Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

No plastic a challenge


Some of my favourite ways to help reduce single-use plastics!

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I'm midway through my journey to avoid single-use plastics this month for Plastic Free July. And what an important challenge this has been so far!

A friend said to me the other day 'wow, well if you're finding this challenge hard, what about the rest of us?!'

So far, I've fund it's not so much about removing plastic completely, but being more aware of where single-use plastic is lurking in my life, and making a commitment to gradually reduce and ultimately completely remove it all from my life. I'll admit that I've had the occasional lapse, but ultimately it's been very eye-opening and rewarding.

Avoiding single-use plastic has also helped me to slow down. On the first day, it was lovely to take time out to sit down with a cuppa in a cafe as I'd accidently left my KeepCup back at the office. I also shared a Random Act of Kindness Card by giving a reusable bag to someone I saw walking down the street carrying a plastic bag. After an initial bit of confusion, the reception from this lady was so lovely (I think in a large part due to having the card from Seed It Up!), and she promised that she'd use the bag, and pass on the kindness card.

I've made many green changes in my life already, but setting a clear goal for the last few weeks has been great to cement some lasting, habitual change regarding plastic. I've kept a list of my trials an tribulations for this Plastic Free July challenge.

Here's some of the actions I've been taking to remove single-use plastic from my life:

— Using soap nuts 5-6 times instead of clothes washing powder.

— Boiling the used washing soap nuts with one or two unused ones in water to make a dishwashing liquid.

— In the shower, I use soap bars that come in biodegradable packaging – some of my favourite moisturising bars include ecostore's lemongrass, Aussie-grown Green Hemp, the great selection of scents of the Fairtrade-certified Dr Bronner's, and I've just ordered from Biyàni Organics who wrap their soap bars in elephant dung paper, as they have free postage in Australia (for a short time only).

— Visiting bulk food stores and taking along my own containers. I even managed to take a resusable container to the deli, and it wasn't as scary as I'd anticipated!

— For a face toner, using witch hazel and water in a reusable spray bottle.

— I've been using a Fairtrade-certified coconut oil as a body moisturiser.

— In the past, I've tried bicarb and vinegar on my hair, and it just didn't work. I've been using ecostore's sensitive shampoo and conditioner, as it is really gentle on my scalp, and I can reuse the bottle. To try something different this month, I gave Dr Bronner's hair care range a try. I use the castille soap as a shampoo, then rinse it out with a few capfulls of Dr Bronner's Citrus Hair Organic Conditioning Rinse in a small bucket of water. It's a little harder to comb through, but I'm impressed with how soft it makes my hair! I'm expecting the 225 ml recycled plastic bottle to last for around 5-6 months, and of course, finding a third and fourth use for these bottles is never hard.

— For the rest of my cosmetics, I have to remember that it's not just the packaging that has plastic. Look our for microbeads in exfoliating products! I've been using Lush face products, packaged in recycled plastic, and I've made our DIY scrub, again using my Dr Bronner's castille soap – this multi-purpose product lasts for ages and comes in a 100 per cent post-consumer recycled cylinder bottle with a paper label. Find the recipe I used for my exfoliating scrub here.

— Using my own straws at a bar. I think the Plastic Free July badge helped a little with this. We gave these away as prizes for a competition – see the great responses from readers, such as having a good set of reusable cutlery that you like, and using a non-plastic scrubber (who knew?!).

— I'm making more of my own food. I've made my own almond milk using my Spectablend (I'll pit up pictures and more details in the next few weeks). And, I've been making my own bread with a machine that, believe it or not, I found on the side of the road!

— I did have a lapse when it came to one of my weaknesses – blueberries. To make sure I used the plastic container more than once, I've turned it into a planter by adding soil, and some stevia seeds. I'm really hoping my seedlings will emerge soon – you can stay tuned into our Instagram account for pictures. I also purchased a Blueberry Burst plant, and I can't wait to get a few crops from it!

I'm guilty to admit that I also had a big fail in the second week – it was for another food weakness, coriander. So, I decided to grow some new seedlings, but then I realised even gardening is hard! I went to Bunnings to get soil (I've just moved house, and I left my compost heap behind), and what does it come in? A plastic bag! New study about how planning ahead means less waste - in my case it would have meant no plastic as well!

So far, I do have a pile of shame, and I'll take a pic at the end of the week. I've also become a bit more industrious and creative – such as how I've saved a plastic mesh netting bag (from buying pebbles at Bunnings) to cover my herbs and vegies to stop the possums getting to them.

A real eye-opener for me has also been getting back into the Responsible Runners clean-ups. Last weekend at the Bondi beach clean-up, there where tiny pieces of polystyrene everywhere. It was an important reminder about the importance of avoiding single-use items, and I was even rewarded with a free vegan pie from Funky Pies at the end!

These Shocking Photographs Of People Lying In 7 Days Worth of Their Trash have been doing the internet rounds lately, and it's a pretty powerful thought. Yes, as hard as I've found this challenge, it's probably one of the most important eco-challenges I've done to date.

If you didn't start Plastic Free July at the start of the month, it's not too late! You could take the challenge for one day, one week, or at any time of the year. We hope you've learnt from our mistakes, and will be able to plan effectively for it. Check out our blog at the end of the month about how to make these changes become long-lasting habits, and visit for more tips and info.