Climate Change is a major concern of our time, and it is one of the top ten issues of concern for young people. We have been hearing more and more appeals from the media to change our consumer behaviour, especially in recent years. Big companies such as KFC and IKEA have stopped supplying plastic straws, and some FairPrice outlets are imposing plastic bag charges. But, how effective are these eco efforts? On an individual level, how many are heeding the call?
I do not have the numbers, but it is still possible to determine if the people around us are doing their part for the environment. For that, my department launched an internal eco-challenge to find out how much plastics our colleagues use in their daily lives and allow interested participants to experience what it is like to live with minimum plastics.
What is Plastic Free July?
Plastic Free July was a movement that began in 2011 in Western Australia and has become one of the most influential environmental campaigns in the world today. To support the movement, we had our version of Plastic Free July in the form of a two-day challenge titled “Slash the Plastic”.
The rule of the challenge was simple; participants may pick one of the first three weekends in July (between 2/7 and 17/7) to take up the challenge. On the first day, participants were required to take photos of all the plastic items they used on Day 1. On the following day, participants had to snap photos of all the alternatives they used to avoid using plastics on Day 2. In this challenge, plastic refers to both reusable and disposable plastics.
On the first day of the challenge, one of the participants shared that she and her family of three had used and disposed of at least 30 plastics that day. With a toddler at home, diapers are a necessity. Her family also don disposable face masks when they go out because reusable masks are said to be less effective in preventing viral transmission. Additionally, given that she usually does her grocery shopping in supermarkets, which was another source of plastic. As shown in the photo, the vegetables and groceries that she buys from the supermarket are wrapped in plastics. Furthermore, she also places her trash and food waste in plastic bags before discarding them. Another participant also shared that she threw away around 10 plastic items on that day and it was well within her expectations as she would often buy drinks outside.
The greater challenge was on Day 2, when we had to do our best to avoid using disposable plastics for the entire day. All participants found it quite challenging to avoid using disposable plastics, but everyone did their best to find alternatives to cut down on plastic waste.
A participant tested COVID positive on the second day of the challenge and shared that he failed to avoid using plastics for his meals due to hygiene reasons. By cooking at home, he would not have needed to use plastic cutleries, but it was not an option for him due to his COVID status. To avoid using disposable plastics, he did not order food delivery that day and instead had his friend deliver food to him in a reusable food container.
It was rather tough for another participant to avoid using disposable plastics as well. She shared that she does not have the habit of bringing a recycle bag out with her when doing grocery shopping. However, upon taking up this challenge, she remembered that she should bring one out with her instead of using plastic bags given by the supermarket. She also specially brought her bottle and reusable straw to buy drinks like bubble tea despite the hassle of needing to wash them after. Lastly, she reused the plastic bags that came together with her food delivery.
After the two-day challenge, some of the things we realised were that plastics are everywhere in our daily lives and essential in many areas. However, we should still try our best to avoid using them whenever we can, especially the disposable ones.
One of the participants shared a very good realisation, “After the two-day challenge, I realised that if I am actually throwing away this amount of plastic in one day, a larger amount would have been thrown away by the entire population around the world in just a single day alone and this is quite astonishing. This also means that the overall impact would be more dire. So, if everyone were to make small efforts to reduce their plastic use, the positive impacts would be greater.”
After the challenge, all participants pledged to make small changes to reduce plastic usage to protect the environment. One of the participants even shared that she will cultivate it as a habit and change her mindset of viewing the effort as environmental consciousness instead of a hassle or inconvenience.
During the challenge, most of our colleagues have reduced the use of plastics noticeably in conjunction with the plastic-free July. Even the daily amount of trash we produce in the office has decreased significantly, given that most of our trash is plastic.
Although the second day of the challenge was a bit of a pain, all participants eventually overcame their mental obstacles and did their best to cut down on plastic wastage. However, the idea of the challenge was never about achieving the goal perfectly because it would be meaningless if we were to go back to our old habits after “Day 2”. The challenge served its purpose in helping us realise our daily habits in plastic consumption and reflect on ourselves to seriously make a change in our lifestyle.
Being spoilt by the conveniences we enjoy today, it is inevitable that practising eco-protection is going to be an uphill task, at least at the beginning, because old habits die hard. However, the first step is always the hardest and it will no longer feel inconvenient once it becomes a new habit.
There are eco-warriors out there who are doing their best to preserve our environment. To them, inconvenience is not a big issue because of their love for people and Mother Earth. Our government has already taken the lead by initiating a long-term green plan for our country. The concept of sustainability has also been introduced and emphasised in the school curriculum to nurture future generations with stronger eco-awareness. When businesses are launching eco-friendly products and taking green initiatives in their operations and strategy, we know that market forces have already started to take over to bring this change.
Achieving the goal of being perfectly plastic-free may not be practical, but reducing their usage is doable, and it is up to us. Reducing plastic usage and wastage should be a daily effort and not just a brief one limited to any specific day or month of the year. The amount of effort we are willing to put in depends on how much we care for our living environment. Having said all that, it’s time for me to start putting more effort into doing my part for the environment too.