Christin’s Plastic Free July Challenge
Our plastic problem
We often hear in the media that plastics are bad for the environment although most are recyclable in some way. We’ve seen photographs of turtles with straws in their nose or birds caught up in some kind of plastic ring or garbage islands floating in the oceans.
According to a WRAP report, an estimated 580,000 tonnes of plastic bottles end up as household waste in the UK every year with only just over half of this amount being recycled. Technically, plastic is actually only ‘downcycled’ into low grade products that are only used one more time or simply just end up in landfill straight away. The biggest problem with plastic however is that they don’t break down. It is estimated that all the plastic ever made still exists in some form or another on the planet.
Plastic is a permanent source of pollution and usually ends up littering our environment mostly on land and in water. The main culprits usually include
- single-use plastic bottles
- coffee cups
- carrier bags and
- plastic cutlery
Coffee cups on their own create an estimated 25,000 tonnes of waste in the UK every year with 2.5 billion of them being thrown away annually according to a Cardiff University study highlighted in this Guardian article. While progress is being made, not many of them are currently being recycled. Straws are also another popular on-time use plastic item and a lot of people do like having a straw in their drinks on a night out. The straws used in the US alone could circle the earth 2.5 times every day. Sadly, most straws don’t get recycled either and all that for an average use of 20 minutes per straw!
Working in the Waste Minimisation Team at West London Waste, I get to see how many plastic items are dumped just in west London. Unfortunately, a large amount of these come in the form of single-use plastic items. For me, all of the facts above were enough of a reason to try out Plastic Free July – an initiative that challenges single-use plastics and encourages reusable alternatives.
While I’m fairly good in using a reusable water bottle every day I do struggle with coffee cups and the occasional soft drink in single-use plastic bottles. I do have a reusable coffee cup but tend to forget it at home and also do crave a sweet and fizzy drink every now and again when out and about. So this July I took on the challenge and started off with placing a reusable coffee cup at work. That worked pretty well because it was sitting right there in front of me on my desk. There was no way I could forget about it when getting a coffee from the canteen. So that was easy. I also managed to remember to take a cup out with me every now and again. If I forgot, I didn’t allow myself to buy a coffee to go but made the time to sit in with a proper reusable mug.
As it was pretty hot this July (well some of it anyway!) I struggled with plastic bottles though. I took my 1 litre reusable bottle filled with water everywhere but for those really hot days, it just wasn’t enough. I struggled to find somewhere to refill my bottle when I was out and about. Unfortunately, I was forced to buy additional bottles of water to stay hydrated. Another thing I realised due to the heat was that cold coffee specialities are basically unavailable without single-use plastic. Even if you didn’t do takeaway and sat in the shop, they still served them in the plastic cups with the round lid and a straw. This challenge taught me that even with the best of intentions, it’s not very easy to live a single-use plastic free life!
My plastic-free future – one step at a time!
A single-use plastic free month was more commitment and hard work than I realised before this challenge. Looking around my flat made me realise all the other items that I use regularly that come in single-use plastic packaging such as shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, cleaning liquids, squash bottles, pots and trays of margarine, fruits and so much more.
Although I didn’t have a completely plastic-free July, it made me more aware of how much plastic I actually do use – even in just one day! While I can’t stop using ALL plastic, I will surely change my habits little by little! The little things always add up . I will keep my reusable coffee cup on my desk and continue using my reusable drink bottle. Slowly and step by step I will try to use less plastics thanks to my increased awareness gained through this challenge.