This year, Plastic Free July will celebrate its tenth year. If you’re not heard of this important initiative before, it’s time to find out what’s involved and what you can do to support it. Read on to find out all you need to know!
What is Plastic Free July?
A central initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation, Plastic Free July challenges each of us to ‘choose to refuse’ a single use plastic item. The initiative aims to reduce the amount of single use plastic in circulation in order to achieve cleaner streets, healthier oceans and a happier planet overall.
The initiative has grown hugely over the past decade. Even with the world in the grip of the pandemic in 2020, an estimated 326 million people took part in Plastic Free July. Individuals, schools, businesses, industry bodies of all shapes and sizes, entire communities… all got involved in order to help make the world a better place.
This year, it is hoped that participant numbers will be even higher, as word of the initiative continues to spread around the world. All Things Hair, for example, recently polled its readers to gauge their level of interest and found that 62.7% of readers had committed to participating in Plastic Free July this year.
Why is Plastic Free July important?
Plastic Free July is important in practical terms, as it serves to reduce the amount of single use plastic consumed, but also in terms of raising awareness of the problem of single use plastic in the first place – and of the advantages of reducing consumption. These advantages include:
- Saving energy and reducing the amount of raw materials used to make new plastic items
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a result of reduced manufacturing
- Reducing the amount of plastic that needs to be recycled, that is sent to landfill or for incineration and that litters our streets, countryside and waterways
- Saving money, as consumers can switch to reusable items rather than repeatedly purchasing single use plastic items
All of these will benefit the environment. The issue of plastic waste is particularly interesting. Recycling facilities and capabilities differ from country to country. The same All Things Hair survey found that 76.5% of those surveyed actively recycle their plastic waste. So that’s one in four people not doing so, despite the availability of extensive recycling facilities. In countries that don’t have those recycling facilities, this figure will clearly be much lower.
And then there is the thorny issue of where that plastic waste is recycled. The Recycling Bins website reports that, in the UK, 7.7 billion plastic bottles are used per year. That works out to an average of 117 bottles per person every year. Yet only 45% of the UK’s plastic waste is recycled domestically. The rest is shipped overseas, massively increasing its carbon footprint and creating additional risk in terms of it accidentally entering the natural world along the way.
The Plastic Free July initiative raises awareness of the fact that everyone can make a difference here. It encourages participants to pick at least one single use plastic item that they currently use – plastic straws, for example – and replace it with a reusable item (such as metal straws). If every person made just one such change, the impact would be huge – let alone if people make more than one.
Clearly, this is an initiative that can deliver plenty of benefits, and all through individuals making small changes in their lives that, ultimately, will save them money as well as helping the environment.
How can you get involved in Plastic Free July?
There are plenty of ways that you can get involved in Plastic Free July. Start out by making a single change. Some examples of quick wins when it comes to reducing the consumption of single use plastic include:
- Taking your own reusable bags to the supermarket, market, book store, toy store or wherever you plan to purchase something that you’ll need to carry.
- Ditching plastic straws in favour of metal ones – or simply not using straws at all.
- Swapping plastic, disposable cutlery for knives, forks and spoons made of bamboo.
- Purchasing a reusable coffee cup and taking it with you each time you head out to buy coffee.
- Opting for a reusable drink bottle instead of buying drinks in single use bottles.
- Choosing products such as fruit and vegetables that aren’t wrapped in plastic rather than those that are, when you buy your groceries.
- Asking for iced tap water in restaurants rather than water bottled in plastic bottles.
These ideas are just the start. There are initiatives for getting local communities involved (plastic free morning tea, anyone?) and plastic free schools challenges designed to get children, teachers, staff and parents to unite to look after the future of the planet.
The big picture
To put all of this into perspective, let’s look at a few statistics, courtesy of Condor Ferries. Every year, we create 300 million tons of plastic, 50% of which is single use. Any of that plastic that doesn’t make it to a recycling facility won’t decompose for hundreds of years. And each year, eight million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean, joining the 5.25 trillion tones of plastic that’s already there, 70% of it sunk below the surface, impacting on marine life around the world.
There’s sadly little that we can do about the plastic that’s already devastating marine life (though the Ocean Cleanup is pursuing this effort admirably), but through the Plastic Free July initiative we can certainly all play a part in reducing demand for single use plastic. Whether you sign up to take part or just do so quietly at home, let’s work together to make a difference.