And just like that, Plastic Free July had come and gone. Our four brave challengers faced many ups and downs as they tried to cut out single-use plastic from their daily lives: they felt more connected to the food they ate, but also experienced "plastic paralysis" - the fear of shopping due to overwhelming amounts of plastic packaging. A plastic-free choice was almost always more expensive, but there were opportunities to get creative, and many "a-ha" moments. The plastic-free journey also got people together, sharing their worries and their solutions.
At the end of the day, it was (and is) all about maintaining awareness around the products we buy: Do join us as we practise the art of consuming conscientiously.
Helen Lockhart, Two Oceans Aquarium Communications & Sustainability Manager
I don't think I have done particularly well this month and realise that I need to put more effort and greater commitment into this. I have, however, enjoyed the discussions I have had with family, friends and colleagues and the sharing of tips and ideas. I think this is an important aspect of a sustainability/green journey – sharing ideas with and encouraging each other to live more ethically, resourcefully etc. Somehow this builds a greater sense of community; a sense that we are in this together. I have also been astounded by the solutions and ideas that have come from unexpected places and people.
In terms of my “dilemma bag” – it’s overflowing, as there is so much I can and should purchase differently. So some further exploration is required, as well as some changes in my behaviour and thinking. Just because I have always consumed/used something doesn't mean that I have to keep on doing so. It goes back to the “want versus need” theme – there are a lot of products that I can actually live without because I don't need them.
And, this week I purchased my first bamboo toothbrush …
Hayley McLellan, Two Oceans Aquarium Environmental Campaigner
Is it my imagination or has this month of July seemed extraordinarily long?! As each week of “reporting” looms I fret that I may have no wise solutions and insights to offer my colleagues or our readers.
This week I realised that it is not about me living the perfect plastic-free life, not at all. What is important to me is that I remain a conscious shopper and consumer. My eyes have certainly been opened a little more these past few weeks and, going forward, I can only continue to make the wisest non-plastic choice in every shopping moment.
I am thrilled to have found a healthy and delicious alternative for yoghurt in plastic! Even though this will cost me a bit more each month, I know I will stick with my new choice as it is better for me and better for my planet.
For my friends who complain about having to regularly buy deodorant in plastic, I can highly recommend the crystal stick. Yes it is also served up in plastic but this healthy alternative has lasted me well over a year, which actually saves on plastic!
Time for a new toothbrush? Once you go bamboo you never go back!
The thing I find with using environmentally responsible products, and ones not suffocated by plastic, is that every time I engage with them it is with awareness that the choice I am making in that moment is sustainable. This ongoing reinforcement strengthens my behaviour and prompts me to seek other avenues for sustainable living. You’ll have to give it a go yourself in order to know what I’m on about.
Katja Rockstroh, Two Oceans Aquarium PA to Head of Education
Plastic Free July has taught me that we live in a culture that revolves around plastic - from the watch on your arm (well, mine anyway) and the keyboard that I am busy typing on, to the plastic bag our oranges come in. It truly is everywhere. Just look around you and try to find the items that are not plastic. It’s becoming increasingly hard to do so. Plastic is cheap, easy to make and is the convenient choice when it comes to pretty much everything.
But, during Plastic Free July, what we all looked at was packaging. At some point, I think we all wanted to live on an island where plastic just doesn’t exist and the only packaging choice you would have to make is whether to eat your freshly collected berries from a banana leaf or a shell from the beach. It really was a challenge and living plastic free is not a reality in a modern world. It just isn’t.
Having said all of that, there are alternatives. Alternatives to your plastic toothbrush (get a bamboo one instead), alternatives to single-use diapers (go old-school and use cotton ones), alternatives to barrier bags at the shops (either refuse them outright or get a Freshbag). And if there isn’t an alternative, then at least go with plastic that can be recycled and recycle it.
We are not doomed to a life of plastic. We are not doomed, that is, when we make a conscious choice to look at those alternatives and choose them over the easy and convenient options. I once read that it takes 21 days for a person to get used to a new habit. So start with one thing, find an alternative, stick with it for at least 21 days and make a difference. It starts with one thing, and with each and every one of us.
Xavier Zylstra, Two Oceans Aquarium Senior Teacher
My concluding thought at the end of the Plastic Free July process is that it is almost impossible to go plastic free without significant compromises on time, effort and expenditure.
I was able to reduce how much plastic entered my home by looking for products packaged in glass or cardboard, rather than plastic. In some cases, the non-plastic packaged products cost a lot more and I’m not sure if I would continue making that sacrifice. Where luxury items are packaged in plastic, I decided to buy less and will continue with this new habit.
Another habit that I have gained as a result of the exercise is to refuse barrier bags and, as far as possible, to pack fresh produce in reusable bags or paper bags. I bought a huge supply of them and they will last a very long time - thus a negligible expense for a very good cause. The paper bags can go to a composter (the next item to buy on my eco-friendly wishlist) once they become too tatty.
I have enjoyed and appreciated the many articles and web links that my fellow plastic-free activists have sent to me - so many great ideas and alternatives to consider and act upon. There are so many viable options available once we start taking the effort and looking in the right places.
So … Was I able to go plastic free? I’m afraid not, but the exercise has had me focus on the issue and become far more selective about how I go about buying groceries. Now, instead of only looking for the best price, I am also considering the most eco-friendly products and packaging.
This has been an eye-opening exercise for me. I have realised that, with only a small amount of effort and sacrifice, I was able to make a significant change to my ecological footprint. This is an experience that I will be able to share with the many people who visit our Environmental Education Centre and, hopefully, be able to encourage them to also start being more proactive about minimising their ecological footprint.
The month that was
- Week 1 of Plastic Free July was a shocker. Food packaging was one thing, but many health and wellness choices only come one way: in plastic.
- Plastic paralysis: It's a thing. Week 2 meant unsolicited bubble wrap, paper bags and the inability to go shopping.
Things got philosophical in week 3. If we changed our concept of "wealth" from having money and material things, to having more time, we could see a reduction in having things for the sake of convenience.
Start with one thing
Please join the Two Oceans Aquarium's Rethink the Bag campaign and pledge to refuse single-use plastic shopping bags. You can also sign a petition and take our survey to make your voice heard.