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plastic free july - tips & tricks

Plastic Free July 2018 is coming up, and AUSMAP has some tips and tricks to help you reduce your reliance of single-use plastic so you can feel confident in taking on the challenge. 

Plastic Free July started as an office initiative in 2011 by the WMRC Earth Carers but now has become a non-for-profit Foundation and is a registered charity. The goal is to build a global movement that immensely reduces plastic consumption whilst improving recycling so we can all live in a world free of toxic plastic pollution.  

The Plastic Free July campaign raises awareness of our growing plastic problem while supporting behaviour changes by helping people to reduce single-use plastics. The challenge is undertaken by over 2 million people from 159 countries. Collectively participants chose to avoid single-use plastic packaging and/or target takeaway items (the Top 4: bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups) or go completely plastic-free for one day, one week, all of July or from now on. Participants can take the challenge as an individual, organisation, business and even as a school/college. 

To get you ready for the challenge, here are some of our top 5 tips on taking on the Plastic Free July Challenge:

1. Bags

When the plastic bag was invented it was hailed as a miracle material. It was waterproof, strong, light, easy to store and most of all cheap. But fast forward to 2018,  and we are seeing 10 million plastic bags used and immediately discarded each day in Australia. They become one of the deadliest types of plastic pollution, ingested by aquatic animals  floating looking for jellyfish attracted by the chemicals in the plastic that smell like fish.

Instead of using plastic bags for your shopping, an alternative is to bring a reusable fabric bag or even a box. For years Aldi has not given out free plastic bags to shoppers, and customers often walk out with a cardboard box filled with their groceries. And as of the 20th June 2018, the supermarket giant Woolworths has stopped giving out free plastic bags to customers. 

2. Bottles

Every year, we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just to produce plastic water bottles that are going to be used once. Seems a bit wasteful of a finite resource we should be conserving, doesn't it? 

Instead of buying bottled water from the shops, you can drink water from a reusable water bottle, and just refill it when it's empty. Why should we pay for water, when it comes out out of the tap free? 

(NB: Even though you can refill a single-use bottle, it not recommended especially over a long period of time. These single-use bottles are made to be ONE use only. Chemicals in the plastic leech into the water when you constantly refill it, making it unsafe to keep drinking)

3. Straws

Straws make drinking easy and even fun but plastic straws are major polluters of our oceans. They can even get lodged inside turtle's nostrils. There are so many straws in our oceans that the STRAWkle Squad (a group of keen beach enthusiasts who spend their time cleaning up Manly Cove) have found over 200 straws in one beach cleaning session after spending 45 minutes snorkelling and diving. 

An alternative to using straws when sipping your drink can be as simple as asking for no straw. Metal, glass, paper or even pasta straws work as the perfect sucking implement to complement any drink.

4. Coffee cups

For some people, coffee runs in their blood, and they can't function without it. Even a paper coffee cup is coated with plastic on the inside. The paper may degrade but the plastic will stick around for a really long time. Let's not forget about the coffee cup lid, that is almost always made of plastic. It is estimated that Australia's ever-growing caffeine addiction has resulted in 3 billion disposable coffee cups ending up in landfill each year. Giving up your morning coffee is too much of a big ask, but bringing your own reusable keep cup/mug is easy. Some cafes even offer discounts if you bring your own reusable cup.  Responsible Cafes is an organisation that aims to encourage caffeine addicts to ditch the disposable coffee cup and use a reusable cup instead have an initiative going for Plastic Free July called Trash 4 Treasure. If you pick up a bucket of trash, you can exchange it for a free hot drink at participating cafes. You can find the list of cafes involved here:

(NB: Recyclable cups are being made but production costs are high, and not all cafe owners are willing to pay the cost. Some disposable cups can be labelled to be sustainable but they can often be misleading for a number of reasons. Cups can be labelled as recyclable as the plastic-coated paper is recyclable but some councils do not accept coffee cups as part of their recycling process; compostable means that these cups are suitable for composting, however composting is not widely available in Australia, so unless the customer has access to household or community composts, the cup will end up in landfill; biodegradable coffee cups involve using a chemical additive in the oil-based plastic to break down the plastic lining when it is deprived of oxygen, however, there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove that this works. And it is adding chemicals to soil we don't want.

5. Plastic packaging

In many cases, plastic packaging has a genuine function and prevents waste by protecting food from bacteria or sealing in moisture. But fruit and vegetables already come in a protective natural skin which decomposes quickly. Take an orange peel for example. The skin will break down in a few months but a polyethylene protective layer will last pretty much an eternity. Nor does plastic necessarily prolong the shelf life of produce. Prepacked orange segments last about four days, whilst a whole orange can last a month with it's skin still on. All of this for the convenience of not peeling an orange? 

So it really makes sense to avoid excessive packaged produce when you go to the supermarket. If people reject prepackaged fruit and vegetables, then the supermarkets will phase it out. So you do have a choice.

There are many more ways that you can reduce your plastic usage, but these are our top 5. To get involved in Plastic Free July, you can click here: Go on, take on the challenge today! Even if it's just for one day. 

Written by: Naomi Huynh (volunteer of AUSMAP)

Photos: Various (royalty free)



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