1. Homegrown tomatoes, 2 & 3. Seeds in the post - in plastic, 4. Looking up and breathing out.
For the 31 days that comprise of July, I can honestly say I was more aware of the plastic that surrounds me and our consumption of it than at any other time in my life. I took part in Plastic Free July and mindfully attempted to avoid anything plastic for the month, and I must admit, it was more difficult than I had anticipated.
I joined the challenge on the back of completing Spiral Garden's Zero Waste Families e-course and I had high expectations that avoiding plastic would simply mean making better choices, being organised and finding alternatives. We already refuse the big four - plastic bags, straws, take away coffee cups and plastic cutlery. We no longer use a plastic bag as a rubbish bin, but recycle and compost most of our waste. How difficult could abstaining from ALL plastic purchases as a family of five possibly be?
I started strong. On the first day I refused to buy prawns from the supermarket because they could not sell them to me without using plastic. I gave up on a slice of banana bread at my local cafe as it was wrapped in cling wrap, and chose an unwrapped dairy-free cheese cake instead. I shopped at the produce store and brought my reusable drawstring and bags. I brought dry goods in bulk in paper bags. I used glass jars instead of plastic. But as the month wore on I hit more than a few obstacles. We kept a tally of the plastic we brought into our home on our chalk board. Each of our names, plus the category 'groceries', to cover the things we couldn't find alternatives for. And there were more marks on the board than I anticipated.
I could not find cheese that wasn't wrapped in plastic, and my family would not forsake cheese for a month. I had to buy medication and it came in plastic. I bought plants for my garden, and the pots were plastic. The first butcher I went to wouldn't use my containers and used plastic sheets to pick each product up and more plastic to package it. The next butcher happily would use my containers and discussed ways of reducing plastic waste with me, but pre-packaged their chicken in plastic.
I found alternatives to some of the plastic we had been consuming - milk in glass bottles, cat food in tins instead of pouches, bees wax wraps instead of cling wrap, bread from the bakery in fabric bags. I asked for sushi in a paper napkin instead of a plastic container. I brought wooden cleaning brushes rather than plastic. I replaced our plastic sponge habit with hand crocheted cotton washers. But still, plastic found its way into our lives. Parcels were delivered in plastic. The children were given plastic wrapped sweets. The prize box at school seems to contain nothing by cheap plastic, which the children delighted in bringing home. My husband surprised me with beautiful flowers, wrapped in plastic. Even op-shopped clothing has plastic attaching the swing tags. When we ran out of bread it was quicker and cheaper to grab another loaf from the supermarket packaged in plastic than to drive to the bakery with our fabric bags.
I felt disheartened when I saw shoppers using unnecessary plastic - bananas don't need a plastic bag. I had hoped my children would learn about plastic consumption and pollution and curb their appetites as a result, but both big kids admitted to being excited about the end of plastic free July, as they wanted plastic toys and trinkets without having to consider earning a mark beside their name on the chalk board. They determined never to take part in plastic free July when they were adults so that they could buy dolls and Lego whenever they wanted - ah, children.
There were wins and losses. I cooked much more from scratch as a result. No biscuits in plastic wrapping, I made my own. No microwave lasagna for the big boy, I made it from scratch. My husband was a fan, but my oldest decided he preferred the frozen boxed version. (Ouch!) I attempted making soy milk from scratch, soaking the beans and processing and straining them. But again, the children refused it. Being allergic to dairy, I couldn't find an alternative to the dairy free butter (Nuttelex) I bake with or the plastic lined soy milk cartons with plastic lids.
Although it was much more difficult than I had imagined, I believe the wins outweighed the losses. At the beginning of the month my five-year-old couldn't tell the difference between plastic, paper and foil packaging, and now she can. The children have a better handle on recycling. They point out plastic free alternatives at the shops. They were keen to award other family members with a mark on the board if they came home with plastic, but weren't keen to earn one themselves. And, they understand now why I say no to cheap plastic toys that won't last long and will end up in landfill.
Many of the changes we have made I will continue to adopt. But, like the Rogue Ginger, I have come to realise that I am not against the use of plastic, but rather its misuse. I look forward to finding more alternatives to our current plastic consumption so that next July there are fewer marks on the board.