Four swaps for families during Plastic-Free July

Many of us would recall learning the “3 R’s” in primary school – reduce, reuse, recycle. But did you know, there’s a new focus now? Avoid. Even though we should definitely keep doing the 3 R’s, all the research is telling us that it’s time to avoid accepting things that will become waste in the short-term at all.

This can feel super hard though, can’t it? We all have days where we’re desperate for a coffee but don’t have our reusable cup. Or we have to duck into the shops but we’ve left our reusable bags at home. Since Life magazine published its 1955 article Throwaway Living, we’ve embraced how cheap and convenient it is to live in a throwaway society.

It’s becoming startlingly apparent though, that there is no “away”. A recent study in Antarctica, one of the planet’s last great wildernesses, found that seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained tiny pieces of broken up plastic. Sad face.

There’s good news though! Momentum is building to take us into a new era – no longer as a throwaway society, but as a new circular economy where single-use items become a thing of the past. Even the big supermarkets are coming to the table with their phase out of single-use plastic bags and plastic straws. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our kids experienced a future where the culture and the norm was to avoid and reuse rather than take and dispose?

That future starts with us, and the choices we make as parents. Even if we start by making just one change consistently, it will show our little ones that there is an alternative to the “take and toss” habits we might be used to.

A great place to start is to take part in Plastic Free July. Plastic Free July started in an office in Perth in 2011, and has now grown into a global movement with over 2 million people from 159 countries participating. Taking part is pretty straight forward – just choose to refuse single-use plastic in July.

Feeling daunted? Not to worry! If you’re new to Team Avoid & Reuse, we’ve brainstormed four common situations in family life where single-use plastics creep in, with some simple switches you can make to get started on your single-use plastic free journey:

Plastic-free snacks on the run

Swap single-use ziplock bags and cling wrap for washable plastic or metal containers, beeswax or reusable wraps or reusable snack bags like these super cute ones by Keep Leaf (which are easy to wash, but compact like a disposable bag).

Swap plastic straws and disposable cutlery for your own reusable options. Keep a metal straw and cutlery set in your bag (an old sunglasses bag or case makes a great way to keep them in one place) and you’ll never need to accept disposables again.

Swap disposable coffee and babycino cups for your own reusable cup (there’s so many great options!)

Swap plastic water and beverage bottles for a refillable drink bottle – for you and your little one!

Plastic-free grocery shopping

Avoid placing fruit and veg items into plastic produce bags – bring reusable cloth produce bags for items you have multiples of, and just place larger or single items straight into your shopping bag.

Swap plastic checkout bags for reusable carry bags – they fit so much more, are easier to carry into the house and are a simple swap that makes a big difference. Also keep a compact bag in your pram or handbag for when you do a spur of the moment shop so you’re never caught out again!

Opt for items with minimal or no packaging – visit a local bulk food shop for your grains, pasta, nuts and dried fruit and shop at your local growers and producers market whenever possible.

Reducing plastic in toys and gifts

Think twice before you grab another cheap plastic toy from Kmart (will your kids really play with it for that long?) Let them choose something from your local op-shop instead, or find your nearest toy library to get access to a range of toys to borrow or hire.

Remember your plastic-free pledge when buying gifts during the winter kid’s birthday party season too – consider giving art supplies, tickets to a show or experience, books or a handmade gift (like a batch of playdough).

Reducing plastic with baby booty care

Nappies and wipes make up a significant proportion of single-use disposable waste in the average Aussie family. Modern cloth nappies have come a long way since the chunky terry towelling squares our parents used, and there are some amazing washable wipes systems available that make it quick, easy and muck-free to have both convenience and eco-consciousness.

Whether you tackle all four areas above, or pledge to make just one small change during July, you’ve taken a great first step! Whatever you do, make sure you set up a system to keep yourself accountable – stick a note on the fridge, set an alarm in your phone, put a note in your diary or, best of all, get your kids to help you and remind you of your goal!

Every choice we make matters, and every example we set for the people around us makes a difference. They say it takes 30 days to create a habit. Let’s make July our training ground to go single-use plastic free, all year round!

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Melissa Sellen

Mel holds a Master of Environmental Education and has worked as an educator for Planet Ark and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, as well as State and Local Government. She has sat on the Executive of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) NSW Chapter for the past 7 years and helped write the latest NSW Framework for Environmental Education. Mel is a mum to two lovely world-changers under 5 who help her put all her ideas into practice!

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