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How to start your plastic free life 

Mia Swainson

Every year humans throw away enough plastic to circle the Earth four times.

Half of this plastic is single-use and disposable. Much of it ends up in our oceans, where it’s responsible for killing one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year. It’s time to rethink how we use plastic. It’s time to start again and build a relationship with plastic that’s healthy for us and our planet.

Plastic pollution is this year’s theme for World Environment Day which is today, 5 June 2018.  The UN Environment Program’s message is ‘if you can’t reuse it, refuse it’.

Globally, the main use of plastic is packaging, accounting for about 40% of all plastic manufactured. Household plastic use makes up the next 20%. The construction and agricultural industries are responsible for a mere 23% of plastic produced. So, the power really is in the hands of everyday people. Plastic pollution is a problem that people have the power to change through their everyday choices.

Loren Howell is a plastic-free living advocate who has been living plastic-free for more 18 months. Loren’s business, Yangoora Close, helps people to make the switch with plastic alternatives, but Loren says that she didn’t quit plastic cold turkey.

“I didn’t do it all at once, as that would have been overwhelming,” she explains. “I was already taking green bags to the shops, and had my own water bottle. Then I switched to a reusable coffee cup and started refusing straws. Next up, I swapped cling wrap for beeswax wraps. I liked what this was doing, so then I just worked my way through every aspect of my life.”

When I ask Loren about plastic items that were difficult to avoid, she gives a sigh, “It’s makeup. I wish that I could buy it in bulk.”

Loren also admits that she sometimes gives in to convenience and buys milk in a plastic bottle, although she usually sources it from the little big diary co, who supply some of their milk in 1-litre glass bottles.

Alternatives to plastic are everywhere. There are bamboo pegs, toothbrushes and toiletries that can compost. Bulk food stores and farmers’ markets are popping up around Australia, helping with plastic-free food. People are also starting to take their own containers into the deli or butcher, avoiding plastic wrapped food. The Plastic-Free July campaign has a guide to alternatives, including everything from pet care to shampoo.

When it comes to reducing your plastic budget, for many people, an even more powerful alternative to buying plastic wrapped food is to buy nothing new. New household items are commonly wrapped in plastic, with plastic cushioning and ties that keep it safe while the ‘things’ are in transit.

If you’re committed to bringing your own shopping bag, and you want to avoid plastic, choose carefully. Those ‘green bags’ that are available for purchase at most supermarket check-outs are actually made from soft plastic. Recycle them at the end of their life using the redcycle bins.

I’m starting the plastic-free living journey, taking things one step at a time.

So far, I’ve made inroads on the buy nothing new, buying from farmers markets and with alternatives like beeswax wraps and bamboo toothbrushes. I’ve also tackled feminine hygiene, by getting myself a menstrual cup.

Next on my list is to start bulk food shopping. Right now, I’m finding it difficult to see how my family of five will ever be completely plastic free, but I’m going to take Loren’s advice… one step at a time. I’ve made a change and am getting closer to building a relationship with plastic that’s healthy for me and the planet.


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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