If you're interested in reducing the amount of trash - and particularly plastic - that you and/or your household produces and you're not quite sure where to start, it can seem like a daunting task.  Once you stop, look around, and tune into the problem, it suddenly seems like plastic is simply everywhere - from tea bags to tracksuit pants, to those tiny but annoying stickers on the fruit you buy or the straw that you asked them to leave out that still turns up in your drink anyway.

Beyond what you can buy in the fresh food section of your average supermarket, it's almost impossible to do a full grocery shop minus a heavy helping of plastic packaging. And this leaves many of us wondering what to do about it. Being involved in discussions and forums about the challenges of reducing plastic consumption, there are a few common questions that I see repeated often, especially by those who may be only just tuning in to the idea of kicking the plastic habit; 

But it's impossible to go plastic free, what about my fridge/computer/kettle?
It's certainly true that we are swimming in a sea of plastic (and our actual seas are full of it as well). Plastic is an incredibly useful and versatile product and that's the reason why it's become one of the most widely used substances of our time. Lightweight, malleable, strong, durable and resistant to a range of temperatures, we use it for everything from medical equipment to telephones, car parts to spectacles. 

However, we also use it for everything from banana wrapping to Christmas cracker toys and ice-cream spoons to lollipop sticks. The idea behind initiatives such as Plastic Free July (PFJ) is not to demonize this product as a substance that should never be used anywhere - but rather get to grips with how much of it we're consuming. Considering it is such a valuable resource, and so energy intensive to produce, doesn't it seem crazy that we so casually use and discard it in such great volume every single day?

The main culprits under attack are the single use monsters, mostly found in the convenience quarter of our modern consumer-driven lives. Plastic bags, straws, takeaway cups and containers, disposable cutlery, drink bottles - there are a dozen or more spur of the moment uses of plastic that can see it go from our hands to the bin in under five minutes. PFJ is all about challenging us to identify where single use plastic is coming into our lives and to try and find alternatives - or just say no for a month and see how things go. Difficult? Absolutely. Enlightening? Very likely!

If I want to reduce my plastic footprint, does this mean I have to throw away all the plastic things I have and replace them with something else?
Not at all. In fact unless it's in a bad state, replacing a perfectly serviceable item with a non-plastic alternative for the sake of de-plastifying your life isn't very environmentally sound.
If something needs replacing then that's the perfect moment to opt in to an earth-friendly alternative but until that's necessary then we're not doing the Earth any favours by filling a skip with plastic just so we can upgrade to a bamboo lifestyle. Even though I try and consume as little as possible, there are still lots of plastic items in my house; things I pick up second hand, salvaged items and other personal effects dating from long before there was any real awareness about the scale of the problem.

So, while I think a timber handled hairbrush would be lovely, I'm not about to throw away my sturdy old plastic handled hairbrush just for the sake of it.

Going plastic free seems to be more expensive, how can I justify the cost?
Yep, this is a tricky one. For people who really want to tackle their plastic use, it takes planning, can be time-consuming and inconvenient, and sometimes costs more. For the simple, initial steps - saying no to the big 4 (straws, BYO coffee cups, plastic bags and bottled water), it certainly won't cost you any more and may even save you money as a lot of cafes offer a 50c discount if you supply you own cup, and tap water is a lot cheaper than bottled!

For anyone who wants to take it further then the price of some foods can cost a little more from your local bulk food supplier, but this isn't always the case. People who start down the plastic-free/ zero waste road will generally end up making quite significant changes to the way they live; pulling one thread tends to unravel a whole tangle of intersecting problems. Common changes include growing more food, composting scraps at home, eating less meat, eating minimal processed food, avoiding big chain supermarkets, joining community garden programs and making a lot more food from scratch.

In short - although we lived without it for most of our history, plastic is, for now, pretty firmly entrenched in our modern day culture and it's almost impossible to escape it completely. It has a lot of important and essential uses, as well as a lot of superfluous and wasteful ones. However, consumer pressure can make a difference and we can definitely find ways to get by without the excess of it much more than we realise. There are more and more plastic free alternatives appearing every month as well as abundant online resources from people who have taken the plunge to live plastic free - for a month, a year, for life.
Pro-tip: You're gunna need more jars!
Feeling motivated? Here's a few tips if you're looking for ideas:

 1. Leave it on the shelf
Have you noticed the amount of fruit and veg that's pre-packaged in multiple layers of plastic these days? Opt for the loose produce instead, it will help to send a clear message to our retailers that we don't want extra helpings of plastic without our fresh food!

2. The Big 4: Disposable cups, plastic bags, bottled water and straws.
This is one of the easiest changes you can make, but it does mean getting into new habits; using your own BYO coffee mug, prefilling your own bottles, stashing a few cloth bags in your bag or car and remembering to ask for 'no straw!'

3. Replacing plastic bags for fruit and veg with lightweight cotton or nylon reusable bags.
A lot of people buy these although I prefer to make my own from thin scrap fabrics

4. Connect with your local bulk food stores! 
Most major centres have at least one - it may not be economical for you to replace all the producst that you may otherwise get pre-packaged from the supermarket, but even a few staples will make a difference. Do some price comparisons and find out what might work for you

5. Connect with your community
There are a lot of online resources, including the Plastic Free July website, the ABC's #waronwaste webpage and there may even be a local Zero Waste facebook discussion group in your area where you can connect with other like minded individuals and get ideas.

* This is an edited version of a post I wrote that was originally featured on the 1millionwomen website

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