After dedicating myself to the pursuit of zero waste for over a year, I lost hope in the idea of individual actions like refusing plastic.
Whilst I still tried my best to live a low-waste life, my journey took a turn to towards climate activism and I started to understand the weight and gravity of the global climate and environmental crises we face. I became aware of concerns that the plastic crisis (whilst still important to solve) is a potential distraction from the larger and more complex problems we face such as global overheating and mass species extinction .
But since plastic and the climate crisis are so intertwined, this Plastic Free July I decided to reconnect “with the power in my ability (and privilege) to make small changes such as refusing plastic.”
What a better way to do that than to take part in the #PlasticFreeMzansi Campaign started by Twyg, the Beach Co-op and WWF?
The challenge: To give up three commonly found items polluting our beaches: earbuds, chip packets and plastic bottles.
Why these three plastics?
The Beach Co-op uses the Dirty Dozen methodology to track the top 12 most commonly found items found on our beaches (bar cigarette butts and polystyrene bits). In the 70 plus cleanups they have facilitated in the last two years earbud stems, plastic bottles and chip packets have been some of the top culprits.
• A staggering number of PET bottles are produced each year – more than 500 billion bottles per year, with 5 billion in SA alone (Source: Statista,PlasticsEurope).
• We buy them, consume their contents, and throw them away, often within minutes of purchase.
• Globally we buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute; less than half are recycled and only about 7% are turned into new bottles. [source: Global Citizen, 2018]
• Besides the significant contribution to plastic pollution of our environment, the making of these bottles requires large amounts of water and oil to make.
• Giving up plastic bottles is a no-brainer because there is an affordable and accessible alternative. Use reusable bottles instead.
How did I manage for July?
I thought this one would be a synch! I own a reusable water bottle which I refill with water and when I forget it, I drink straight from the tap. Whilst I do prefer to drink natural spring water, we are lucky enough in SA to have tap water that is of drinking quality. I also love sparkling water and was gifted a soda stream for my birthday a few years ago. That means I also get to enjoy sparkling water single-use plastic free. Despite all of this one single-use water bottle still managed to make its way into my life. Over dinner one night, which included a rather serious discussion, I asked the waiter for some sparkling water. What I usually do in these cases is ask two things: does it come in glass and is it bottled locally? On this evening I did neither and the bottle arrived open and ready for my consumption. Whoops!
Total single-use bottle usage for July: 1
• Your plastic earbud stems often turn into harmful weapons after you dispose of them. Most people flush them down the toilet, making their way with other sewage into the ocean.
• The long thin stems can pierce the organs of marine animals if ingested. These stems are often found in the stomachs of dead seabirds.
• The stems that degrade slowly in the ocean add to the microplastic pollution that continues to pose a threat to wildlife through the release of toxic chemicals. Or they find their way back to the beach in their hundreds of thousands.
• The Beach Co-op has collected more than 10 000 plastic earbuds on 70 Dirty Dozen beach cleanups in the past two years.
How did I manage for July?
Thanks to an ear-cleaning trick taught to me by an old boyfriend, I haven’t used an earbud in almost five years. Check out my Instagram for a video on how to create the perfect non-earbud earbud using just toilet paper and some technique 🙂
Total earbud usage for July: 0
• Chip packets have risen from sixth to second place on the Dirty Dozen list in the past year.
• These packets are not currently recyclable in South Africa.
• Because they are so light, they tend to blow off rubbish trucks and landfills, or when dropped in public places, quickly make their way into our oceans and rivers.
• It is the design of the packet that is problematic. Most chip packaging is single layered metallised plastic film, and some is meldded, multi-layered foil and carboard. Both types are difficult to recycle.
• If we continue to consume these products, in this type of packaging, there will be 200 billion packets blowing around our land and marine environment by 2050 (38 Degrees).
• It is time to give up our favourite snack to put pressure on packaging designers, manufacturers and recylers to rethink packaging.
How did I manage for July?
Chips are my absolute weakness! For a long time I gave them up completely but lately I have been slipping into old habits of purchasing chips for parties and braais. (which is also problematic when it comes to palm oil etc!!) This July, I was glad that I managed to steer clear of buying any chip packets, however I can’t say that I ate zero chips when they were there and open for the taking. #babysteps
Total chip packet purchases for July: 0
More About Plastic Free July:
The Plastic Free July campaign originated in Western Australia in 2011 and has grown from a very small number of participants to millions of people acting in more than 170
countries. The Plastic Free Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, manages the campaign on an international level. The vision is to create a world without plastic waste
by encouraging people to be more aware of their plastic use, and to work on solutions with communities around the world.
Images: #PlasticFreeMzansi and Beach Co-op