This month is Plastic Free July, so what better time to start a deep dive into my rubbish bin waste! I care about the environment and have already made some steps to reduce my impact so I thought going plastic free would be an easy next step. But the reality is that since moving to France I’ve been making excuses; such as: ‘it’s too difficult to find bulk foods’ ‘I don’t know how to ask for no plastic in french’ and ‘they’ll think I’m weird’.
So I decided to step up my game and start exploring the plastic free alternative in Paris.
TIP 1: Collect all your plastic waste for a week, to understand how much plastic you’re using. This will be your benchmark.
In order to know exactly how ‘plastic free’ I was, I decided to collect my plastic rubbish so I could see my total consumption. I was thinking about those inspirational women who announce ‘this is my total household waste for year’ and proudly display a single mason jar.
I realised I wasn’t as green as I thought was when I looked at my plastics bin after only one week of being ‘plastic free’:
That’s 19 plastic items in one week. A average of 2.5 pieces per day.
Seeing this was demoralising and I was about to give up on the whole idea, but then I reminded myself that this is a process. You can’t just be plastic free overnight. My kitchen and bathroom were already filled with plastic packaging from previous purchases. So, of course I was going to have plastic waste as I finished each item.
TIP 2. Treat each piece of rubbish as a lesson about how you can purchase differently
Analysing my bin I had:
- 9 pieces of packaging for items such as rice, pasta, sultanas, quinoa, almonds, oats and pumpkin seeds. The reason they all ended up in the bin in week one is because I transferred them to glass jars. How can I purchase differently: I’ve found a store where I can now buy these products in bulk so in future there will be no further packaging.
- 1 milk bottle: I’ve been looking for alternatives to plastic milk bottles and this week found tetra pack milk. However with further research I’ve found that tetra packs are incredibly difficult to recycle. How can I purchase differently: I will continue to search for glass bottle alternatives or just reduce my milk consumption.
- 2 straws: This was accidental consumption as I forgot to say ‘no straw please’ when ordering a drink. A very frustrating experience as once it’s in your drink there’s not much you can do about it. However I discovered this brilliant sign at a different bar that will significantly reduce straw waste:
- 1 biscuit packet – both the outer wrapping and the hard plastic tray. How can I purchase differently: biscuits are hardly an essential item but if I’m really craving one I can buy a cookie from the bakery
- 1 tomato punnet – these come with a plastic box and a plastic wrapper so something I need to avoid in future. How can I purchase differently: I have found a bio store that sells cherry tomatoes in bulk.
Delivery packaging – I’ve been trying to avoid buying things new and therefore I don’t get a lot of deliveries. However I bought 3 second hand books online, and of course they arrived in plastic packaging, so it wasn’t an entirely guilt free purchase. (good books though!). How can I purchase differently: Find books (and other products) from physical stores rather than online, preferably secondhand.
1 Nurofen packet – my husband eats these things like candy. How can I purchase differently: As far as I’m aware there are no alternatives to medication packaging.
TIP 3: Utilise old sauce jars to store bulk products. Alternatively look for mason jars at local second hand stores, or online classifieds, rather than buying new.
TIP 4: Use your current plastic bathroom products until they are finished. There is no need to throw them out in advance. Going plastic free is a transition not an extreme detox diet.
My final item was a shower gel bottle – I’ve been reusing the same bottle for about 4 months by buying refill packs which is slightly better than buying new bottles but the refills are still made of plastic (60% less according to their marketing). How can I purchase differently: I’ve now swapped to a good old fashioned bar of soap and I’m loving it (because the one I bought smells amazing).
So now that I can see my typical plastic consumption I can start making lifestyle changes to reduce it further. and what better place to start than the open markets…
Market places are a great place to buy plastic free produce. I can bring my own bags and buy all fruit and vegetables for the week without any plastic. The only challenges were berries and cherry tomatoes that come in plastic punnets, and cuts of watermelon that are wrapped in glad wrap.
Fortunately I found one vendor that sells raspberries in cardboard boxes; I can buy cherry tomatoes from the bio store, and I just bought the whole watermelon – problem solved.
TIP 5: Ask your local markets or supermarket if they will let you bring your own container.
I have now confirmed with both the Lebanese stall and the butcher that they are happy to use my containers to provide me with hummus and chicken respectively. I highly recommend speaking to your local markets or supermarkets to see if they are fine with using your containers. I can’t see why they would have reason to object as long as the containers you provide are clean.
The first challenge I have discovered is the increased cost. For example the chicken and hummus I buy at the market are between 30- 40% more on average than their plastic wrapped alternatives at the supermarket. I imagine the quality is higher but it’s not a practical option for anyone on a tight budget. The best way to make a plastic free lifestyle the norm is to make the alternatives more affordable and accessible.
For other foods the costs can be lower such as buying bulk nuts, seeds and rice, so it starts to balance but overall I’ve found Plastic-free July to be an expensive experiment.
TIP 6: Get your own reusable cutlery so you can avoid using the plastic ones at cafes.
When going plastic free the problems are not always what you buy but what you are given.
As mentioned earlier I was given straws in my drink because I forgot to say something, and I was given plastic cutlery even when eating at a cafe. On another occasion I was offered an orange juice from a client at work and when it arrived it was in a plastic bubble cup with a straw. These surprises are hard to avoid unless you refuse all food and drink offers, never eat out or always add a disclaimer, ‘yes I’ll take an orange juice but only if it’s plastic free’. But you can always talk to the vendors about plastic alternatives!
TIP 7: Forcing someone to go plastic free is like forcing someone to become vegan or a Mormon, the more you push, the more they will rebel against you. Be patient and focus on your own efforts first.
My personal challenge is getting my husband on board. He’s not as concerned about environmental problems as me so sometimes I feel like I’m being very difficult when he goes down to the supermarket and I yell out after him ‘no plastics please!’
He has accepted some of my adjustments, for example: he no longer gets his shirts dry cleaned, he washes and irons them himself, thus avoiding the thin plastic covers on each shirt and the tiny plastic clips on each cuff; I’ve replaced his plastic cotton buds with bamboo ones with minimal complaint; We go to our local Japanese place for dinner rather than get it as takeaway because Japanese food is one of the worst offenders for plastic: and he now makes our salad dressing himself so we can reuse a bottle rather than buying a new one. So that’s progress 🙂
TIP 8: Don’t be too hard on yourself
The biggest learning I’ve had this month is not to beat myself up when I do use plastic. The world is inundated with plastic products so you can hardly blame yourself when occasionally you cannot find a plastic free alternative. For example when the tap water is non potable, I would rather drink from a plastic bottle than become dehydrated. Or when I haven’t been organised enough to go to the market or bio store so I need to go to our local supermarket. I have to remind myself that it’s not the end of the world and that overall I’m trying my best to reduce plastic.
So remember, whether you decide to go entirely plastic free or just find ways to reduce your impact, it all makes a difference.