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A few years ago, I decided to join the growing movement known as Plastic Free July – a challenge for people to cut out single-use plastic for a month. I thought I could manage it by avoiding bottles of Coke and remembering to take reusable bags to the shops – but I soon discovered the challenge was far harder than I’d anticipated! I failed to avoid plastic on day two, and virtually every day after that! I realised plastic really was all around me.

The good news is that, four years later, I’m now living virtually zero-waste – sending nothing to landfill and still gradually cutting down on the single-use but recyclable plastics I use. Taking part in Plastic Free July was a key milestone in that journey. I’ll share below my top tips on going plastic-free, but first let’s look at why this is such an important issue.

Plastic is, in many ways, a fantastic invention. It’s so durable that almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists. Yet, much of it we only use once, and we still create millions of tonnes of new plastic each year. Plastic is being found in all parts of the food chain and you’re probably familiar with the heartbreaking images of its impacts on wildlife. And it’s not just the oceans that are affected. In poorer countries where there’s no waste collection, plastic waste ends up in rivers and streets, causing disease and death. Every 30 seconds someone dies because of pollution caused by waste – and plastic is a big contributor.

Four years ago, I realised I needed to repent. At the time I wrote, ‘Genesis 2:15 says God placed humanity on the planet in order that we might work it and take care of it, but with people and animals dying because of a proliferation of plastic, it seems we’re not doing too well.’ That’s why I took up the Plastic Free July challenge. I wanted to commit to changing my lifestyle and becoming a better caretaker of creation.

But I didn’t know where to begin. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea, because my milk came in a plastic bottle and my tea bags were sealed with plastic. (How weird is that?!) I realised that shifting away from my normal waste-heavy way of life would take a lot of effort, but it was an important journey to begin and one I’d encourage you to explore too. My first attempt at Plastic Free July wasn’t a complete failure: although I still used a lot of plastic, I became more aware of the amount of rubbish I produce, and of how much God loves his creation. I began discovering the easy plastic-free alternatives I could choose. Four years on, I’ve made more and more switches, one bit at a time – not overwhelming myself, but persistently trying to do the next little bit. It’s been so much easier with family and friends joining in too!

Here are my top tips for reducing your reliance on plastic and beginning the journey to a zero-waste lifestyle. Why not try as many as possible during Plastic Free July?

Allow yourself the time to build new habits. We’ve got used to this disposable way of life, so find ways to build new more sustainable habits, and give yourself the grace and time to develop them. For example:

1. Take reusable bags out with you.

2. Pack a reusable water bottle and coffee cup; you’ll save money doing this too.

3. Make yourself a packed lunch to go to work or out and about, rather than buying lunch out, and cut down on takeaways. Your wallet will thank you for this, too.

4. Buy your veg loose from the supermarket or farmers’ markets. Take your own containers for meat and fish, and look online for local refill or zero-waste shops that sell dried goods.

5. Shower plastic-free. I’ve switched to using a shampoo bar in a refillable tin and a body wash block, which means no plastic bottles. You can get these items in shops such as Lush, and an increasing number of mainstream shops now stock them.

6. Buy a bamboo toothbrush and make your own toothpaste, or try one of the more sustainable options in glass jars or recyclable tubs, such as Truthpaste or Georganics.

7. Long live the milkman! Did you know you can still get milk in cute glass bottles delivered to your doorstep? Search for your local milkman and – budget permitting, as it is a bit more expensive – sign up for plastic-free milk delivery today!

And finally, find changes you can make once that will have a lasting impact. Changing your bathroom routines, or how you get milk, can be a one-off or less regular switch.

Jack Wakefield

Jack works in our Tearfund Action team and feels most at home walking in the countryside, he is also a pretty big fan of ice – cream.