When it comes to quitting plastic, a quick peek into the psychology texts might be a good place to start.

We human beings are creatures of habit. Our so-called ‘status quo bias’ means we mostly do the same things over and over again, even if there are alternatives available and compelling reasons to make a change. 

Think, for example, of the 1.8 billion disposable plastic-lined coffee cups Australian use every year, or the mountains of thin plastic bags we automatically reach for at the supermarket for our fruit and veg.

Microplastics

Yet most of us also know we’re drowning in plastic. We’ve all seen those tragic images of starving sea birds, their stomach filled with ingested plastic, or all that plastic litter along the Georges River. On our currently global trajectory, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (by weight) by 2050.

Less obvious are microplastics - those tiny molecules that remain when plastics pollution breaks down. They’ve made their way into our drinking water, the food we eat and into our bodies, even into human sperm. Microplastics also were recently found in the plaque of heart disease sufferers, increasing their risk of strokes and heart attacks.

River_rubbish

It is, however, easier to convince people that, say, recycling is good than it is to get them to actually recycle. Ditto, reducing plastic waste at the source by avoiding all those single use plastics we toss away. In Australia, 89% of us think recycling is important, yet just 14% of our plastic waste is  currently recycled.

So what can we do when plastic waste seems like such an overwhelming part of our daily lives? A lot!

First, plan for success

For decades consumerism has encouraged us to ‘shop and toss’ and to ‘waste lots and want more’! And old habits die hard. One major Swiss study found that it takes between eighteen and 254 days to establish a new habit! So cut yourself some slack, and plan for success.

Identify achievable goals and build from there. We get more done together, so buddy up. We’re also more likely to follow through on resolutions if we’ve spruiked them on social media or announced them to friends.

Here are some ideas to reduce your single use plastic footprint. Once you’ve established a new habit, build on it with the next step.

Start with easy wins!

Reusable Coffee Cup

Challenge 1/July

Use only reuseable drink containers

Think like a Parisienne! If you’ve visited Europe you might have noticed that people aren’t rushing around clutching take away coffee cups or fast food. Culturally, it’s uncouth. Europeans stop in and drink a coffee in a café, or even standing up at a café bar. So can we. Or we can carry a reusable cup. Easy. The same goes for water. Refill your own reusable water bottle. And water in single use plastic bottles contains more microplastics than ‘tap’!

Reuseable bags

Challenge 2/August

Get ahead of the produce bag ban

Toss your fruit and vegetables loose into your trolley; they come pre-wrapped by nature in washable skins. Or invest a few dollars in reusable, drawstring mesh bags for easier handling (available in supermarkets). Flimsy plastic produce bags will soon disappear, with WA the first state due to implement a ban in September 2024.  Also try asking the baker to put your fresh bread in a paper bag, or offer up your own reusable bread bag (available online). Easy.

detergent sheets in cardboard packaging

Challenge 3/September

Go green when you clean

Wash plastic free. Buy soap wrapped in paper instead of liquid plastic pump packs, choose laundry powder or concentrated detergent sheets boxed in cardboard and use stainless steel pegs. Easy.

Ok, let’s give this a go.. doable next steps

Recycled fibres

Challenge 4/October

Wear natural or recycled fibres

With the arrival of fast (cheap) fashion we’ve been bedazzled by all the colour and fun. Australians buys, on average, 56 items of clothing – and disposes of 23 kgs of textiles – a year.  Some 60% of textiles are fossil fuel- derived synthetics (so types of plastic). And just one 5kg wash of synthetic fabrics releases 6 million micro plastic fibres into our water ways. Buy clothes made of natural fibres instead. They’ll last longer and won’t shed microplastics. Or look for garments made from recycled fibres or plastics. Check labels; there is plenty to choose from!  Doable.

Bathroom plastics

Challenge 5/November

Rid your bathroom of plastics

Try trading in shampoo and conditioner bottles for solid shampoo and conditioner bars; lots available online and in supermarkets. Deodorant can be purchased as an effective paste. Toilet paper, too, is easy to find without plastic wrapping. Another big opportunity lies in swapping out sanitary pads, made of plastic-based fibres, for washable ‘period undies’ (incontinence undies available too) and tampons for a ‘ruby (menstrual) cup’. Doable.

Reuseable containers

Challenge 6/December

Dine in or BYO takeaway containers

Entertaining at home is a great opportunity to use washable crockery and cutlery, fabric napkins (or unbleached paper) and to showcase the food you’ve bought without plastic wrapping. You can avoid plastic soft drink bottles entirely by using a ‘soda stream’ (and save money). Eating in at restaurants and cafes also saves on plastic waste. If you do need to ‘take away’, get to know your local restauranteurs and bring your own reusable containers with you and ask them to be filled.  Doable

Hmmm,  let me think about it. More challenging

No_single_use_plastic_in_kids_lunches

Challenge 7/January

Plastic-free kids

An adult throws away an average of 329 plastic items a year, but a family of four tosses away 2,764 items (UK study). So we double our plastic waste footprint once we have kids! Just think of nappies (I cup  of crude oil per synthetic disposable nappy) and wet wipes. Could washable ‘modern cloth nappies’ work for you? Or bamboo wipes? Can you do without food pouches (not recyclable) or avoid individually packed snacks?. There are also lots of online opportunities to connect with other parents to pass on toys and clothes and reduce costs and waste. Give it a go!

bulk shopping

Challenge 8/February

Try Bulk or Waste Free Shopping

Can you buy in bulk or choose the biggest pack? The fewer packs you purchase, the less the plastic waste you generate. Some stores also allow you to fill your own reusable jars or containers,. Pay by weight, and unpack straight into your pantry. Some supermarkets also offer loose snacks and nuts to purchase by weight. Just don’t take the plastic bags on offer, swap in a paper bag, and print out the label in the same way.  Give it a go!

Dog poo solution

Challenge 9/March

Plastic-free pets

Canned pet food is easy to recycle but all dry food seems to come in plastic. Things like cat litter, too, are mostly plastic wrapped. But there are also recycled paper cat litter options; just google it! And you don’t need plastic bags for doggy-do. Use home compostable green bags and compost them at home in a DIY doggy-do compost bucket, and lobby your Council to provide them in parks. One other solution is to shop with a pet store chain that takes back plastic packaging for recycling, even  packaging from pet products purchased elsewhere. Give it a go!

Lifestyle challenges, consolidating new habits

Foodstorage Clara Williams Roldan and Louise Williams

Challenge 10/April

Swap three products

Change your supermarket shopping habits forever. Try shopping mindfully! Swap out at least three of your staple purchases for plastic free alternatives - permanently. There are lots of options to choose from. You can swap sugar in plastic for paper packaging, ditto flour, or buy the honey and peanut butter in glass (with higher recycling rates), instead of in plastic.

look for recycled packaging logo

Challenge 11/May

Look for recycled packaging

Support companies that don’t use virgin plastic. If you look carefully, you’ll find more and more packaging is made from 100% recycled, post- consumer plastic. That is, waste plastic that is not in the environment. That’s a win, especially if you make sure you put it back into the recycling stream once its empty. Swap out at least three of your staple purchases products in 100% recycled plastic.

bring your own containers

Challenge 12/June

BYO containers, everywhere!

This one sounds easy enough, but it can be challenging. We are herd animals, so when we offer up our own containers in the butcher, fishmonger or deli we disrupt the flow of plastic bags, and draw attention to ourselves. But even the big supermarkets are trialling BYO containers at some stores. Stick with it!

Are we winning the war on plastic waste?

Why should individuals make so much effort to reduce their plastic waste?? In an ideal world the industries and businesses that load us up with plastic would have a responsibility to ensure we can, at least, get it all recycled. So far, that’s a fail.

But the efforts and advocacy of lots of individuals is driving real progress. Many, many fantastic people and organisations have been campaigning for decades to reduce single use plastics, across Australia and globally.

In Australia, we have a raft of bans coming gradually into force for high volume single use plastic items like plastic bags, plastic bowls, plates and cutlery, coffee cups and lids, straws, and takeaway food containers. These are the waste items most likely to leak into the natural environment.

So far, Western Australia is a clear leader, with NSW, the most populous state, a disappointing fifth. But NSW is considering banning additional items like cigarette filters, single-serve condiments, helium-filled balloons, plastic ice-cream and lollipop sticks, and party poppers – so may yet move up the World Wildlife Fund’s rankings.

Challenge yourself to use less plastic

quit_plastic_monthly_missions

Download and print our simple guide with monthly missions designed to help you quit plastic. Stick it on your fridge or keep it close by. Use the sheet to jot down your personal motivation and perhaps plan a reward for your wins. 

Let’s make a difference, one month at a time!