Have you begun preparing for Plastic-Free July? Observed world over, it involves avoiding single-use plastics and replacing them with sustainable alternatives for a whole month. If you have done this before, you will know that things are going to be different this time around because COVID-19 has presented us with a unique set of challenges.
Many environmentalists are understandably concerned that the pandemic has reversed many, many years of hard-won battles against disposables. This is because single-use face masks, gloves, tiny bottles of hand sanitiser and a reversal to disposable cutlery are all part of the efforts to protect people against the infection.
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So, while shopping and eating out might not be the same any longer, it is possible to adapt our lifestyles to reduce our plastic footprint, keeping in mind that sustainable living involves a whole lot more than avoiding plastic bags.
Here’s how you can get ready to kick the plastic habit during this lockdown:
Buying more fresh fruit and vegetables: When you buy processed food or order takeout, you have no control over the type and volume of packaging it brings into your home. Opting for fresh produce instead, allows you to cut out unnecessary packaging. Since more of us are staying home and cooking our own meals, this also ensures you are upping the nutritional quality of your meals.
Avoid items wrapped in cling film: That sweet corn sheathed in plastic wrap, cut fruits, veggies and sprouts on a styrofoam bed, blanketed by cling film, tiny bunches of coriander wrapped in plastic – one cannot deny the convenience of these pre-prepped foods, but all these are plastics you can avoid simply by making a small switch to the way you shop.
Avoid packaged beverages and condiments: Staying away from bottled beverages, packaged juice, energy drinks and carbonated drinks keeps tons of plastic – from the packages and the accompanying straws – out of your home. If you want to stay hydrated, opt instead for homemade juices, soups or herbal teas that are simple to make and nourishing for your body.
Buy groceries in bulk: There is some plastic you just cannot avoid, such as the packaging in dry groceries, household cleaners and personal care products. When you can, buy the largest packs of these products so you can minimise the overall quantity and frequency of bringing plastic into your home. With dry groceries, you can portion out the amount you will use and store the rest in airtight containers in your fridge or pantry.
Say no to plastic bin-liners: Just think of all the plastic bags you would be saving with the simple act of refusing plastic dustbin liners. As an alternative, you could opt for a newspaper. Or just go liner-free and wash out your wet waste bin regularly. Of course, the most sustainable option would be to compost your kitchen waste.
Invest in a set of bamboo toothbrushes: Dentists recommend replacing used toothbrushes every three months. With their plastic handles and nylon bristles, toothbrushes are among the least likely items to end up in a recycling centre. Instead, they choke drainpipes and pollute water bodies. Opt for a set of biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes instead. They’re pocket-friendly and eco-friendly.
Buy less stuff: Staying at home all day means you will sometimes cave, giving in to the temptation of buying stuff to fill in gaps of time that were once occupied by other things such as commuting to work, going to the gym etc. But all the stuff you buy comes packaged in plastic, some of which – such as thermocol and styrofoam – are impossible to recycle. Attempt to go on a one-month shopping detox this July.
Find a responsible handler for your dry waste: You will be appalled to discover what happens to much of the dry waste that you carefully segregate, clean and hand over to the collector every week. It is dumped in open piles not far from my home and burned when it reaches a pile of unmanageable size. There are, however, several organisations that collect household dry waste (some even pay you for the waste collected) and ensure it is responsibly segregated and managed. While this is not a way to reduce our plastic footprint, it is a good way of acting responsibly about the plastic we put out into the environment.
Reusable face masks: Unless you are in a high-risk profession or environment that requires a disposable mask, a cloth face mask keeps you well protected during grocery runs, at the workplace, or while exercising. Keep 2 or 3 homemade masks handy. Wash and sun-dry them regularly, with a disinfectant, if necessary, to prevent bacterial build-up. Several NGOs and home-based entrepreneurs are stitching and selling these masks, and this is a good way of supporting their efforts.
Are you attempting to go plastic-free this July? How are you getting ready for it?