Plastic-Free July: time to move things up

July 28th, 2013 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

Plastic-Free July is drawing to a close, and I’m getting the same feedback from everybody: it was seriously tough. The aim of the game was to “consume no single-use plastic during July” and I don’t know anybody who actually managed this. The creators of the challenge obviously expect this, which is why they emphasise that it’s just an “attempt”.

Why doesn’t anybody manage it? Is it because we can’t resist going for the plastic-heavy option over the plastic-free one?

No. People don’t fail at Plastic-Free July because of bad choices; they fail because there are so few choices. We’re being set up to fail by a system that makes it almost impossible to live a normal life without buying and discarding at least some single-use plastic.

Several people have reported back that Plastic-Free July did actually help them reduce their plastic consumption, by forcing them to look really hard for alternatives. That’s been my experience too. But mostly, Plastic-Free July makes you realise how little power you have, as a shopper, to avoid the stuff.

So what’s the next step? It’s time to move up the supply chain. We need companies to start actually making plastic-free options for us to buy. Which means it’s time for supermarkets and other retailers to do their bit – because they have a hell of a lot more buying power than we do. But it’s not going to happen unless there’s pressure from us, the shoppers. When you’re dithering between two different plastic jars of peanut butter, you have no choice and no voice; but if a hundred shoppers explicitly ask for glass jars, we might start seeing results.

I’ve created a number of template letters to shops which you are free to adapt for your own use. My only caveats:

  • Please don’t just copy a letter without reading it through and making sure you’re happy to put your name to it. It’s from you, not me.
  • Please don’t use anything that isn’t true, e.g. don’t say you’re a customer in the Witney store if you actually shop in Wallingford.

More template letters will be added over time. (If you have one you’d like to share, get in touch!)

Template letter to Waitrose

Template letter to the Midcounties Co-op

Template letter to Boots

I know some people think that contacting companies is a waste of time – even if they don’t have to write the letters themselves. For those people, I offer the example of American snack company Frito-Lay, who trialled a biodegradeable crisp packet. It was withdrawn from sale – because of complaints from consumers that it was too noisy. It’s time to exert a bit of consumer pressure in the right direction for a change!

If letters aren’t your thing, consider opening a conversation with brands on social media. Or ringing that helpline they keep promoting. All ways of getting the message across are valuable.

If you’ve stayed with Plastic-Free July this far, congratulations. I’ve learned a lot that will be useful in the long term and I hope you have too. The survival guide is still being updated and contributions are very welcome.

And finally…thank you for taking part!

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