We all have a part to play in our global plastic problem and lifestyle choices to cut out plastics really do make a difference. Earlier this year, 9 members of the CLEAR Community team took on the challenge of avoiding single-use plastic for the month of February. We interviewed the following team members to see how they got on.
Why did you feel inspired to take part?
The guilt I felt every time I used single-use plastic – knowing that it will likely end up in landfill or the ocean.
I’ve been keen from the first Plastic Free February to take the challenge, but felt overwhelmed with becoming a new mum and having to move a lot. I was also inspired by Nemone’s Instagram posts from previous years and found it really interesting to see what can happen when you make a specific commitment to avoiding single-use plastic.
I’ve done it for the previous two years and both times it was both difficult and inspiring. It really opens your eyes to how much plastic there is in the world and how difficult it is to avoid it! It’s now become part of my annual routine so it would be weird not to do it.
Being a Trustee of CLEAR Community has greatly increased my awareness of the harm that plastics cause to the environment. David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ particularly brought the issue of plastics in our oceans to the fore for the general public, which coincided with CLEAR’s ‘Tackletheplastic’ campaign, which began in November 2017.
In my life and in developing countries in general, plastic in very widely misused and I think it’s time to take action, even if it’s just through making one small change.
How much single-use plastic did you use before taking part in the challenge?
Caroline: I thought I was really good at avoiding single-use plastic, but I realised I had come to accept a lot of single-use plastic as inevitable.
Chani: I have always been very conscious of how much single-use plastic I use, so generally I had a low-medium usage.
Nemone: I use as little as possible – lots of my habits have changed as a result of doing PFF in previous years and I have always tried to use refills as much as possible -that said it is easy for it to creep in around the edges.
Trevor: A considerable amount! Over the last 4 or 5 years I stopped using plastic bags for shopping. However, before I first took part in PFF in 2018, I had not really thought enough about the use of plastic packaging in general and particularly for food, including plastic bottles.
Yadi: I was already trying to significantly reduce my usage of single-use plastic before the challenge, but I used to use up to about 100 plastic straws a week, however now I’m much more aware of the damage they can cause.
Did your usage decrease significantly due to the challenge? Or do you think it will in the long-term?
Caroline: It will definitely decrease my usage in the long-term, but some swaps require slight lifestyle changes – like making time to go to two/three shops and taking containers. But I also found a few super easy swaps – like loose leaf tea, olives, pasta sauces, squash and juice all in glass.
Nemone: Yes! The obvious thing is food packaging. If you shop in a supermarket you have to go out of your way to avoid single-use plastics.
Trevor: Yes. I tried my hardest to avoid single-use plastic by: Buying loose vegetables and fruit from a local greengrocer or buying loose from a supermarket; using milk and yogurt in glass: getting bottles delivered and/or make my own yogurt in jars and by buying dry goods, oils, cleaning products & other products at a ‘plastic-free’ shop.
What was the most difficult item to replace?
Caroline: Berries, Cheese and Milk. Berries are my guilty pleasure, I still buy them in plastic weekly – no alternatives found yet! and Milk – there’s no lovely milkman here in Sydney.
Chani: It was super hard to find an alternative for my oat milk, which comes in tetrapaks and I couldn’t face giving it up for the month completely!
Nemone: Previously I’ve found it to be coffee and leafy green veg, but this year I was closer to refill stations and more markets and I made sure I was growing some greenery on our roof. Also you can get plastic-free coffee now, which is new and welcome.
Trevor: The most difficult items to replace were toilet paper, which is nearly all wrapped in plastic, yogurt pots – even the glass ones have plastic caps and also clingfilm.
Yadi: A lot of items already come in plastics and there is just no alternatives available here in Indonesia yet.
Did anything surprise you throughout the month?
Caroline: I found I was eating a lot healthier and my shop was cheaper! The majority of stuff out of plastic was fruit, vegetables and wholegrain healthy stuff – so that was great.
Nemone: This year my mum was going through chemotherapy and I was acutely aware of just how much single-use plastics are used in hospitals, as were the nurses I talked to. I can understand the need (plastic is an incredible material in many ways) but it would be amazing if we could come up with some alternative, without compromising on hygiene and health.
Yadi: How many people in my community approached me in the shops when I was using my own containers, or trying to buy items without plastic. I was pleasantly surprised that they to listen with an open mind when I explained the challenge to them.
Any new tips or tricks you discovered?
Caroline: I now find when I use a product out of a bottle it smells so chemically in comparison to natural bars! Great place to start is with Lush’s shampoo bars and Conditioner bars, or a company called Ethique. Also for food storage, bees wax wraps are the dream, we haven’t had clingfilm in the house for over 2 years now!
Nemone: I heard about using conkers as a laundry detergent as they contain saponine and are very similar to soap nuts, with the added advantage of being plentiful – and free! In the autumn we gathered up loads of conkers and have been using them exclusively to wash our clothes. Our clothes are all clean and I don’t see us going back!
Trevor: I think maybe the use of toothpaste in jars, block shampoo and bamboo dental floss!
Will you be taking part next year? If so, what would you do differently?
Caroline: Definitely. This time I will actually plan ahead and do it 100% with no lenience. Get everything sorted in advance ready to go for day 1 (as I did use up the ends of plastic products in the first few days)
Chani: I’m definitely going to do it next year and actively seek an Oatly tetrapak alternative. Unfortunately I’m too far away from an amazing place I found that sells fresh oat milk in glass bottles, but I am going to encourage places that are closer to me to go plastic free and generate a new demand.
Nemone: Of course! I’m going to work harder on growing my own veg. Obviously February isn’t the best time of year for this, but winter greens would be a great help.
Trevor: Certainly, yes. I think maybe trying to be stricter with myself and forgoing anything that ‘breaks the rules’!
Yadi: I’ll definitely be taking part next year.
As a society, how far away do you think we are from eliminating single-use plastics from our day-to-day lives?
Caroline: I feel we are pretty far away – out of 10/15 isles in the supermarket there are only two where you can find plastic free products which is SO SO SO sad as there are so many good alternatives to plastic out there now.
Chani: I feel as though progress is hampered by the oil industry, who are very powerful and trying to do the exact opposite thing. There are big progresses being made in plant-based plastic alternatives and I can see it technically being bought in quite soon, however we can’t make a demand for plant-based packaging as that creates another problem in itself, whereby conservation spaces will start being used for growing plants for packaging! I feel positive about the fact that lots of people are doing a lot to make an impact and from a consumer perspective, it’s now trendy and desirable to live this sort of ‘green’ lifestyle, which will hopefully get more people on board. I feel as though a lot could happen without the huge counter-movement.
Nemone: I’ve definitely found it easier each year, as generally people are more aware and it has moved up the agenda, so there is hope, but sadly I don’t think we’re moving anywhere near quickly enough. The global response to the pandemic has shown that it is possible to make big changes quickly, but as a consumerist society we’re not willing to make those changes unless we really have to, which is why it’s important as individuals to keep putting on the pressure for sustainable alternatives.
Trevor: I think still a long way! The big corporations and major drink makers are still using plastic bottles and much food is still wrapped in plastic – it is argued on grounds of preserving the food. Many other goods are plastic wrapped and online suppliers are still using lots of plastic packaging and plastic bags.
Yadi: In a developing country like Indonesia, especially in the more rural areas, we still have a long way to go, but there is hope and its inspiring to see so many young people keen to make a change in order to help protect the environment.
So, will you consider taking the challenge with us next year?
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about some easy ways to start avoiding single-use plastics.