Just as the month of January has become synonymous with giving up meat, July has become the month where we give up plastic. Plastic Free July, which began in 2011, is a global movement which aims to encourage consumers to give up single-use plastics for the month, by signing up to the 31 day challenge.
The last year has seen the movement become a little less strict as it recognises the pandemic as a huge obstacle for most. Some coffee shops aren’t accepting keep cups due to covid safety measures and people are more inclined to buy cleaning products such as antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser.
In saying that, there are still plenty of things we can do this month and simply becoming more mindful of our plastic pollution is one of them.
Finn Murray, owner of health store The Hopsack in Rathmines told the Dublin Gazette about his experience in food retail: “We are seeing a magnified version of demand because the people who are coming to us tend to be the people who are motivated in that direction anyway. Our shop has an ethical mission and that’s really apparent. People who come to us, come because they know their values are going to be aligned. There’s still a very long way to go. We always try to provide leadership, but I would say there is less demand then we’d like to see.”
When asked if he thinks the solution to plastic starts with personal responsibility or is it up to the bigger corporations, Finn said: “I don’t think you can say one or the other anymore. First off I thought personal responsibility was the solution and then you see how little effect that can sometimes have so then I thought top down change has to happen. But then you see how top down change is always motivated by consumption.”
He continued: “People need to start to make their own stuff and change their consumption patterns. Shops need to be less relied upon and people need to think about not only producing their own, but sharing what they over produce with their neighbours. That’s the way out of this, it’s not about just buying loose veg, while that’s a good step, that veg still travelled a long way in a crate.”
According to data released by Eurostat in late 2020, Ireland is producing the highest volume of waste per person in the EU and has the fourth worst recycling rate for such material. The country was found to have the highest plastic waste generation at 54 kilos per capita, while the EU average sits at 33 kilos per capita.
Single-use plastic poses a massive threat to the environment but consumer behaviour does have an impact on the chain of supply and demand. This suggests consumers have a significant power in the war against plastic.
Speaking about Plastic Free July, Sheelin Conlon from The Kind Co, an ethical lifestyle store in the city centre told The Dublin Gazette: “I think people need to be realistic and remember it’s not about being perfect. People have become more aware over the last couple of years about sustainability and especially with single-use plastics. While people can feel pressured with the idea of Plastic Free July and it can be next to near impossible for a lot of people to give up plastic entirely, I think it’s about being more mindful this month and looking for sustainable alternatives when you can, for example by buying a shampoo bar for the bathroom.”
She continued: “The most popular products I sell tend to be the more essential products, things like cleaning products, spray bottles and soaps. Kitchen and bathroom products tend to be very popular because these are things peoplle need to buy again.”
Estimates for how long plastic survives in the environment range from 450 years to potentially forever. Remembering that we as consumers have an opportunity to say no to these items is important. The next time you go to buy a bottle of coke, think about how that bottle will outlive you, so maybe pick up the can instead and don’t forget to recycle it when you’re done.