagine how much the rest of the world contributes.

There is now a very wide range of toothbrushes made from sustainably grown bamboo available in South Africa - Simply BambooWooBamboo, Pure Smile and Brush With Bamboo (which still have nylon bristles). There is also only one type of dental floss that is completely biodegradable, made by SenzaCare.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 7: Don't forget to check your toothpaste for plastic microbeads (more on that below). Numerous charcoal and coconut oil toothpastes are available that skip the microbeads, and some of these are even offered in glass jars.

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Yoghurt and milk

When it comes to dairy, it is difficult to completely eliminate plastic, unless you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain milk in glass bottles from a local vendor. However, we still have some solid practical advice on how you can enjoy yoghurt, milk and milkshake without breaking the bank or harming the environment.

Our advice is simple - buy large quantities and reduce your intake of dairy as much as possible, eg. it generates less plastic if you choose a single large yoghurt container over a small six-pack. Furthermore, only buy dairy that comes in recyclable packaging - milk in the white HDPE bottles or clear PET bottles and butter, yoghurt and cream in HDPE tubs. Avoid "box milk" cartons as these are lined with plastic and are very difficult to recycle.

Did you know that you can get fresh, great quality yoghurt, cheese, feta, cream and milk packaged in glass jars? Several vendors here in Cape Town have these products available. including Nude Foods (who stock Camphill Dairy) and Back Area Gardens Deli (who stock Mysthill Dairy) - yummy, affordable and eco-friendly.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 8: Wash your dairy containers before putting them in the recycling bin - spoiled food prevents your waste from being recyclable and could potentially spoil everything it comes into contact with.

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Microbead exfoliators

The plastic microbeads found in many body and face washes are absolutely devastating to the oceans - the USA has even banned them. Eight trillion of these bits entered the ocean from the USA before the ban. Try to avoid these products with a natural alternative, and skip the plastic packaging while you're at it.

There are a huge number of alternatives available, such as walnut shell exfoliators, charcoal facial scrubs and oatmeal options. We like the range offered by Faithful to Nature and The Victorian Garden.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 9: How do you know if an off-the shelf product contains plastic microbeads? Products usually don't say "contains microbeads", but often use brand jargon, like "activated dermal reinvigorating spheres" to hide what they really are. If your product suggests that it is an exfoliant, looks like it has "bits" inside it, and doesn't specifically say what the bits are - they are probably microplastic. Also keep an eye on the ingredients for "polyethylene" - the plastic used to make microbeads. Yuck.

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Tea and coffee

Single-portion coffee capsules that are composed of plastic or a combination of plastic and aluminium are not recyclable. Even those composed of pure aluminium come with their own set of environmental problems. Hundreds of millions of these pods are used every day - some cities have even banned them.

There are a number of cool reusable pod options. We enjoy the Coffee Duck line of pods, available online in SA. However, instead of unnecessary disposable pods, the simplest solution is to brew your coffee the good old-fashioned way!

Teabags contain plastic - hope you aren't putting them in your compost heaps! To skip the plastic, buy loose leaf teas and use teapot of an infuser for your daily brew.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 10: If you love coffee, buy a small French press/coffee plunger - they are easy to use, cheap enough to buy one to keep at the office and you can brew a huge range of loose leaf tea and ground coffee in them with little waste. As a bonus, your friends will think you're posh!

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Takeaway containers

Every second 140 000 items of food packaging are disposed of. That's almost half a trillion pieces of waste a year. Billions of these items are styrofoam takeaway containers that are unrecyclable. Skip the takeaway!

Avoid pre-packaged meals - most outlets (salad, sushi or baked goods) will happily put the food directly into your own container. Eating out? Don't order more than you can eat - this isn't sustainable. Want to buy take-out? Food items like pizza, burgers, fish n chips, etc. can all be served with paper or cardboard options - get to know your favourite restaurant's practices.

A great, sustainable brand that has just launched in South Africa is Stasher. Stasher makes silicone food containers that are flexible, machine washable and reusable. Silicone, although not biodegradable, is chemically inert and does not contribute to ocean microplastics or bioaccumulation of toxins.

For sandwiches, reusable wax wraps are an amazing option - simply fold the fabric around your food item! Popular local brands include Janice's Kitchen Bee's Wraps, Buzzy Wraps and Supa Sandwich Wraps. Instead of clingwrap/cellophane to keep bowls of food fresh in your fridge at home - check out these sustainable plastic-free bowl covers produced in Cape Town.

#ChooseToRefuse Tip 11: Keep your reusable straw,  and cutlery wrapped in a wax wrap - it's an easy way to make sure that everything you need when you plan to eat out is kept together in a nice, compact package.

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NEW: Plastic-free shopping in Cape Town

Live in Cape Town and want to find shops that aren't loaded with plastic packaging? We recently reviewed several completely plastic waste-free stores and grocers from across the Cape.

Our Puppet Stories book Keep The Beach Clean deals with the issues of ocean plastic pollution and its effects on wildlife - a wonderful, intercative storybook for children aged 3 to 9. Get the book here and see the live puppet show on your next Aquarium visit.

Are you a vendor? Investigate changing your food packaging to compostable PLA and other biodegradable alternatives, just like Vista Marina has. PLA and other biodegradable packaging options are available from GreenHome and TransAfrica Hospitality Suppliers.

Did we miss anything? What are your favourite green, plastic-free alternatives?

 

Let us know, and remember to #ChooseToRefuse.

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