By nickihodgson - posted on July 31, 2020

Choose to Refuse

Having completed two Plastic Free July challenges previously, I started this month with an understanding of what works for me as an individual and what doesn’t (miswak sticks anyone?). Although the goal is to get to the end of the month without having used any “disposable” plastic, for me it’s more about the journey of discovery: learning about product substitutes, finding local shops and assessing my boundaries. Just because I said no to, for example, conditioner bars the first year doesn’t mean that I can’t be persuaded otherwise later on down the line.

This month, I discovered the absolute joy of popping popcorn on the stove, was struck by Milk & More’s vastly expanded range of goods (including milk alternatives in glass!) and tested several new products and new ways to shop. I even stumbled upon a local beekeeper who sells honey to neighbours (that now includes me).

Whilst this challenge still had plenty of, well…challenges, the availability of plastic-free items compared to previous years was encouraging. I think I had eggs on toast as a last-resort only once this month, which was more of a staple meal this time last year. That’s despite not being able to duck out to local restaurants quite as easily, although lockdown restrictions are easing, and not relying as heavily on the abundant return of freshly baked goods from the local supermarket. With more choices online than ever before, I’ve discovered a local goat milk soap maker who posts products in plastic-free packaging, ordered washing up gloves that claim they’re home compostable and tested out the UK’s newest re-use store.

Lockdown’s silver lining for me has been that my garden is (mostly) thriving and my plastic-free recipe repertoire has improved considerably. The fresh veg from my garden was a godsend the first couple of weeks of the challenge, producing peppery rocket salads that hit the spot (before the flea beetles decimated the crop). I now have a glut of yellow squash and cucumbers and have been Googling creative ways to use these up.

I’ve also been lucky that my other half has been around a lot more now that he’s no longer travelling for work. And we picked up a second used bicycle recently, making it easier to get to the farm shop and bulk foods shop together. Bonus: he doubles as a pack horse.

The pandemic has, however, also created a rise in disposable plastics. Surfers Against Sewage has busted many of the myths surrounding reusables in the age of coronavirus. My local supermarket thankfully stopped bagging each freshly baked good (e.g., cookies, croissants, bread rolls) at the beginning of the month. And the washable face mask I ordered in January for an unrelated reason has proven incredibly useful in the last several weeks and months, as have my stacks of soap bars and refillable liquid soap bottle – I haven’t had a need to purchase single use latex gloves or face coverings to keep safe.

Limited interaction with people outside my household gave me the courage to go au naturel with my hair for Plastic Free July, also known as the ‘no poo’ method (sounds worse than it is). By avoiding shampoos and conditioners, this method is meant to restore your hair’s natural oils. After 4 weeks, I honestly cannot wait to use a commercial shampoo (and, luckily, I can refill my bottle at the local bulk foods shop). Scrubbing with water only has meant I’ve had to frequently clean my hairbrush because of the build-up of sebum on the bristles (ick!). It may work for some, but this head of hair is being stripped of oils come August.

As I realised last year, I value leftovers much more when there’s less to go around and try my best to make produce last longer. I noticed that my milk deliveries wouldn’t last beyond a week so tried to use these up quicker than I would have liked until I unexpectedly found that if I got up whilst still dark out to collect my delivery, the milk stayed fresher for longer. There have been a few very early starts this month as a result.

My approach to the challenge this month was to go easy on myself if I couldn’t, for example, buy tea sans plastic. I used up food the first few days that would have spoilt had I not cooked it regardless of its packaging, ordered new motorcycle gear (safety first!) laden with composites, foams and fibreglass and continued to mail greeting cards purchased from a local photographer despite the plastic sleeves and ‘Air Mail’ stickers I merrily stuck to the envelopes. There are too many other stressors this year to sweat the small stuff. I did what I could manage, and that’s all any one of us can hope to do.

If you’d like to get involved, visit the Plastic Free July website. You might also like to participate in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British September Clean later this year. And for further reading, see what insights I gleaned from last year’s challenge.