UrbanMeisters one of the biggest truths about urban pollution that we all dread so much is that we humans are responsible for pollution too. With our consumption habits from food to fashion to what cars we drive and our no-thoughts-given plastic takeaways coffee/juice mugs we create the demand as well as waste. Take plastic for example. It’s not at all as bad as it’s made out to be. It’s our own indiscriminate consumption that makes it a villain and it’s impact is for everyone to see. While we listed out some of founder Mirela’s tried and tested tips on how to cut down on plastic, we also introduce you to as many real-life urbans who have tried to cut down on waste & plastic to give you practical tips.
So say hello to Vandana from New Delhi, India who took the Plastic free July challenge and has important tips, lessons and green takeaways to share! She tells us her experience in her own words.
Meet real-life urban who took the Plastic-Free challenge
Hello UrbanMeisters! I’m Vandana, a regular time-starved urban from New Delhi! I am the founder of The Conscious Desi, a social enterprise aimed at making sustainable living ‘livable’, to make plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles easier, especially for urban Indians. I also love bringing eco-conscious Indians together through fun events like green speed dating and zero waste picnics in my city New Delhi.
Recently I took the Plastic Free July challenge, the lessons from which have been a real eye opener. I always thought of myself as a conscious consumer. I bought from small businesses selling handmade, organic, vegan and green products. And I recycled as much as I could.
Yet I wanted to go a step further in reducing the amount of waste I created, especially plastic. One day while browsing the web, I stumbled upon a video where a girl was talking about how she did Plastic Free July. I was intrigued and it was still June. So I rolled up my sleeves and took on the challenge of not buying any single-use plastic and plastic packaging for the entire month of July 2017. To be honest, I was a bit nervous when I decided to go plastic-free. But as I went along, I learnt 10 valuable lessons that I want to share with you.
A quote we love from TCD’s Facebook
Wait, what’s Plastic Free July?
Plastic Free July was a simple idea developed in 2011 aimed at raising awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives by encouraging people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during July each year. Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Western Metropolitan Regional Council (WMRC) in Perth, Western Australia. It was developed by clever Earth Carers staff. Today it’s a global phenomenon with more than 69 countries participating! The challenge? Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July. To read rules and get more information, head here.
1. The fear is in your head
Using plastic is such a normal practice in grocery shops, I wondered if people would accommodate my request to put my groceries in my reusable bags.
The first time I went to a local shop, I requested the surprised shop attendant to put the grains and lentils in them. The shop attendant did a funny thing – he first packed the rice I was buying in a plastic bag and then put it into my cloth bag! After some explaining, he put the groceries directly into the reusable bags. And the next time I showed up, he knew exactly how to weigh and pack the stuff I was buying.
2. Prepping is important but you have to deep dive
I imagined that if I were to banish all single use plastic and packaging made out of I would need tons of storage containers, reusable bags and bulk stores around my house. To start with, I got a bunch of reusable bags and slowly finding glass jars and steel containers on a budget. What I figured ultimately was that you learn as you go. You don’t have to be perfect.
3. Tiny habits help
It was easier for me to do go plastic-free for 31 days in a row because I had nurtured a tiny habit since years. Each time I left home, I always carried a reusable tote bag or small backpack with me. I had learnt this back when I used to live in a small village in the pristine nature-state Himachal Pradesh (where plastic bags are banned).
One thing that I rarely brought home was plastic shopping bags (called carry bags or poly bags in India). I always bought fruits and veggies without these bags (with the exception of mushrooms which come packed in a plastic box and cling film). If you already have a habit like this, then trust me, Plastic Free July will be easy for you. If you struggle with creating such a habit, no worries, you can start today.
4. Bulk is beautiful
Not everyone may have access to the modern bulk stores with dispensers despite living in megacities. But despite this buying in bulk is TOTALLY possible. Whether it is your local corner store, a wholesale market or even an organic foods vendor at a farmers’ market, they’ll sell you bulk quantities & pack it in your reusables. Just head to the store or grocer you have been buying from and have a talk to arrange monthly or weekly bulk supplies and they will happily do it as it means more business for them too.
5. Reusables (bags, jars, bottles) will get you sorted
Investing in good reusables was the game changer for me. I bought a length of unbleached cotton fabric, scored a few metres of cotton string, went to the local tailor and showed him a sample of a reusable bag. He stitched 28 reusable bags of different sizes for me which have been SO useful.
Left: All my ex-plastic from food shopping / Right: My current reusable cloth bag
I also washed and reused a bunch of glass jars which are great for storage because you can see through them and the lids seal tightly. I didn’t have any fancy Mason jars (okay, I have one from long ago), so my jars look pretty funky – they are in all sorts of sizes with lids of different colours. You know what the best part about using reusables is? You cut down on a lot of junk and eat less processed food (and your body will thank you)!
Psst! We solve one problem of everyday plastic for you. Discover resusable Bali-boo straws that you can purchase right away right here!
6. Recycling is NOT the right answer
While you’re reading this post, one question may pop in your mind – why should I go plastic-free if I can still recycle all the plastic I buy? Good question! There was a time when I was proud of the fact that I recycled. It was only lately that I discovered that recycling is a complicated and resource-intensive process. Did you know that a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled ? No prizes for guessing that rest of it is swimming in our oceans or choking the land.
Doing the Plastic Free July challenge forced me to do a household waste audit, which in turn helped me to re-look at the waste I was creating. I realised that I had no clue about the tiny recycling signs (the one which you see on the back of a package) and every month I was bringing non-recyclable plastic home in the form of cling film, containers, metalised film packets, stickers and other bits and pieces of plastic which finally end up in a landfill.
7. There’s a child, mad scientist & chef hidden inside you
As I embarked on the journey of replacing everything that came packed in plastic, I turned my kitchen upside down. With a childlike curiosity, I began to explore DIY alternatives.
I made preservative free plant-based milk at home – almond, coconut and soy (the controversial one) milk. I also made absolutely yummy tofu and creamy peanut butter. Getting plastic-free cleaning supplies & personal hygiene products was a challenge. So, I went to a small store in the nearest bazaar and bought dried Ayurvedic herbs in bulk – soapnuts ( reetha ), Indian gooseberry ( amla) and acacia concinna ( shikakai ). Using these herbs, I made an all purpose cleaner and a herbal hair wash which makes everything from dishes to the the hair on your head squeaky clean.
Home-made hair cleanser
Of course, the first time I made all these DIYs, none of them was perfect. I also messed up the quantities in the beginning. Over time, I have refined the proportions and reduced the preparation time. It’s like being in a science lab experimenting daily until you get it right.
8. No matter how overwhelmed, deprived or alone you feel, it will pass
I was very kicked about doing Plastic Free July and I admit it requires extra time, effort and energy. There will be highs and you might hit a low. I did. Towards the end of July, I started to miss things that I eat regularly. I skipped mushrooms (can’t find them without packaging in India unless you grow them) and chocolate for the whole month (a friend later rescued me by bringing me chocolate wrapped in paper). Feeling frustrated during Plastic Free July is normal. You might even have doubts about this whole plastic free living idea because it may seem impractical. You might feel unsupported by your partner, family member or flatmates.
But wait, there’s hope…
If you end up feeling any of these things, remember you’re not aiming to be perfect. Take breaks, be nice to yourself and remember that these emotions will pass. Later, when you look back and see how much trash you’ve reduced, you’ll feel amazing!
9. You’ll find your plastic-free homies
When I took the Plastic Free July challenge, I committed to it publicly on social media. Whenever I discovered a plastic-free alternative, I shared it with my online community. As this process of sharing started, I began to connect with people who’re also interested in plastic-free living. Today I’m happy to be a part of a community that believes in the power of personal action.
10. You have the power to minimize your trash dramatically
Skeptics will question your actions and impact. I don’t know how you feel about that but I’ve decided to take responsibility for my actions instead of waiting for a plastic-filled apocalypse. To understand the volume of waste I was able to reduce, I have quantified my plastic waste from June and July. Let’s do a comparison.
- In June, I had 71 pieces of recyclable and non-recyclable plastic – bottles, bags, containers, jars, boxes, glasses, cutlery, covers, wraps and even a CD! I stored all this into a cardboard box that can hold up to 10 kilos.
- In July, I had 8 broken plastic seals and bits of plastic that I could fit into a small paper bag. These are from my drinking water cans. I live in an area where tap water is unfit for drinking (even after filtration) and I rely on a water delivery service which transports drinking water in reusable plastic cans of 20 liters each.
Plastic Free July is long over but it has had a positive impact on my lifestyle. I do all my grocery shopping in bulk now, make everything from my own deodorant to liquid detergent and even save money.
I also started thinking about food waste and I’ve just started composting at home. Having said that, I am still not 100% plastic-free and I do buy a few items packed in plastic (I’m actively looking for alternatives). I hope the lessons I learnt from Plastic Free July give you all the inspiration you need to become a plastic free rockstar!
Take control back!
Inspired? Vandana definitely got us thinking about a Plastic-Free everyday! Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest to get conscious & go sustainable.
So be it plastic free, going zero waste, starting composting, saving energy, get started today. Because ultimately a part of taking control back is about cutting down on our own contribution to excessive demand and to pollution. To get conscious on eating, dressing, working out, commuting, travelling and more responsibly, try founder Mirela’s tried and tested tips right here.