Plastic Free July – Some Final Thoughts

plastic waste
Only one week’s worth of my plastic!

I thought it might be nice to round off plastic free July by pulling together Kelly and I’s final thoughts on the challenge. Thanks to Kelly (@mninscotland on Instagram if you fancy some zero waste and baking inspiration) for answering these questions and for being my buddy on this challenge.

plastic rubbish in a jar and Styrofoam takeway
All of Kelly’s plastic from July!!!

Why did you decide to take part in the Plastic Free July challenge?

Kelly: I actually didn’t want to take part in the Plastic Free July challenge (PFJ) when I first saw it being publicised earlier this year.  I thought it would be really hard and time consuming and didn’t feel like I was in the right frame of mind for it.  Then I started seeing a lot of people on Instagram were going to do it which peaked my interest.  Also, my buddy said she was going to do PFJ and that we could support each other. I am all for doing challenges with buddies as it makes it nice to have someone to talk to when things get tough but also talk to when you have a good day too!

Me: I did the Plastic Free July challenge last year, focusing on the big four single-use plastic items and decided to step it up for this year. I really enjoyed the challenge last year and this year hoped to do the same while upping the ante and cutting out as much single-use plastic as I could. Oh and then I roped Kelly in for support and inspiration.

How did it go?

Kelly: Since it was my first year of doing PFJ I thought it went really well as I didn’t have any expectations.  (Actually, if I am honest with myself my expectations were to have no plastic at all, bit think that was a bit unrealistic especially for my first year). I can only improve from this year and look forward to doing the challenge again next year!

Me: I took the decision that I wasn’t going to try and change my whole lifestyle for July – instead I planned to have mainly my normal routine, try to make more food from scratch and constantly take the minimal/no plastic route. I am one of those bloggers who actually dislikes cooking and food shopping – I find it all pretty boring. This makes me the type of unprepared person who is always ending up without any food or water when I am on the go and then I end up buying the most convenient option. Luckily for the environment last year’s plastic free July gave me the kick up the arse I needed to always remember my reusable water bottles.

I found the whole challenge really difficult and quite disheartening – I had to go to a few different shops to get various basics and then all the seasonal fruit and veg seemed to be in plastic. I reduced my cheese consumption but my bread quota went through the roof. My fruit and veg intake dropped too – which is kind of a problem as I am veggie – and I was generally hungrier than I usually am. If this sounds negative I don’t mean it to and I did thoroughly enjoy reading about how others got on and I did actually enjoy a couple of the bits of cooking I did.

What’s been the hardest thing?

Kelly: The hardest thing is not automatically being able to buy anything you want (hello instant gratification!).  I really really wanted chips and salsa from Pintos (fast food Mexican restaurant) when I was travelling through Glasgow.  I knew that it would come with plastic.  I had to talk myself out of getting it even though I really wanted it.  Instead I ate the snack that I had brought with me, a banana and some sultanas that I bought plastic free from the bulk shop.  As a consolation for not going to Pintos I bought a mocha from Costa Coffee which I had them put in my Keep Cup.  I was really proud of myself for doing this as I love food and it’s really hard for me not to buy what I am craving.  Basically learning not to have instant gratification for everything is the hardest part; patience and planning are a big part of being plastic free and zero waste which I think I am getting better at every day.

Me: What you want me to complain and be negative some more?? Okay the hardest thing for me – planning and organising when it comes to food. This came back to haunt me constantly. In the last week of July I ate takeaway a lot and often ended up in the local supermarket starting at the over packaged onions wondering what the heck I was going to eat – the answer was a red pepper (the only plastic free vegetable) and sweetcorn (from a tin) risotto.

Have you learnt anything surprising about your plastic use?

Kelly: I realize that I use a lot more plastic then I thought I did.  The only thing that is in my garbage these days is plastic, but I thought it really wasn’t that much and that I was doing so much better than most of the population so it was ok if I had some trash.  This is not the attitude that I should have, I was not being accountable and doing PFJ has made me be accountable for my trash once again.

The items that I still get in plastic are:

  • Meat
  • Cheese
  • Milk (other dairy products)
  • Crisps
  • Take away (I love a chippy)
  • Straws (in drinks I order in restaurants or pubs)

As you can see almost all of my plastic comes from animal products that I buy. My next goal is to find a butchers and a cheese shop that will let me use my own container for their products.  Also, I am going to be buying my own straw so that I stop getting them in drinks when I am out at restaurants or pubs! I need to learn to say “I would like a gin & tonic, no straw please” or “I would like a gin & tonic, but I brought my own straw.”

Me: Biggest surprise is that plastic is everywhere! I found it impossible to get pasta that wasn’t in plastic and I ran out of pasta about two days in 🙂 Also my local Saturday market that has a local fruit and veg stall has the majority of produced packaged already in plastic containers so although I had all my bags and containers with me there was no point. I came away with a couple of things but not much, our bigger, nearby Tesco has a fair amount of package-free veg and that came in handy a few times – I really didn’t expect to find that supermarket as a helpful place during a challenge such as this.

Any tips or suggestions?

Kelly: I would suggest reading “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson. I read this in August 2013 and it inspired me to start the Zero Waste Lifestyle two years ago.  There are so many helpful tips that can get you started on the zero waste / no plastic living.

There are so many helpful resources these days about where to begin with less plastic so I won’t repeat them but have put links below.  The one thing that has made a huge difference to reducing my plastic use is finding a bulk food shop.   I bring reusable cotton bags to the bulk shop where I fill them up with porridge, beans, quinoa, fruit, veg, spices and more.  I bought the cotton bags from Health Junction, but you can certainly make your own too!

If you don’t have a bulk shop near you, going to a Farmer’s Market is a great way to get lots of plastic free fruit and veg.

Me: Hmm not sure I have anything to add. I’m not convinced about Farmer’s Markets as a place to get lots of plastic free fruit and veg but maybe it is just the ones I have access to. I would suggest local greengrocers. There are a couple left here but I just never had the chance to use them due to other commitments. My biggest tip would have to be – be prepared and organised, be willing to spend a little longer on food shopping and prepping for the week ahead – don’t be like me essentially 🙂

Any positive plastic-free experiences?

Kelly: Definitely, I love the bakery that I have near my work called The Wee Boulangerie.  I had been having trouble finding plastic free bread, it never dawned on me to go to the bakery to buy bread that is plastic free (I blame the supermarkets for brainwashing our society that we can get everything there!).  Once I realized this I couldn’t wait to go into the shop and buy loads of baguettes.

The bakers are so lovely.  Every time I go in with my cotton bag and ask for the 5 baguettes to be put in the bag they smile at me and go “of course”.  Then I cut them in half and put them in my freezer when I get home and I just take one out when I need it.  The bonus of this is that I get fresh bread and I am supporting a local business that I want to succeed.

Me: The whole of Kelburn was a great plastic free experience for me. I also love the Wee Boulangerie and having access to a place like that is great. I also do like the fact that KeepCups and reusable cups are now just so common place nobody bats an eyelid when you hand yours over.

Finally a question all for Kelly, you are working towards being zero waste – can you tell us about what that is and how you have been working towards it?

Zero waste is having no waste/no trash.   As you will see in the resources above some people are really hard core and only produce a jar full of trash every year.  I am not one of those people.  I still produce trash but it has greatly reduced since starting the zero waste lifestyle two years ago.  You can see in the photo below; that is all my trash for the month of July during the challenge.  I am so proud of that!

I am very lucky to live in a country/city with wonderful recycling programmes.  I am able to recycle a lot of plastic along with glass, aluminium, textiles, small electrics but I also am able to get rid of my food waste through the council recycling programme which has made a massive impact on reducing my trash.  Many people do not have a food waste programme so a lot of the zero waste bloggers actually compost their food waste.

Zero waste thought is ultimately about producing no waste, which means not even having items to put in recycling.  The ultimate goal is to keep reusing the products so that they never have to be recycled or thrown away.

I am a slower mover and have made gradual changes over time, but I think they stick better that way. It’s sort of like a diet, if you lose 1-2 pounds every week the weight is more likely to stay off.  That is what I am doing with zero waste.  I make a few small changes every so often and then when I am ready I make a few more changes.  No need to overhaul your whole way of living overnight, you will just get frustrated and revert back to what you were doing (while probably feeling extremely guilty for doing so).

I am really enjoying working towards Zero Waste and I am excited to see what changes I make over the next few months.  I am actually going to keep collecting my trash to see how much I have at the end of the year, which will hopefully lead to me staying accountable and making more changes to reduce my plastic use and trash!


Zero Waste Home:

Trash is for Tossers:

My Plastic Free Life:

Plastic Free July:

Zero Waste Chef:

So there you have it, our experiences of Plastic Free July. I want to do a wee follow up about the habits I hope to adopt and take forward but I might need to a fair bit of thinking to work out how to fit some of these things into my life – I know, I know I need to make this a priority but I think I also need to be realistic and not expect to run before I can walk.


4 thoughts on “Plastic Free July – Some Final Thoughts”

  1. This challenge sounds really difficult. I don’t know how I would fair, and certainly loads of Harris’s toys are plastic crap. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take your own container to the local takeaway or more used biodegradable stuff. Seems more common in cafes, like Union of genius, non existent in your standard takeaway joints. For veggies, I always go to tattie shaws!

    1. That would be brilliant if you could take your own containers to the takeaway! Los Cardos have compostable packaging but then use plastic pots – that makes no sense. Union of genius are amazing and I love there scheme of returning the packaging to get reward points.
      Tattie Shaws is the greengrocers I mean in the post but so far events have conspired against me. Plus I am just so disorganised!

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