Plastic Free July is an annual global movement that encourages people to reduce their plastic consumption for the whole month. And, what started from humble beginnings in 2011 has since attracted the masses, with an estimated 326 million people joining in last year.
By inspiring people to consider their everyday plastic usage and make small lifestyle changes, the campaign shows how we can all help to reduce the impact of plastic on our planet. And by now we all are aware of its horrors. Plastic stays on Earth without biodegrading, it clogs up animal’s stomachs and pollutes our waterways and motorways. If we don’t change our ways, by 2050 there could be more plastic, by weight, than fish in the sea. And similarly as concerning, less than 10 per cent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled.
Awareness is growing, and the movement has now gained traction from large corporations. Supermarkets in the UK have pledged to go plastic-free by the end of 2023, with some, including Waitrose, also committed to making sure all own-label packaging is widely recycled, reusable or home compostable by this date. The plastic bag levy has also seen the use of disposable bags fall by 95 per cent.
But, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, commitments to tackle plastic waste have seemingly been put on hold and the crisis may in fact have worsened. Notably, plastic bag bans have been reversed or delayed in some countries owing to hygiene fears.
Some parts of the plastic renaissance has been inevitable amid the pandemic, such as the need for personal protective equipment (PPE). But, disposable plastic face masks pose a huge environmental risk – it’s estimated that they are produced on a similar scale to plastic bottles, 43 billion per month. But unlike plastic bottles, of which 25 per cent are recycled, there is no official guidance on mask recycling, meaning that a phenomenal amount will end up polluting our environment.
Other sectors have jumped back on the plastic train too. Many UK pubs, restaurants and fast-food chains have been serving in takeaway cups, in a takeaway capacity or not. But, these measures might not be necessary, as reusable cups, bottles, and containers are safe to use, as long as they are washed properly and social distancing is observed.
Now more than ever, it’s time to cut our plastic consumption and take part in Plastic Free July’s award-winning campaign to save both our planet’s and our own health. Making small changes is simpler than it seems: leave plastic out of your shopping trolley and consider the alternatives, keep an eye out for A Plastic Planet’s “plastic free” trust mark on products and packaging, and where possible, buy loose fruit and vegetables from supermarkets.
To make it a little easier, here are our tips on how to live a plastic-free life – from reusable lunchboxes to updating your beauty regime, this is everything you need to ace it.
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Lush slap stick foundation, 30g
When it comes to beauty, the cosmetics industry is well-known for its unnecessary packaging that is often difficult to recycle due to the mixed materials used.
On the whole, cheap alternatives for skincare can be found – try swapping your handwash for a bar of soap or use a shampoo bar (we love the range by KinKind). Finding alternatives to make-up, however, can be slightly more problematic. That’s where Lush comes in.
This slap stick foundation delivers medium coverage and is formulated from 14 per cent pigment and 45 per cent coconut oil, leaving a dewy finish. The product is dipped in peelable wax and arrives in a recycled and recyclable cardboard box. Either keep it in this packaging or put it in a reusable container to keep it fresh.
When applying, we found it best to warm it up slightly on the back of our hand before applying to the face and using a brush to work into the skin. Owing to its natural ingredients, it’s best not to leave it in the sun as it will melt. There are 40 shades in the range, each with warm and cool undertones, so there's something for everyone.
‘More Plants Less Waste: Plant-based Recipes + Zero Waste Life Hacks with Purpose’ by Max La Manna, published by Yellow Kite
With a large proportion of food products wrapped in polythene, avoiding plastic when cooking is notoriously difficult. Buying loose fruit and veg would be our top tip, but for some more detailed advice – More Plants Less Waste is the ultimate cookbook and guide to zero waste living. With 80 recipes – including spaghetti bolognese and "veggie nachos in a hurry" – Max La Manna promises that you won’t just eat well, but you’ll save money and cut down on food waste too.
Circular&Co reusable coffee cup
Though largely made from cardboard, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof. This means cups cannot be recycled at standard recycling plants, and instead must be taken to specific facilities – only three of these exist in the UK. With a range of cafés offering discount schemes for customers who bring in reusable cups, it's time to invest in one before you return to work post-lockdown.
Taking the top spot in our review of the best reusable coffee cups is this Circular&Co reusable coffee cup. It won best buy for being “an excellent cup made from single-use paper cups”, with our tester saying it’s “designed to last a decade and is 100 per cent recyclable at the end of its life”. What’s more, it’s “totally leak proof”.
Black+Blum stainless steel lunch box
While taking your lunch into the office might be off the cards for now, get prepared ahead of your return with a reusable lunch box. Alternatively, use it as a container for leftovers, reducing the need for clingfilm – another single-use plastic culprit. This large stainless steel lunchbox is thankfully 100 per cent leakproof, so you won’t have to worry about any spillages in your bag. It’s oven and freezer safe, and surprisingly lightweight – a planet-friendly all-rounder.
Plus, it took the top spot in our guide to the best reusable lunchboxes thanks to its “airtight locking system and the fact that it can also be used as an oven or freezer dish”.
Scoolr silicone stretch lids
Cling film is extremely hard to recycle and not accepted at most centres. It’s unfortunately a kitchen staple, but there’s actually plenty of alternatives – allow us to introduce you to silicone lids. While beeswax wraps (Etsy, £8.99) are a popular choice, and we think these are best kept for sandwiches, as opposed to keeping refrigerated food fresh. These silicone lids, however, stretch to fit oddly shaped and sized containers, which makes swapping out cling film a whole lot easier. They’re even dishwasher, freezer and microwave safe.
Tea Pigs everyday brew
While you’d be forgiven for thinking tea bags are made up of just paper and tea, you’d be wrong. In fact, many of them contain polypropylene to seal them and make sure they hold their shape. Researchers have even suggested that micro and nanoplastics could be being released into your cuppa when it’s brewing. Many brands also use plastic packaging – so, it’s out with the Tetley and in with Tea Pigs.
With the “plastic free trust mark”, you can trust this brand to be sustainable. The clear inner packaging bags are made of “natureflex” – a renewable wood pulp made into an airtight packaging. Once you’ve finished with it, you can place it in your compost bin to decompose. Despite its strong eco-credentials, the flavour of the tea is not compromised. With a whole range on offer – from liquorice and peppermint (£10.99, Amazon.co.uk) to your earl grey (£11.14, Amazon.co.uk), there’s a host to choose from.
Kind Bag reusable shopping bag
Ditching single-use plastic bags this month might be tricky if you’re not used to it. While the convenience of paying an extra 10p to transport your goods home might be persuasive. Don’t give in. Instead, carry a reusable tote with you, so you’re not left empty-handed.
Kind Bag is our go-to brand, and its shopping bag took the top spot in our guide to the best reusable carriers thanks to its “great design” and size. “It’s huge and can hold two or three times your usual plastic shopping bag and around 20kg”, praised our writer. Plus, it “folds down into a little pouch”, is “waterproof, weighs just 50g and is also 100 per cent recyclable”.
If that’s not enough to persuade you, Kind also donates 1 per cent of all sales – not just profit – to a range of charities, including Just One Ocean, a charity that raises awareness of plastic pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature UK, Breast Cancer Haven and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
Who Gives A Crap 100% recycled toilet paper, 48 rolls
Often something you grab without thinking about it, toilet paper comes in thin, non-recyclable plastic, something that you will have to avoid during Plastic Free July and hopefully beyond. Sign up to toilet roll subscription service Who Gives A Crap, which was founded in 2012 on the ethos of making a difference.
The brand took the top spot in our guide to the best plastic-free toiletries and beauty products, with our writer noting that it “doesn’t use any virgin trees in this product – or inks, dyes or scents – and instead the loo roll is made from waste paper, like textbooks and old office materials”.
Thanks to its philanthropic and environmental efforts, Who Gives A Crap is a certified B Corp – a company that meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. The company even donates 50 per cent of its profits to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world; proving this brand really does give a crap.
Milk & More organic semi skimmed milk in glass, 568ml, 1pt
Having milk delivered isn’t just better for the environment with no plastic waste, it’s a whole lot more convenient for you too. Select how regularly you’d like it to arrive and your milkman will deliver often before you’ve woken up, so you’ll never be without. If you leave your finished bottles on your doorstep, they'll collect and reuse them. Keep it fresh with these milk tops (£4.99, Amazon.co.uk).
Kilner jar 2l clip top jar
Buying legumes in tins is one way to avoid plastic consumption, a more affordable option is bulk buying nuts, seeds, quinoa and beans from zero waste stores (find your local store here) and stocking up on the essentials. Often you’ll need to take your own container with you to do so, while plastic ones (£3.49, Amazon.co.uk) and jam jars are great, this Kilner jar alternative will last longer and will hold more produce; it also makes a nice kitchen accessory.
Hydro Flask wide mouth, 946ml
With more plastic water bottles being sold in the UK than ever before, our thirst for single-use items shows no sign of slowing down. It’s time to change this up. Instead of buying bottled water, save your pennies and invest in a reusable alternative that will see you through July and beyond.
This one was a firm favourite in our review of the best reusable water bottles thanks to it being lighter than most insulated bottles. “The wide mouth made it suitable for adding ice to our water”, the tester said, adding that “it also works well for hot liquids such as soup and coffee”. It’s made using 18/8 pro-grade stainless steel meaning it “benefits from double-wall vacuum insulation, which keeps cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours”. It’s a great all-rounder, plus it is dishwasher friendly.
‘Is It Really Green?: Everyday eco dilemmas answered’, Georgina Wilson-Powell, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd
Books are a great source of hard-hitting evidence in the hope of making you feel more empowered to make a change and this title aims to “demystify some of the everyday eco speak, so you can make informed choices”, wrote our reviewer in our guide to the best plastic-free books.
It tackles questions such as “is non-dairy milk really better for the planet? And are paper bags more environmentally friendly than plastic?”. What’s more, the book itself has even been made sustainably, “printed in black and white, on recycled paper locally, in order to reduce air miles”. A timely read.
Wild refillable natural deodorant
While it's easy to focus on the things you can’t use, see Plastic Free July as an exciting opportunity to try new products. This refillable deodorant featured in our guide to the best plastic free beauty products and comes from a brand that’s climate-positive, “meaning any carbon made during production is counteracted by planting trees”.
As for the product itself, the refills are made from bamboo pulp, so they’re compostable and our writer noted that the brand never tests on animals. There are four scents to choose from: rose blush, mint fresh, coconut dream, orange zest and bergamot rituals, with the latter being a “mild and absolutely not overpowering” scent. “We found it protected us well, didn’t leave us feeling sweaty at the end of the day (even after light exercise) and we didn’t experience any unwanted odours,” praised our writer.
“It’s cheaper – and easier – to subscribe (for £12 you get the case and one refill), but if you want to make a one-off purchase, it’s £25 for the case and three refills”. A great swap to make during Plastic Free July and beyond.
For discounts on reusable bottles and other Plastic Free July essentials, try the links below:
Looking for more eco-friendly finds? Read our guide to the best refillable household products to help you reduce plastic waste
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