It's officially July - half way through the year, 6 months until Christmas (eeeeek) AND it's global plastic free month! Plastic Free July is an annual, global challenge where millions of people attempt to give up single use plastic altogether for the entire month. The goal is to raise awareness about how much disposable plastic we use (that we don't necessarily need to) and highlight the issues our planet, and specifically our oceans are dealing with at the moment.
It feels like 2018 is the year that going plastic free became a thing. Environmentalists have been aware of the issue for years but only recently has the rest of the world really taken notice after the release of various documentaries and more and more plastic washing up on our shores. But what's the issue exactly?
Well, in a nutshell, plastic never EVER leaves the planet. It might get broken down over decades or centuries but that just means that the pieces get smaller. It never actually dissolves or disappears. When you and I have shuffled off this planet, the plastic bag we picked up our takeaway in, or the lipstick tube in our handbag, will continue to live on in the sea or in the ground. Forever.
Even scarier is the fact that as plastic degrades and gets broken down, it becomes ‘microplastic’ which can be ingested by marine life like plankton and shrimps - which in turn get eaten by bigger fish. And then who eats the bigger fish? Yours truly. So yep - we're eating plastic. Only a very small percentage of it actually gets absorbed by the human body but still, no one orders their fish and chips with a side of plastic bag.
So what if you recycle? Well actually only 9% of what is thrown into recycling bins across the globe actually gets recycled because not all types of plastic can actually be reused. The rest goes to the dump or ends up in the sea. Noooooooooo!
I could go on with the stats but you get the picture - it's horrifying. So at the beginning of 2018 when I wrote down my New Year's Resolutions, I decided to make an effort to reduce my plastic usage and consciously make more environmentally friendly choices. I'm no angel and I've got a loooong way to go before I can even begin to say I'm living plastic free, but I am proud to say that I'm genuinely trying - and I've definitely changed. And it's not actually that hard! So here are my top tips if you want to take on the July challenge and try to implement some (or all, go on you hero) of these changes in your own life.
1. Carry a reusable bottle
This is the obvious one. An easy win. Reusable bottles are available EVERYWHERE - there's amazing metal bottles that keep your drink cold (or hot) all day, or simple sports bottles that you can fill up with water from the nearest fountain or tap. Whatever you can get your hands on is better than buying up numerous, throw away plastic bottles. Plus, once you have your reusable bottle and you're organized about filing it up, you drink for free!
2. Stop sucking
Another easy win - simply say no to the straw! Or, if like me, you like having something to sip your drink through, you can grab a metal or glass straw for a couple of bucks and carry it around with you.
3. Sippy cups
(I promise I have some tips that are not beverage focused coming up!) As well as a reusable bottle, invest in some tumblers and start taking them to bars when you go out for a drink. Most of the beach bars here in Cayman will give you a new, single use plastic cup EVERY time you order a drink - we started bringing our sip cups a year or so ago and as long as it's clean, the bar staff never have any qualms about using them instead of reaching for the disposable. Ok so it's still plastic - but at least we're using them hundreds of times over instead of just once.
4. Go for glass
Anyone that knows me can tell you that I HATE plastic Tupperware - you in that way that people hate spiders or the sound of finger nails on a blackboard? Yea well, that's me with plastic Tupperware. Leave your lunchbox anywhere near me and I'll move to another room. It's gross, unhygienic and deserves no place on earth. AND by the way, heating that stuff up repeatedly is seriously bad for your health. I've been a big fan of glass containers forever and now they're actually equally affordable and last much longer (if you don't drop them) than plastic. When we moved house I stocked up from Amazon and Ikea but any supermarket can hook you up. Plus, some stores will even let you bring your own containers for certain foods - for example, Bay Market in Camana Bay is happy for you to fill your own container when you're buying their nut butters and loose grains.
5. Shampoo bars
First up, if you're buying things like shampoo, conditioner, washing up liquid, hand soap etc, you should definitely buy in bulk and refill containers to reduce the volume of plastic you use and save money because buying in bulk is usually more cost effective (if you have the space for storage). Another tip is to ditch those small dishwasher or washing machine tabs in favor of liquid or better still, powder in a cardboard box. But one super easy thing you can try is shampoo bars. I picked up a stick from Lush when I was in the UK last November (also available in the US) and it JUST ran out - 7 months later (and I wash my hair almost every day). My hair is softer than ever and the planet is happier every day I use it - win win!
6. Stock up on reusable bags
And make sure you always have one handy! Most stores now offer tote bags or longer lasting "bags for life" in place of the throwaway, single use bags but have you thought about investing in canvas or netting produce bags as well? My pet peeve is seeing people in a supermarket stuff a bunch of bananas in a plastic bag - they're fine without one! But if you are buying loose items like cherry tomatoes that need to be confined, netting bags are awesome and they're only a few bucks. You'll find them in the produce aisle of any supermarket in Cayman so I'm sure the same goes for the rest of the world - grab a couple next time you're there and keep them in the boot of your car with your shopping bags.
7. Look for recyclables at the supermarket
I totally appreciate that we all have a budget for food shopping and (particularly on this island!) managing it can be a challenge, but the reality is that often the cheapest products are the most un-environmentally friendly. When you're browsing supermarket aisles, you can actually reduce the amount of plastic you buy just by being a little more deliberate with your decisions and sometimes, spending an extra 10 or 20 cents for better packaging. Pasta is a classic item that is either wrapped in plastic, or a cardboard box and in the past I'll admit I'd have never really thought about it, I'd have just grabbed the cheapest option - pasta is pasta. Now I always reach for the box. I was delighted to see that Kirk has helpfully marked items on their shelves that could be recycled to help remind their customers to make informed choices while they shop. So take your time and really think about what you're buying.
8. Invest in reusable face wipes
Earlier this year I bought bamboo makeup remover pads to use instead of cotton wool pads. Ok so it's not a direct replacement for plastic but it is a reduction in disposable things that end up in the landfill, and face wipes usually come wrapped in plastic. The bamboo pads come with a handy little pouch for washing and they're SO soft on your skin it feels like a hug for your face. Make sure you buy enough so that you can have a set in the wash and still have enough to use - warning, they tend to go missing in that black hole that socks end up in....
9. Avoid disposable cutlery
When you're getting takeaway food to take back home or to the office, have a think about whether you really need the cutlery. Most offices will agree to increasing their stocks of metal cutlery and reusable crockery if you ask (it'll save them money in the long run). When you're buying treats for the office, think about cookies, donuts or cupcakes instead of one large cake that needs to be divided out and eaten off a disposable plate with a disposable fork....
10. Carry your own coffee cup
Coffee shops are catching onto this and a lot of them will discount your coffee if you bring your own cup - bonus! Sure they're being nice to the planet but you're also saving them the cost of stocking that pesky disposable cup, so everybody wins! There's so many quirky coffee cups available, you can pick out something that will make you happy every time you sip :)
11. Ban the balloons
I have always loved a good old helium balloon or a colourful bunch to celebrate an occasion, create fun decor or draw attention to an event at work, but at the end of the day it's just plastic that's going to get thrown away and there are so many other decor options out there these day like paper fans, pom poms and bunting that look super stylish and still scream party just like a balloon would.
So there are my top 11 easy tips. I'm going to keep challenging myself this year to see what other changes I can make and I'm also trying to take a couple of minutes to scoop up a couple of pieces of plastic every time I'm at the beach. When I was in Little Cayman a few months ago I managed this haul in just 5 minutes, but even if you only pick up one thing, you're still making a difference!
There's also lots of movements and ocean conservation efforts you can get behind if you want to do more but don't have the time or resources yourself. My two favorites are:
4Ocean - these two surfers started a company removing plastic from the sea which now employs 150 people worldwide, and they use the plastic they remove to make bracelets that you can buy for $20. I just ordered one and each bracelet sold = one pound of trash removed.
The Seabin Project - this incredible company is installing rubbish bins that they have spent the last few years designing, at marinas and commercial ports to draw in and catch plastics and other trash that have wound up in the ocean. I was fortunate enough to meet the founders when they were here in Cayman and they are truly inspiring and doing seriously awesome work.
Like I said, I'm a long way from perfect, but if we all try we really can make a huge difference. What changes are you making? I'd love to hear your tips and get inspired!
For readers in Cayman, you can pick up the items I've talked about at the following places:
Reusable bottles - Kirk Home, Kirk Supermarket, Bliss Yoga studio, Funky Monkey, Cost U Less
Coffee cups - Kirk Home, Kirk Supermarket, Jessie's Juice Bar
Glass containers / reusable bags - All supermarkets
Shampoo bars - Kirk Supermarket
Paper decorations - Buy Smart