But here's the thing I've noticed – so many of the zero-waste lists I've come across tend to be shopping guides for new things to replace your old, non-sustainable stuff. And I'll be honest: I do enjoy buying things. I am a child of capitalism and have been conditioned to get a dopamine bump when I exchange money for goods. But, when you think about it, a large part of the plastic problem is down to how many things get put into the world – so are more things really the answer? On top of that, the perceived start-up costs of going "sustainable" and togging out a brand-new bamboo lifestyle can be off-putting to those on a budget, but zero-waste is not a luxury choice - it's for everybody!
So with all that in mind, I thought I'd prepare something slightly different. These Tip-Top Tips have been carefully chosen to get you thinking; to cultivate a truly Plastic Free mindset to see you through your July... and beyond. Accessibility is key – and so these tips are all FREE so you can get moving on busting plastic right away!
1. LOOK AROUND YOU
Just like the massive educational tv/video units that wheeled into Irish classrooms every time a teacher in the 1990's had a hangover*, my first tip implores you to 'Look around you!' Let's go for a little walk. Look around you! Everytime you spot a bit of plastic, just notice it. That's all you have to do! Where do you see it? On pram handles? Park furniture? Cyclist helmets? What a useful material! It's also likely you're finding it on the ground – discarded food packaging? Plastic bottles? What a shame. Let's walk a little bit further. Plastic signs. Plastic bits on cars. Here's a shop! Plastic door handles? Let's go in. Are you still looking? Do you see it? Plastic is literally everywhere. Wrappers, containers, bottles, packages.
Now try to find something NOT covered in plastic. Plastic saturates our lives, and it has become so normalised that its prevalence gets completely overlooked. Once you start looking for it, you start seeing it. #SorryNotSorry to do this to you, but I can't un-see it now, and I'm taking you with me. But in joining me you will gain the superpower of awareness!
*sorry to the 'youths' who may not get this, but this is a nostalgic reference to my childhood. Well worth a google.
2. KNOW THY ENEMY
So once you start to see it, you notice it everywhere. But what is 'it' exactly? What's even the problem?
Plastic is so cheap and handy! And it has enabled major advancements in our culture, medicine, manufacturing and quality of life over the past 50 years. The problem is the sheer quantity of discarded plastic material in our environment. Our oceans are visibly filling up with the stuff, and those are big, big spaces to fill! There is just so much of it. The damage caused by plastic litter includes the destruction of habitats, death of animals and marine life, it looks gross, it can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and over time it leaches chemicals that make their way in to the human food chain and bloodstream. Because the material is still relatively young (it has been in use as we know it for only about 50 years) we are still learning about the long terms effects of plastic on our health, but there are lots of studies that show it's not looking great.
So, I invite you, why not learn more about it?! With this tip, you will gain the superpower of knowledge! Watch a documentary about plastic, read up on the latest research. Get to know what plastic is, where it comes from, where it goes. Did you know plastic is a major product of the oil industry? And that virgin plastic production is expected to accelerate in the coming years, to fill the market gap as energy producers move away from fossil fuels towards renewables? So interesting! So, yeah, I'm being coy by calling this tip: 'Know Thy Enemy'. Plastic isn't the bad guy here – it's just a material, and in the right situations, it's an excellent one. Plastic doesn't make itself, and it certainly doesn't throw itself in the Ocean.
3. BE PICKY
(FYI: This tip is a play on words, giving you 3 for the price of 1. A bargain!)
- Be picky – pick away at the problem! Single actions can feel so useless in the face of such a massive issue – what is one more disposable spoon on top of an ocean-full of plastic? Just remember – that's the kind of attitude that got us into this mess in the first place! Every little action DOES matter and all your efforts to reduce and reverse the plastic problem are valiant and I applaud you. Keep refusing single use. Keep requesting plastic-free. Keep going
- Be picky – pick stuff up! Bring a little bag with you when you leave the house and pick up plastic litter. Especially when you go to the beach! Now that your eyes are open to the world (see tip #1) this can be an overwhelming prospect. But even if you pick up just three pieces of litter every time you go out, that's a start. Visit the website Take 3 for the Sea (take3.org) and take the pledge!
- Be picky – choose wisely! Pick a can instead of a plastic bottle. Pick loose fruit and veg instead of stuff in bags. You get the idea!
4. MOVE IN BETTER CIRCLES
So you need something / you're bored / you heard about this cool product – for whatever reason, you find yourself about to go SHOPPING, baybee! But before you commit to buying hold it in your hand (or your online shopping cart – live your truth), close your eyes and ask yourself; "When I am no longer here – where will this object be?"
Super morbid! I hear you say. That's right, you won't live for ever... sorry, but most of our crap does – eg. cheap-o electric kettle for your student house – 1000 years! For how long will this thing be useful to you and when it leaves your possession - where is it going to go?
Can you purchase a pre-loved item? Can someone else benefit from your unwanted object? Or can it become something else? Can it be broken down into environmentally friendly materials? The three 'R's (Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!) have never been more RRRelevant. We are on the cusp of a RRRevolution here – towards the circular economy that is!
Through the super-power of understanding the inherent value in our materials, we can make better decisions as consumers, suppliers and designers – meaning a much better deal for our pockets and our planet. Win win win!
5. TOP OF THE TIPS: GET THE SHIFT
Now where I come from (Monaghan) the verb "to shift" has a very special meaning [ /ʃɪft/ v. & n. colloqiual term for kissing (also snog, meet, etc.).] And so a kiss goodbye for the digital (and socially-distant) age! Check out the brand new SHiFT website (https://shift.how/).
Launched on this year's World's Oceans Day (8th June). It is an incredible toolkit of plastic-busting ideas and actions to get you going. Simply launch the website, pick a card that appeals to you, and follow the steps to learn more about how to take action. You can apply filters to streamline the topics based on how and where you want to target your efforts, and you can submit your own great ideas as well.
Here at home, you can carry your Plastic Free July changes forward into the year, take part in Actions like the Sick Of Plastic Campaign, the International Brand Audit or support plastic free cafes and shops across the country.