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The contents of the Plastic-free July dilemma bag: 494 grams of plastic waste.

A month ago we embarked on our attempt to avoid single-use plastics for the month of July. We were inspired to experiment with this waste-reduction challenge by our concern both about the plastics in our home and farm (the legacy of which we’re still hauling from our gullies), as well as the presence of plastics of all descriptions in the rockpools and high-tide marks of the nearby coast.

Collecting our ‘unavoidable’ plastic waste in a ‘dilemma’ bag, at the end of the month, our household total was 494 grams, down 288 grams from the previous month, although a significant portion of this month’s waste were leftovers from previous purchases or packaging from gifts from others! As the photo above shows, the volume of plastic waste was noticeably less.

Sophie took on the bulk of the responsibility for sourcing plastic-free food, and initially experienced the unusual dynamic of having to pay more for the pleasure of less packaging. A weekly shop that we typically completed through two stops (a local greengrocer and independent supermarket), now necessitated multiple stops for multiple items and bringing one’s own bags and containers. One stop for fruit and vegetables, another for bulk dry foods and treats, another for paper-wrapped bread, and another for cheese from local cheesemongers, wrapped either in foil paper or wax (although we discovered afterwards that cheesewax is often made from petroleum-based paraffin). Unless it’s your own, meat seems to be unavoidably plastic-wrapped – even non-clandestine purchases from neighbour’s farms usually come shrink-wrapped or plastic-bagged.

Such is the ubiquity of plastic-packaging, that attempting to avoid it has resulted in some frustration, a greater amount of time spent driving and in the process of shopping itself, and sometimes, a greater amount of money spent. While we’d dearly love to reduce the driving, with two small children, it’s a challenge. Often too, our best intentions could be undone by enthusiastic packers: biodegradable corn-starch nappies purchased online arrived on our doorstep wrapped in multiple layers of plastic and sticky tape. As noted in Sustainable Communities guide to plastic-free shopping in Adelaide, the Clarence Park Food Co-op is the best friend a plastic-free aspirant could desire, offering a range of bulk goods, and incentives for reusing packaging. Adelaide’s Central Market and Showgrounds Farmers’ Markets also offered good options for plastic-free purchases.

Fittingly, the attempts to reduce our plastic waste also had the consequence of reconnecting us with our food. Rather than zipping off the baker every time we needed a loaf, Sophie borrowed a neighbour’s bread-maker and got stuck into belting out loaves. We knocked up a couple of litres of almond and rice milks as a morning cereal option, but in the end, further simplified the process by opting for porridge, or even soaking muesli with a few squeezes from friends’ oranges. For the household dairy fiends, getting back into yoghurt-making in a neglected Thermos was a further way of cutting packaging.

One of our most unexpected culinary victories was the cooking of our own crackers, based on this recipe from The Kitchn. While crackers of various descriptions can come in multiple layers of plastic, we can kiss that goodbye with these delectable bites.

While there’s certainly challenges involved in trying to reduce plastic waste, on our household level we’ll continue experimenting with our shopping configurations to find something relatively efficient and low-waste. The farm really is the next frontier, both in terms of cleaning up existing waste, and working to reduce, or use more effectively, the plastics that arrive on the property.

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Ten minutes walking around Commodore Point, Port Elliot, yielded this charming array of plastic waste.

The morning after plastic-free July officially finished, we went for a quick stroll out to Commodore Point, Port Elliot. It was too cold and windy to hang around for long, but in the 10 minutes it took to do a quick circuit, we returned with two handfuls of plastic debris, gathered from the cracks and crevices between the granite boulders. It was a fitting reminder of the persistence of plastic, and the importance of challenges such as this.

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