Take the plastic-free challenge this July

Take the plastic-free challenge this July

Looking at your plastic use is a great first step to reducing waste and addressing bigger environmental issues. But it can be daunting trying to figure out where to begin, especially when it feels like everything around us is made of plastic.

Plastic Free July is an Australian led initiative that has now gone global helping millions reduce plastic by asking participants to say no to the top pesky plastics; straws, plastic bottles, plastic packaging and takeaway, plastic bags, takeaway coffee cups and cutlery. Of course, if the challenge has been attempted before, participants can try reducing plastic in other areas of their homes like the bathroom and laundry.

The goal of the challenge is to show life can be lived with less plastic and the benefits a plastic-free life can provide. Participants gain the mental tools to change habits, learning to pause and think how we, as individuals, can make an impact for the better and reduce our reliance on plastic.

What’s wrong with plastic?
According to Algalita Marine Research Foundation, plastic can take between 500 to thousands of years to break down. Rather than decompose like a banana peel, plastic can break up into smaller pieces making it easier for the material to move about ecosystems and cause potential harm to animals from our deepest oceans to deserts, and even end up in the food we eat. While it’s in our ecosystems, plastic has been shown to possibly leach the toxic chemical bisphenol. There have been ongoing studies to understand how these chemicals are getting into our food through packaging too.

Plastic is made of oil and requires fossil fuels to manufacture and ship around the world. Seventy percent of a product’s waste is created during manufacturing before it even gets to our hand – something as simple as a plastic produce bag, designed for one use, has already created most of its waste before it gets into your hands. Most plastic can only be recycled a handful of times before it needs to go to landfill. While plastic is being sold to us as road base material, I wonder if we are only burying the problem.

I’m not anti-plastic, simply anti its misuse. The use of plastic in medicine has allowed for greater accessibility and progress to help improve health, for example the hearing aid. But it’s when plastic is used and disposed of so quickly for our convenience that’s the problem. We create so much plastic that there is little value in recycling it. The best thing we can do is to address the issue and use less plastic.

Tip: Utilise the Market’s pick-a-box locations for free cardboard boxes to take your produce home rather than using plastic bags.

Where do I start?
Join a plastic free challenge like Plastic Free July and you’ll be connecting with millions of people around Australia and the world on the first steps to reducing plastic. This challenge was the catalyst for change in my life in 2013 and after I finished it was hard to go back to a plastic August. I have pulled some tips out of my book Waste Not on how to get started with a plastic free challenge.

Swap plastic bags for reusable bags, trolleys, baskets and boxes
Plastic shopping bags have only been around since the 1960’s meaning human beings have shopped without them for hundreds of years. These days it’s harder to get a plastic bag, especially with Queen Victoria Market phasing them out in 2019. In Victoria and across Australia light weight single-use plastic bags are now banned.

Tip: Market Espresso have trolley hire for Market shoppers.

Swap plastic produce bags for reusable mesh, cloth bags or buy your produce naked

Most fruit and vegetables don’t require plastic bags, simply wash the produce when you get home. But some veggies might and that’s when we use drawstring bags made from cotton or lace curtains. We also use our cloth produce bags to buy our loaves of bread and beans, rice, flour, nuts and dried fruits. There are many brands selling reusable bags these days. Swapping out one plastic produce bag for a reusable bag once a week will save 52 plastic bags each year, showing that one small swap adds up.

Tip: SisterWorks have partnered with Queen Victoria Market to sell their produce bags made by women who are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants with funds going directly back to the makers. Purchase from the Queen Vic Market Visitor Hub.

Say no to plastic straws

Plastic straws can be helpful for medical reasons but the vast majority of people don’t require a plastic straw to enjoy a drink. Plastic straws are not available at Queen Victoria Market and elsewhere you can simply refuse (saying no is free!) or invest in a reusable straw made of silicone, metal, bamboo or glass. But I promise the milkshake will be just as tasty without the straw and kids can navigate a drink straw free too.

Swap coffee cups for a reusable mug or sit down to enjoy your hot drink

Most take away coffee cups have a lining of plastic and a hot liquid like coffee could encourage leaching from the plastic. I suggest sitting in to enjoy your coffee and taking some time out, otherwise if you need to get your hot drink to go invest in a reusable cup or bring a mug from home like my husband does.

Tip: You can purchase a KeepCup from the Queen Vic Market Visitor Hub or our coffee shops.

Avoid plastic bottles and choose a reusable bottle

My first reusable bottle was an old glass juice bottle that I still use today. I take it everywhere and can get it refilled at cafés, restaurants and public drinking fountains using the WeTap app. The bonus for saying no to plastic bottles is I weened myself off sugary drinks. If I need to enjoy a cordial or fizzy drink I can easily make my own using ingredients like ginger or lime found in the Market.

Tip: You can refill your own bottle at our water refill stations in the Market.

Swap plastic packaging for BYO containers
Whether I’m at the deli counter or getting takeaway I bring a reusable container to collect my food. Plastic containers cost a lot for businesses, so not only are we helping reduce plastic but also helping small business. I can even bring my own bottles to the Soap Box to refill a range of liquid soaps and detergents.

Plastic cutlery
Some eateries only have singe-use plastic cutlery options. To avoid using the plastic cutlery we bring along something called a cutlery roll with a wooden fork, spoon, knife and serviette. This has saved hundreds of plastic spoons and fits nicely into my bag.

Are reusables safe?
The current advice by the Victorian Government Health Department states “There is currently no evidence to suggest there is any benefit to switching to disposables. The most effective measures you can take are practicing good hand hygiene and cleaning, with particular focus on shared frequently touched surfaces.”

With this in mind it’s always best to ask first as some businesses may choose to decline and it’s their right to do so. At this stage most Queen Vic Market traders are accepting reusable produce bags, containers and reusable coffee cups. Please ensure everything is clean when you shop at the Market.

Choosing small businesses like the stalls at the Market makes it easier to converse with staff and to ask for changes too, when the time is right. I’ve found it’s often these smaller businesses leading the way to reducing plastic and waste. Only through the customer-business relationship can we take the plastic free challenge further and make it normal.

Here are some simple tips to help remember those reusables:

  • Use the calendar app on your phone to help remind you
  • Keep reusables by the front door
  • Place notes around the house with friendly prompts
  • If you have kids ask them to monitor your plastic use- Get friends involved to help keep you accountable and make it fun

Written by Erin Rhoads of The Rogue Ginger, expert on zero waste and sustainable living.

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