Thinking green, by Caitlin

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

Plastic-free's a wrap

Pile of shame

My pile of shame for this not-so-plastic-free month.

Plastic everywhere

Single-use plastic is so common! Especially in the bathroom or cosmetics cabinet.

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If you look at the picture on the right, you'll see my 'pile of shame'. These bits of plastic caused me all manner of guilt in my challenge to avoid single-use plastic for a month.

Like any self-respecting greenie, I always avoid plastic – but for the last four weeks, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do even better. I did: my regular pile of plastic recycling was reduced (with a few more hiccups than I'd anticipated along the way) – but best of all, every one of my changes this month has now become a habit. For instance, I've now added clean resusable containers to my jute shopping bags in case I want to buy something from the deli.

I'm enjoying getting more involved in community projects as a result of slowing down my life. In the photo, there's a plastic bag from when I bought potting mix to grow my own blueberries rather than buying plastic punnets. This weekend I'm heading to my new local community garden in Bondi, and because I'm already growing a fair bit of food on my balcony, a big focus for me here will be getting involved with a nice big pile of compost! I'm looking forward to being able to pass my gardening knowledge (and a few saved seeds) onto a new group of people, and learning new skills from them as well.

But this has been a confronting challenge. I've moved into a new house recently, and while I tried looking for second-hand lampshades online, and I even stopped to check out some ones for salvaging from a council clean-up (unfortunately they were broken), I ended up buying, I'm ashamed to admit, completely new lampshades. They do look lovely on the lamps (my mother's wedding present), but there was oh so much packaging it made me want to cry. I've written a letter to the manufacturer, but in the end they still got a sale out of me, so I'm not sure how much change this will create unless I make the change myself next time. Now I know that I needn't be afraid to go DIY for a truly sentimental home furnishing.

In the second week of the challenge, I admitted to buying a plastic-wrapped bunch of coriander in my earlier blog, vowing to start growing my own again in the new house. I'm proud to say that my coriander seedlings have emerged – I can't wait to harvest them!

You'll also see one or two of the tiny plastic wrappers from around store-bought jars. So, I'm now making more of my own chutney's and sauces than before, in an effort to reduce this little bit of plastic that I hadn't noticed really does add up after a while. My boyfriend seems pretty happy with this too.

Click through the arrow on the images, and you'll see a little collection of bathroom cosmetics – many of which I haven't been able to use this month, as they are packed in a (albeit recyclable) single-use plastic. I've since discovered that I don't really need them, so perhaps I'll gift them to friends. The exception is a discreet little silk bag that holds something I very rarely talk about. After using a Juju cup, I can understand why so many women rave about it's benefits. I couldn't go through Plastic Free July without mentioning the Juju, as it avoids single-use plastic packaging altogether at, ahem, that time of the month.

It's clear to me now that the journey to being completely plastic-free is a little further down the track than I'd hoped. I guess the good news is that in the meantime I can continue to recycle all the packaging I collect, rather than throwing it in landfill; I'll drop it off at Coles, and they'll recycle it and turn it into plastic furniture for school kids, and other useful items. There's more info on this initiative in our feature, Taking a hard line on soft plastic.

It's been fun creating new, more sustainable habits – and an opportunity to establish a good routine having moved house recently. I made an effort to visit Wholefoods House to find milk in glass bottles (thanks Instagram followers!), and made my own yogurt using a Mad Millie kit. I used a funky glass straw instead of a plastic one when out with friends, who asked more about what it's like to do Plastic Free July. If I haven't influenced others enough to change their ways, at least they're now more aware of the prevalence of single-use plastic. But the best part of the challenge that I've enjoyed most has been sharing my journey with others, and getting involved with my new local community groups.

I've definitely learnt how to make long-lasting changes, and I'm much more aware about where single-use plastic is (or was!) in my life. I'm looking forward to this an ongoing journey to get better and better at it, because there's always going to be room for improvement, and that's what continues to make this challenge so rewarding.

Check out our articles in the lead up to, and during, Plastic Free July here: