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Plastic Free July: what's that all about?

If, like me, you follow any accounts that are environmentally conscious, you've probably seen #plasticfreejuly cropping up over the last few weeks. So I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts on this - what in my opinion it's all about and what it isn't!

Firstly, let me make it clear that I think plastic is a brilliant material. It's lightweight, durable, waterproof, can be made into many different shapes and can be transparent or any colour of the rainbow!

As I look around me, I can see plastic light switches, plugs and sockets, parts of my laptop, phone and iron, the casing for my sewing machine, the handle for my rotary cutter, my measuring square and ruler, my thread storage boxes and sewing machine spools, and many more objects that are made partially or wholly from plastic. When we see the hashtag #saynotoplastic can we really be meaning that we want to get rid of this useful material?

No! It's not plastic itself that's the problem, it's the way it's become seen as a throwaway material rather than as a valuable commodity. It's been used as a convenient and lightweight way to package goods, often excessively, and we've bought into this culture of wanting our purchases to be presented in a pristine way and have got used to discarding the packaging without a thought to the materials and energy that's gone into creating it.

Increasingly, though, our consciences are assuaged by putting the unwanted packaging into recycling bins. It isn't going to landfill, it can be made into something useful. Well yes, but sadly this often isn't the case.

Bottles and other single use plastics discarded and found in the oceans.
Plastics in the ocean: image from IISD

Only 9% of the plastic that's ever been made has been recycled. In this country we incinerate or send to landfill far more than we recycle. Moreover, other unwanted plastic has been shipped overseas on the assumption that it will be recycled, though this isn't necessarily happening. Out of sight, out of mind. David Attenborough brought the problem of plastics fragments accumulating in the oceans to our attention - a worldwide problem that needs to be addressed for the sake of our planet and its fragile ecosystems.

So this is where campaigns like #plasticfreejuly come in. They are designed to make each of us consider ways in which we can cut down the amount of throwaway or single use plastic we use.

As a maker, I package my bags in tissue paper, that's folded around the bag so can be re-used, and an outer wrapping of brown paper that's stuck down with paper tape from Non Plastic Beach. If there is bubble wrap inside the bag to help maintain the shape of the bag through the post, it's re-used from something that my family have bought or received that was packaged in it. Re-use is always better than recycle!

Products from The Chapel Soap Company come in sustainable and recyclable packaging.
Products from The Chapel Soap Company

In my everyday life, I am reducing my use of single use plastics by making changes like taking my own (re-used/reusable) bottle of tap water with me when I go out rather than needing to buy one; buying, where possible, fruit and vegetables loose or in card or paper packaging; always having shopping bags with me when I go to the shops; and using bars of soap and shampoo rather than bottles of shampoo, body or hand wash. I can definitely recommend The Chapel Soap Company for the latter products. It may not seem like much (and is definitely less than the actions taken by some others), but if everyone takes small steps in the right direction it can make a big difference.

As a bag maker, you may know that shopping bags made from upcycled fabrics are amongst my range of bags and some of these carry the message "WHOOP: we have only one planet".

You can read about how this acronym came about in an earlier blog that I wrote. I should mention, though, that if you're ever behind me in a supermarket queue, you'll see me packing up my purchases in plastic bags, so a word of explanation might be necessary! We have a large stash of plastic shopping bags which we "inherited" from both my mother and mother-in-law. Both women kept the plastic bags that considerate shop workers packed their shopping in for them every time they went to the supermarket, and when we carried out house clearances (in the case of my mother's 17 years ago) we found bags full of these bags! We re-use them over and over again, and it may well be that we have enough to see us through the rest of our lives! We might as well get as much use out of them as is possible.

Why am I writing this blog at the end of July rather than focusing on it earlier in the month? Having a month-long campaign helps to focus attention but the campaign to reduce our use of single use plastics doesn't stop at the end of the month. It needs to be an ongoing endeavour and one in which, once we've used up a product that's in a plastic container, we switch to an alternative. There are plenty of alternatives out there - we can all do our bit!


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