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The Last Straw - Reducing Single Use Plastics

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It’s fast approaching the end of July, and with it the month long campaign dedicated to raising awareness about minimising the purchase of all products with plastic packaging and in particular reducing single-use plastics.  

The publicity campaign may well have calmed down a tad by now, but this year, more than previous years, the message seems to have permeated further, taken a hold within communities and the ripple effect can be seen and felt if one is discerning enough to notice.

A couple of weeks ago we touched on how to cope with the recent legislation putting a stop on the use of single use bags here (though not yet legislated in NSW or Victoria the major supermarkets have stopped providing free single use bags across the country).

It’s not just those flimsy plastic bags that are getting negative press though. It’s also plastic straws and water bottles and microplastics which are floating in our waterways and oceans and being gobbled up by fish and then…yup, you guessed it, gobbled up by us!

It can all seem a bit overwhelming, too big a problem to possibly tackle all on your own. Even when we’re told there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, it’s hard to really know where to start. But small changes across an entire community will make a big impact long term. And it’s just small changes you are encouraged to make during the month of July to ‘road test' these shifts of behaviour and perhaps even realise its not all that hard, it just takes a little getting used to.

BYO Reusable Straws

A full milkshake experience isn’t complete without sucking it through a straw and slurping the last bits loud and proud. But for many people, it’s the last straw! Times are a-changing for the humble straw, and while many cafes and bars still automatically assume you want a straw and won’t even ask before placing one in your beverage, unless its a cute striped paper straw, give it back and let them know why. If you are partial to a straw in your beverage when out and about, either grab a packet of paper ones and keep a couple in your handbag (or man bag) or invest in stainless steel straws which can be used over and over and over (usually they come with a special brush tiny enough to clean the inside to keep them sanitary). Also ask your local cafe or smoothie joint to swap out their plastic straws for paper once they exhaust their current supply.  

BYO Containers to the Butcher or Deli

Bring your own tupperware or reusable plastic or glass food containers with you when you buy your meat, fish and other delicatessen treats such as cheeses, olives and cured meats. This one will take some preparation and organisation, because let’s be honest who walks around with tupperware in their handbag? But how about throwing a few of your spare reusable food containers into the boot of your car to use next time you shop?

Buy in Bulk

Avoid plastic packaged foods altogether and shop at a co-op or bulk food store where you bring your own jars or fill paper bags with whatever you need. Again it takes a big of a rewiring of the brain to get used to the concept, but not only do you avoid excessive plastic packaging but you get to buy exactly the amount you need and finally have an opportunity to recycle all those glass jars you’ve kept and fill them with all manner of grains, nuts and other dry foods. Places such as The Source Bulk Foods and Naked Foods are popping up all over the place as consumers’ demand for this kind of shopping experience increases. If you can’t find a local co-op or zero waste store then aim to buy your essentials in bulk from the supermarket or purchase online to limit the packaging you go through. You can also purchase bulk amounts of shampoo, body wash and conditioner from places like Envirocare.  You’ll reduce the items need to buy from the supermarket (likely saving a few pennies long term too) as well limiting your plastic consumption.

Be More Mindful

Of course price and quality will always be a deciding factor when purchasing any goods, but perhaps add to the ‘things to consider’ list what kind of packaging it is in. Could you go for the cardboard box of teabags over the plastic canister? The glass jar of coffee over the plastic one? Small changes like these will make a larger impact over time. Consumers have a huge part to play in what is available on the market, choose to support brands which are more conscious in their packaging choices and the larger less sustainable brands will eventually follow suit as the market will demand it of them. 

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur. She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.