It’s Plastic Free July.
Plastic Free July is a global challenge to get us humans to rely less on plastics – especially those nasty single-use ones. While I’m by no means except from criticism, I have picked up a few swops for single-use plastics easily available (and affordable) down here in South Africa.
Most zero waste and plastic free Instagram flat lays and Youtube tips are from Europe, the UK or the USA, and while it’s strangely addictive to watch people visit their local bulk food store with their mason jars, we don’t always have the same luxuries. Instead, we have tellers reaching blindly for those flimsy, clear plastic bags if you happen to have toothpaste in between your foodstuff. Let it be known that the toothpaste is already sealed in its tube and put in a box which is also coated with plastic.
It’s fair to say that South Africa is slightly behind the rest of the world when it comes to reducing our single-use plastics. And it’s not the tellers’ fault. It’s people like us who get mad when all the things aren’t separated with throw-away plastic.
Although I greatly admire what they do, I’m by no means a ‘zero waster’. These tips are simply things I’ve picked up along the way to reduce my plastic footprint. And they’re dead easy.
Give it a month and they’ll be so intwined with your routine, you’ll forget a time when they weren’t. The turtles will thank you.
Problem: Shopping bags
Solution: Canvas bags
Cost: R10 – R50
If you haven’t already, this is by far the easiest switch to make. We got into the habit back in the day when the shops started charging for plastic bags, but it seems some have forgotten. There really is no reason why you shouldn’t have a canvas bag in your boot or your handbag at all times.
Do you use them to line your bin? You don’t need a piece of plastic to accompany the rest of your waste to the landfill. Do this instead.
Chances of a weird look: Zero
Get yours: All grocery stores sell them at the teller. It doesn’t get more convenient than this.
Problem: Takeaway coffee cups
Solution: Reusable mugs
Cost: R60 – R350
You’re likely familiar with this one. An added bonus of a reusable mug is they don’t leak in between the lid and the cup like some takeaway ones do. Try to buy a reusable mug that’s the same size as the coffee you like to order. This will reassure the barista you’re not trying to score extra. It’ll also ensure you don’t suddenly end up with a weaker version of your morning fuel. Yuck.
Chances of a weird look: Mild. If you frequent the same coffee shops they drop to zero – people adapt surprisingly fast.
Get yours: Yuppiechef and Takealot have loads and Superbalist usually has one or two options. Your favourite coffee spot probably sells them too.
Solution: Glass or stainless steal straws
Cost: R90 – R240
They’re one of the top items found on beach and ocean cleanups. Millions of tonnes of plastic straws reach those waters. Plus, once you’ve had a G&T from a glass straw you’ll never want to use plastic again. I have no experience with the stainless steal ones, but I do believe they might be better suited for throwing in your handbag or cubby hole.
So what if you get to a restaurant and you forgot to bring your straw? Just don’t take one. Restaurants do have the tendency to wash their glasses.
Chances of a weird look: Depends where you take them. The bartender might think you’re strange when you decline his straw; the smoothie guy probably won’t.
Get yours: The options are slightly more limited, but Faithful to Nature sells single stainless steal straws from EcoJarz and two-packs of glass straws from Stream.
Problem: Those horrible clear plastics at the supermarket
Solution 1: FreshBags
Cost: R30 each – packs of two to six
Solution 2: Decline decline decline
Once you start paying attention to the amount of tiny, useless plastic bags you take directly from your trolley to your bin every day, you’ll hate them too. It’s become such a mindless practice in our supermarkets we don’t think about it twice. So here’s your moment to think about it. And ditch it.
FreshBag makes light, strong, mesh bags with pretty drawstrings for your loose fruit and veggies. They weigh nothing, so simply fill them up like you would the others and take them to the scales to get your sticker. The sticker doesn’t stick on the mesh, so either stick it around the drawstring or keep it with you and give it to the teller when you get there.
And while you’re at the till: when someone reaches for that massive role of bags to put a few odd things in, decline! How many times have your cleaning products or your cat’s wet food actually burst open?
Chance of a weird look: Good. From my experience though, it’s only because people think they’re cute.
Get yours: FreshBag is an awesome company in Plettenberg Bay. They post to anywhere in South Africa.
Problem: Packaged produce
Solution: Weekly veggie boxes
Cost: R80 – R120 per week for two people
This one requires a bit more effort to incorporate, but it has more benefits that cutting down plastic use. First and foremost, the veggies in these boxes come without plastic and the plastic you might find is usually biodegradable. The bonuses are you get fresh, organically grown, seasonal, vegetables every week and you’re supporting the small guys. If you don’t have such a service in your city, try to buy the stuff that’s not packaged or find a farmer’s market on the weekend.
How it works: Depending on the company, there will be a day in the week before which you need to place your order to receive your box the following week. Some projects have delivery points where you can collect in the afternoon. Some deliver to your door or your office.
Chance of a weird look: Zero. They’ll envy your produce
Get yours: Harvest of Hope is my go-to in Cape town, but Wild Organics is another option. The Green Road is based in Stellenbosch. Freshly Grown and Farm Fresh are in Johannesburg.
Get yourself a water bottle. Water doesn’t come in pastic.