July 2, 2018

Breaking up with Plastic

My rose gold stainless steel straw is from Sustainable 17


Many of us can remember cigarette smoke on a plane, in restaurants, pubs and public spaces. I remember my hair stinking of cigarette smoke after a night out, and being burned one too many times on my arms by someone who was smoking a cigarette while we were out dancing. Many younger people can't even imagine that in 2018.

My hope is that one day, we will look back on our addiction to single use plastic the same way we now look at cigarettes and smoking. ​​​


It starts with awareness, and by making people aware of their plastic use, we can move towards a cleaner, more sustainable world.


Over the last year, I've consciously taken a step back and decided to tackle one form of single-use plastic at a time that I was using in my daily life. Realistically, I'm aiming for 80/20 - 80% of everyday plastic is easy to eliminate, and the other 20% is the harder stuff that I have less control over. 


Drinking fresh coconut water with my rose gold stainless steel straw from Sustainable 17

I'm no eco angel by any means, and I'm still finding it really hard to 'break up' with plastic - it's really difficult. I think it's especially difficult in a small developing island, where certain options - such as bulk shopping - are just not available to us as yet and the general awareness is lacking compared to other countries. 
However, there are some incredible changes happening on a local and regional scale. I am just learning and finding my way, and discovering ways that I want to use my blog and platform to share my experience, to learn from others and to help others make small changes, too. 

For the month of July, I'll be committing to the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge and taking small steps to further reduce my dependency on single use plastic in my life, whilst also highlighting others in this space who inspire me, as well as local and international resources.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to join me in this break up - It will be difficult at times, but oh so worth it in the end.

What is Plastic Free July? 

Plastic Free July is an Australian nonprofit charitable foundation that launched a movement in hopes of creating a world without plastic waste in 2011. Since then millions of mindful global citizens in over 150 countries have taken up the challenge to cut plastic out of their lives for at least a month, but ideally indefinitely. 

Keep in mind: 
  • Half of all plastic is produced for single-use, so avoiding single-use plastic can reduce our personal footprint by half. 
  • Plastic-free living is a marathon, not a sprint, so every little step makes a huge difference.

The easiest way to eliminate single-use plastic from your life is to start by making tangible changes one at a time rather than overwhelming yourself by trying to swap out everything at once. Habits take time to form and you’ll likely forget your sustainable alternatives for single-use plastic quite a lot in the beginning. Give yourself some leeway and commend yourself for starting the effort to reduce your waste. You can read more about the challenge and sign up here.

Here are some tips and small steps you can take this month to help you live with less plastic, based on the fact that top four single-use plastic items are plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and takeaway coffee cups. This list is just a basic outline, and I'll be sharing some more comprehensive posts with suggestions, as well as local and international resources that I've found useful and inspirational.

SPEAK UP


The first thing I've learned about breaking up with plastic is that you need to speak up about what's bothering you. I'm quite outspoken to begin with, but speaking up about single use plastic has been especially difficult and uncomfortable at times. Speaking up means refusing plastic wherever possible, while also speaking to businesses and services about their plastic usage. Speaking up and encouraging behavioural change from restaurants, cafes, hotels and other businesses will help to create a communal shift towards responsible consumption. 

I have harassed so many waiters, baristas and bar staff by repeating "NO STRAW PLEASE!" when ordering a drink, it's comical. In Barbados, many bars and restaurants just automatically give you a straw (or a few stirrers) with your drinks, so you don't often have the option of refusing. I just straight up ask them before they can give me one, but I'm often met with a very confused look as so many service industry professionals are trained to give you a straw. It's tricky, so you have to be persistent. 



PLASTIC STRAWS

If you need a straw, it's best to buy a nice stainless steel, glass or bamboo straw instead. They're a cheap and cheerful alternative, but you have to get in to the habit of carrying your straw with you and cleaning it after use. Not the easiest, but it's just a new habit that takes practice. You can buy any of these items from Nikola at Sustainable 17 and Angelica at Bamboo Life

PLASTIC BAGS

I won't go in a long rant about plastic bag usage in Barbados, because I want to stay focussed on how you can make the change. A few supermarkets and stores have started charging for plastic bags but it's really up to us as consumers to reduce our dependency and be prepared.
The easiest thing to do is to invest in a few soft tote bags and always keep at least one in your purse or bag, or to use cardboard boxes when grocery shopping. You can also pick up some produce bags, to replace the little bags we use when purchasing vegetables.
Just as with straws, make sure to stress in advance of purchasing something that you don’t need a plastic bag, especially at the supermarket. #choosetorefuse

PLASTIC BOTTLES

Most PET bottles are recycled in Barbados (the plastic caps are not) but that's only IF the bottles are disposed of properly or returned to the recycling outlets.
Luckily, our water is drinkable in Barbados (for the most part) so you can replace your plastic bottles with a refillable bottle. 
A stainless steel bottle is better and healthier than a plastic bottle for a number of reasons, but mainly because they keep your liquid hot or cold for much longer and there is no risk of any chemicals seeping in to your water from the bottle itself.
I've been using a reusable bottle for little over a year now, and I've been drinking so much more water as a result, especially in Barbados where it's ridiculously hot most days. 
Stainless steel bottles are an investment, but they're worth it in the long run.

TAKEAWAY PLASTICS 

This is a particularly tricky one, so I'll try to keep it simple. As a country, we are addicted to styrofoam and plastic takeaway containers and plastic cutlery, so avoiding single-use plastic packaging can be one of the trickiest plastic issues in Barbados. Here are some suggestions:
  • You can make a start by bringing your own coffee cups to any coffee shop in Barbados, instead of using plastic takeaway containers and straws. You can check out my list of Coffee Shops in Barbados for this!
  • Make a note of which vendors, restaurants and hotels use biodegradable takeaway containers or paper packaging in Barbados. Support them, encourage them, and celebrate them! I will be sharing a list of places on this blog. 
  • Use your own containers where possible. This is another tricky one, but we have tried this ourselves and it worked. It's worth it to have a conversation with the owners of the places where you buy food from, to see how you can make a small change. 

We live near to Oistins and it's become our 'go-to' for takeaway food. We recently bought some glass food containers and approached our favourite vendor, "Mo's", about serving us our takeaway meals in our own containers, and they agreed. Since then we have always brought our own containers to Oistins, or eaten from plates when there. We were a bit hesitant to ask at first, because we just figured they would say no, but thankfully we spoke up and put in the request. I would encourage anyone to do the same with somewhere that you eat, or order out from! As more people become aware and engaged, the more receptive people are to the demands and expectations of consumers.

Side note: If you've made it this far in the post: you're a star, thank you! You'll be the first to know that I'm going to be doing some fun giveaways over the course of the month to help some of you get started on this plastic free journey. Stay tuned!

I’m taking small steps on a daily basis towards my goal of living a more mindful, sustainable lifestyle. It’s been challenging in Barbados but there is a growing sustainable lifestyle community and a number of resources out there that have been a huge help as it's ever evolving. 

Have you cut out single-use plastic? Have you ever tried #PlasticFreeJuly? If you're interested in taking part, please feel free to reach out and let me know if there are specific questions you have or certain posts that you would like to see over the course of the month.


6 comments:

  1. Good job on this post. We need so much more awareness!

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    1. Thank you! 'Speaking up' is a big part of it and I'm lucky to be surrounded by a number of people who are also committed to this stuff :)

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  2. Haven't started plastic free July yet but I'd love to.
    I always have canvas bags in my handbag, use reusable mesh produce bags and big jute tote market bags.
    Styrofoam is a hard one for takeaways, I agree. My doubles vendor asks customers to bring their own cup/container for extra channa �� I try to buy huge refills of soaps so that I can reuse the same container. Stainless steel water bottle for cool water all the time in this climate. Where I can't refuse I try to reuse but I'm only at the start line of this long marathon. Great job Malou xx

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    1. Oh my Giu, this sounds amazing! It really is quite tricky in the Caribbean, but it sounds like you're already on the right track! I'll be sharing some regional and international resources that may help with some other aspects. It's a process!

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    2. Look forward to that!

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  3. Thanks for this! Awareness and education are key. I've been starting to cut out as much plastic as possible in my life and trying to get those around me to as well :)

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