The summer is officially here and for those interested in eco-friendly living, you know what that means: It is time for Plastic-Free July! To celebrate, we have rounded up a few simple swaps to get you started on your journey towards living with less waste.
Plastic-Free July (PFJ) started in Australia in 2011 with the goal of avoiding disposables products, specifically single-use plastics, in the month of July. PFJ is supposed to be a challenge: You can pick one disposable to avoid like single-use plastic straws or you can try and avoid the “big four” (grocery bags, plastic straws, to-go coffee cups, and plastic water bottles). Of course, you can go all in and avoid ALL single-use plastics for the ENTIRE month of July if you want to really push yourself!
Since it is only a month-long commitment, you can simply give it a try and see if plastic-free living is something you want to pursue long-term. Once you start reducing your trash and exposure to single-use plastics, you might discover it is actually easier than expected.
Here are TEN EASY SWAPS you can make this July:
1. Reusable water bottles
Every day, in the UAE, 10 million plastic bottles are used. That is a lot of waste! You might be wondering why these bottles are landfilled instead of recycled. While recycling is a good place to start for specific cases, it is not the answer to our problem. Did you know that plastic only has a 9% recycling rate globally? In the UAE, even less than 6% of plastic is currently recycled.
An easy thing to do is to simply use your own water bottle and refill it – preferably with filtered water from the tap! That way you avoid massive amounts of energy, water, and oil that go into producing bottles which then pollute the environment for hundreds of years – plus, most bottled water brands are tap water anyway!
If you need a convenient solution for on the go, check out Shift Eco’s new Re.Thynk range of collapsible bottles made from food-grade silicone and remember to use the Refill app to find water stations on the go.
2. Reusable coffee cups
Most of the paper cups you receive at coffee shops are actually lined with plastic which means they are NOT recyclable in most facilities, even outside the UAE. Add to that the plastic lid and again it is a whole lot of waste going straight to landfill.
The solution is as simple as bringing your own thermos or cup to the coffee shop or asking for a mug to stay. Some coffee shops even offer discounts or rewards to customers who bring their own reusable cup – they can also be found on the Refill app!
3. Loose tea
It might surprise you to learn that most tea bags – especially the fancy “silken” ones – are made from plastic. Studies found that steeping a plastic tea bag at 95 degrees Celsius released around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 bn. nanoplastics into a single cup. That is much more than other foods and beverages commonly contaminated with plastics. Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.
One of the best ways to avoid your tea being steeped with a side of polypropylene is to simply sip loose leaf tea! Local brands or farmers’ markets offer delicious varieties, but even supermarkets carry loose leaf tea.
4. Reusable straws
You have probably seen the memes on social media: “It’s just one straw” – said 8 billion people. The accumulative damage done by using “just one straw” to our oceans and wildlife simply does not justify the convenience. For many drinks such as water, coffee, tea, juices, and soft drinks, you can easily avoid a straw.
If you prefer to enjoy a summery milkshake or smoothie with a straw, choose a reusable one made from stainless steel (for example from The Green Ecostore or Hybrid Hippie), or opt for the compostable variety which is basically an actual wheat stalk (from Save The Planet through various online stores).
5. Bamboo toothbrush
Did you know every toothbrush ever created is still in existence? Once you finish with your current toothbrush, think about switching to a bamboo one. A bamboo toothbrush can be composted so you do not have to worry about your old brush sticking around for all eternity.
Many companies, even “conventional” ones like Colgate and Signal, now produce bamboo brushes but some brands, like The Humble Brush, offer the added benefit of funding social projects in vulnerable communities around the world with parts of the proceeds.
6. Plastic-free floss
Regular dental floss is typically plastic. Beyond just being plastic, it is coated with PFCs, a toxic chemical found in Teflon. As if that wasn’t enough, as many as 700 million plastic floss containers are discarded each year!
To swap your dental floss for an eco-friendlier alternative, try The Humble Co.’s vegan candelilla wax-covered thread even comes in paper packaging which acts as the floss dispenser (available on Shift Eco).
7. Reusable cotton swabs
Do you remember the picture of the sea horse holding onto a cotton swab that went viral in 2017? That is because most cotton swabs these days are made with – surprise – plastic.
There are reusable alternatives made from silicone on the market, but also for the single-use kind you can make better choices: Hybrid Hippie, for example, carries not only ear swabs, but even washable makeup remover pads made from bamboo and cotton that are much easier on the planet than their conventional counterparts.
8. Bar products
There are so many plastic-free swaps you can make in the bathroom: One easy way to avoid any excess plastic bottles is to switch to waterless products. Water happens to be the number one ingredient you pay for in things like cleaning and beauty products! Why do that when you can just add water at home?
Zero waste shops like Shift Eco, Hybrid Hippie, and The Green Eco Store, but also more and more regular supermarkets, sell everything from soap and shampoo to body lotion and toothpaste in bars. Look for products that are not only plastic-free but also do without the use of phosphate, parabens, and palm oil.
9. Ditch detergent bottles
Speaking of waterless products, have you thought about cleaning products? Concentrated products or – even better – small recyclable capsules reduce manufacturing and logistics resources, are easy to use and store, and minimize plastic waste in landfills by up to 95%!
DutyBox is one such innovative concept of highly concentrated household chemicals with EPA-certified formulas that come in recyclable 50ml capsules. One capsule replaces a whole bottle of a similar mass market product.
From dishwashing soap to laundry detergents and surface cleaners, you can also find many products in refillable (glass) bottles.
10. Zero-waste hand sanitizer
The pandemic has already caused enough increase in single-use items, such as personal protective equipment. Since hand sanitizers are probably here to stay for a while, it is definitely worth looking for a refillable, plastic-free container.
The Botanist and Shirley Conlon Organics both sell all natural, eco-friendly hand sanitizers which promise just as much germ protection as the industrially made ones without the nasty chemicals and even come in refillable glass spray bottles.
Because a challenge is more fund when you do it alongside others, convince a friend or family member to give plastic-free July a try this year!
A lot of people are reluctant to make lifestyle changes on their own, but with a small nudge in the right direction you can get them hooked. Gifting someone a simple thing like any of the suggestions above, they might realize that some of these ‘eco-friendly’ swaps save them money, some save them time, some are just fun!
So, why not gift a friend or family member a small reusable item and invite them to tackle PFJ with you? And while you are at it, use a sustainable fabric wrap (for example from The Saffron Souk or Maska) which is not only a no-waste alternative to wrapping paper, but the recipient of your gift will actually want to reuse or even frame and keep forever.