30 June 2021


Plastic is everywhere and it doesn't disappear. We can't let nature go to waste.

Help phase out single-use plastics.

By Stephanie McCann

It's the first day of July, and I just encountered my first hiccup. Desperately feeling like some Korean japchae, which requires the oh-so-delicious sweet potato noodles. I don't know where you can buy these so they don't come packaged in plastic. So, to add another layer to my own plastic free challenge, I'm going to collect all the plastic I do accumulate this month, as a visual for myself, and THEN I'm going to see how much of the plastic is recyclable, and where it can be recycled, so stay tuned for that.

DAY 2: Do the #PlasticFreeShop challenge

My attempt number 1 - just shopping for one dinner, and an easy recipe: Thai red curry.

Score: 9/10 easy peasy. Just had to make a small adjustment to my ingredients, because they didn't have any plastic free pumpkin other than whole ones. Just remember your produce bags!

DAY 3: Get your coffee in a reusable cup or say 'no' to plastic lids if you can't take your Keep Cup

COVID-19 has made this particular challenge much more difficult than usual, with cafes forced to revert back to disposable takeaway cups. Thankfully, it seems that we are slowly returning to a stage where Keep Cups are back in (woohoo!). The first and best step tackling coffee related plastic, is find yourself a Keep Cup or two. Train yourself to keep them clean and handy. A powerful training incentive is deprivation: no keep cup, no coffee. The lesson sinks in pretty quickly if you have to miss a couple of morning caffeine hits

The second step is for the occasions when you HAVE to use a takeaway cup, understand how you can dispose of them sustainably. There are many orgs trying to tackle this disposable waste stream. https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/coffee-cups/

Planet Ark has a lot of really helpful advice for dealing with coffee cups. One of the most convenient solutions is to keep your cups, and take them to your nearest participating 7/11 branch. Simply Cups has partnered with 7-Eleven to recycle coffee cups: https://forms.simplycups.com.au/locations

DAY 4: Decline a plastic straw

I didn’t have to decline a plastic straw, but we felt like tomato soup and cheese toasties for dinner. I figured that was a fairly safe plastic free choice. Harris Farm is our usual one-stop-shop, and they get a lot of things right in terms of reducing plastic and food waste. But herbs proved the downfall. While some herbs were packaging free, not all of them were, and we realized that cheese was basically impossible, unless you wanted feta. I’ll keep both of these bits of plastic for the RedCycle bin, but will have to rethink recipe choices if we want to avoid plastic entirely. 


DAY 5: Use a bamboo toothbrush

Hmm, I have to say, I have used a bamboo toothbrush in the past, but perhaps I needed to do my research more thoroughly. The one I purchased left my mouth feeling very floury, but I have not given up hope! Tens of millions of toothbrushes are disposed of each year in Australia, and that's a compelling enough reason to give the bamboo toothbrush another go. The biggest challenge seems to be that I am yet to find one that uses a truly environmentally sustainable, biodegradable bristle. Most of them are still made from nylon, which does not generally biodegrade sustainably.

Luckily, some clever folks already have some good tips for dealing with those bristles (and the rest of the bamboo toothbrush)!

DAY 6: Do a beach clean up

Well, because of COVID-19, my local area of Canada Bay has had to suspend their regular Litter Clean-Up Program. That's ok, when we get out of lockdown, I'm going to take myself for a walk and do a bit of 'Plogging' (jogging and picking up litter). I will report back how much rubbish I am able to clean up.

Note: If you never hear from me again, it is because I have died as a result of trying to jog / go outside.

DAY 7: Bring your own reusable bag to the shops

We have lots of reusable bags in our household. Bags always live in the boot of the car, with a handful of produce bags. I have both the Onya and Harris Farm brand produce bags. The Onya bags are made from recycled plastic bottles, and the HF ones are cotton. Each great for different things!

But my favourite bag of all time is a hand woven bag given to me by Wendy Marcus that came from the Mosman Markets. As you can see, I am very attached to it. I get stopped all the time to ask where it is from. Comfort 10/10, capacity 10/10, style points 15/10.

DAY 8: Bring your own cutlery or opt out of cutlery when ordering takeaway on a delivery app

The challenge for today was BYO cutlery, and I lovvvve this one because I actually just purchased this Green and Kind cutlery for myself recently, so I'm very excited to test it out. I bought them (optimistically) with visits to weekend markets and holidays in mind. I always feel so rotten whenever I'm at a market or exploring street food and have to sheepishly use disposable cutlery.

DAY 10: Choose a reusable drink bottle

Remember the days when you had to actively remember to put your phone in your bag? It was a conscious retraining of your habits up until that point. It's the same with your reusable water bottle. You just have to keep reminding yourself, until you get to the stage that you feel a bit naked without it. Or even have a couple of bottles (one for work, one for home, one for the car). #youcandoit

DAY 11: Make your own personal care products

I had never really tried my hand at making my own personal care products. However, a few months back I did convert bar shampoo into liquid shampoo. It was super easy and it worked out a treat! You can use any plastic free bar shampoo you like and then just pour into your shampoo container. I shop a lot from Flora and Fauna. The Green and Kind products have been great and don't irritate my emotionally sensitive skin.

Plastic is everywhere and it doesn't disappear. We can't let nature go to waste.

Help phase out single-use plastics.

DAY 12: Switch to bar soap instead of liquid soap

The challenge today was swapping to bar soap instead of liquid soap. WWF-Australia did this one ages ago - I'm an absolute convert. Not only are they heaps cheaper than conventional products, but because the companies making them are generally a bit more conscientiously-minded, they aren't typically full of the chemicals that irritate my skin.

Switch to bar soap instead of liquid soap #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

DAY 13: Buy from bulk food stores

This one is tricky. It's tangled up with a whole lot of additional conversations, including the value of organic vs non-organic foods. Mainly, for me the challenge with buying in bulk (and plastic free) is the price. Honestly, in many cases the price is so much higher so as to render the product unaffordable.

Buy from bulk food stores #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

We do buy some things from Bulk Source Foods, but I would love to know what my fellow Sydney shoppers do to minimise plastic in their 'pantry' items in particular. I did notice today that Harris Farm Markets at Drummoyne are selling their home brand rice in paper bags now. Well done! I will definitely check it out 🌾

DAY 14: Recycle your old mobile phone

Recycling your mobile phone is super-easy these days. But don't just think about the end-of-life of your phone. Our devices carry a huge emissions price tag, so before you rush to ditch your old one, see if you can hold onto it for a little while longer.

Make a few small changes to your habits:

1. Text rather than call

2. Buy refurbished phones

3. Buy modular (so that you can replace components rather than the whole device). 

DAY 15: Choose plastic free produce

Being able to buy plastic free produce is largely about where you shop. Many mainstream supermarkets offer a limited selection of produce that you can buy using your own bags. Shopping at local markets, or at smaller fruit and veg grocers makes this task a little bit easier. It also involves being a bit more organised and planned-ahead. Have an idea of what is in season and shop based on availability. That way you are better placed to buy local and seasonal - as opposed to frozen or imported.

Plastic free produce #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

DAY 16: Try reusable food wrap

I love my beeswax wraps and they are useful for loads of things. They aren't hard to keep clean (if you use them sensibly) and are pretty durable.

My other top tip which l learned from my mother Gina Noziglia McCann is wrapping food up in cloth (I use both chux and cotton cloth produce bags) and THEN putting them inside a plastic bag. I have a collection of about 5 or 6 bags that I reuse over and over and over again. Wrap your fresh veggies in fabric inside a plastic bag and they last for WEEKS.

My other habit is reusing aluminium foil. It can be fairly easily cleaned and reused over and over!

Reusable food wrap #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

DAY 17: Use bamboo cotton buds

So I've been using these Organyc cotton buds for a while. And while they are not bamboo, they are cotton buds with recycled cardboard stems.

Not a whole lot to say here other than they are cotton buds. I have, however, been thinking of trying Ioco Reusable Beauty Buds from The Well Store. They are made of soft silicon and they are shaped for specific uses - great for makeup).

If anyone has used these (or a similar product) I'd love to know!

The plastic pollution suffocating our oceans and poisoning our food supplies is a global man-made disaster that requires nations around the world to take collective action on both a national and international scale.

Individually, our spheres of influence are generally pretty small. It's our families and friends and maybe our colleagues (and that sphere of influence should never be underestimated, as it is incredibly powerful). Collectively however, as consumers and citizens we can speak loudly and clearly together - with an uncompromising demand for immediate action.

Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) with a plastic bag, Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The bag was removed by the photographer before the turtle had a chance to eat it.
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) with a plastic bag, Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The bag was removed by the photographer before the turtle had a chance to eat it. © Troy Mayne / WWF

DAY 20: Reuse, reuse, reuse!

I was looking around our apartment today to try to spot all the plastic products being given a second life. I'm sure I've missed loads, but actually, as life goes on more and more our lives do move away from plastic products and each time I find an alternative I feel a little bit better! So here are a couple of tips from around our home:

1. Refilling shampoo/conditioner bottles: I mentioned in an earlier post, but Dane and I have made the conversion to bar shampoo and conditioner. Dane uses the bars in their solid form, but I like mine melted down into liquid. I think my Sukin bottles are on their 8th or 9th life cycle!  

2. Plastic bags: Sometimes you get plastic bags. It's a bummer. But don't let their second life be as your bin liner. That's a horrible use for them! We keep our plastic bags to keep produce nice and fresh for longer. Wrap your fruit and veg in chux or cotton bags, and then pop them in a bag. They will stay fresh for weeks.

Reused plastic bags #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

3. Tupperware containers: A great way to cut down on those awful bits of cling-wrap is to just buy containers you can reuse that have lids. Easy.

Plastic free shop challenge - reusable containers
© Steph McCann / WWF

4. Cleaning products: If you know where to look you can find plastic free (or very nearly) products. Refill your favourite cleaning spray bottle or keep a tin with your various tablets and powders! Here are two I like: Resparkle Natural All Purpose Refill Pod (multi-purpose cleaning) and Urthly Organics Toilet Bombs.

Plastic friendly cleaning products #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

DAY 21: Choose natural fabrics

This one is so tricky. I am not going to pretend that at least 1/2 of my current wardrobe is not made up of fast fashion brands. When I was thinking about this sustainability issue, I was thinking of it in the context of now knowing that about a third of all the microplastics that enter our oceans are coming from synthetic textiles. That is a whopper no matter how you look at it. Feelsbadman.

I was looking for HELPFUL advice about how we can change our habits to address this terrible problem that so many of us contribute to. I found an article that summarised some generally good tips to live by. The ones I liked the most were:

  1. Be more informed (about where you shop)
  2. Look after your clothes so they last longer
  3. Learn how to repair clothing yourself (or find a good tailor)
  4. Go for quality over quantity
  5. Adjust how you spend your money (spend your 'investment' cash on the things you wear every day, instead of the splurge items)

My own tip is to try to avoid the KNOWN crappy materials: polyester, nylon, acrylic, viscose, rayon, fleece, elastane, acetate.

Shameless plug, I know, but I don't even feel bad.

It was in my second year of working with WWF that they decided to purchase the licence for, and retire, the last full-time commercial gill net from the northern Great Barrier Reef.

It was such a hype move, and supporters were super-keen to lend a hand. We raised the money to pull that nasty net out of the ocean so fast I couldn't believe it. ReefCycle sunnies are the innovative solution to that commercial gill net - turning a fishing net into sunglasses.

It was such a sick idea! 50% of the proceeds go back to WWF's conservation work - so we can try to keep fighting for a Net-Free North, because there are still 240 active gill net licences held along Queensland's east coast that can move in and start fishing.

I bought my pair almost as soon as they became available for pre-order. You can include your prescription, and make a bunch of other customisations. In case you were wondering, my ReefCycle sunnies are sporting the sawfish symbol!

DAY 23: Slow down and eat-in

Listen, most of you who are friends with me know that I LOVE eating. It's my next favourite thing after breathing.

COVID-19 makes that a little more challenging albeit, but what I have discovered in all of this, is exactly how nice it is to go that little extra for your own dinners at home.

Didn't want to fail the challenge by being too fancy so we decided to make a Goan fish curry (with home made curry paste) with a side of roasted cauliflower drizzled in olive oil and a tomato and red onion salsa on the side. This recipe was almost plastic free - and would have been plastic free normally, except that the fish shop is not doing personal takeaway containers right now!

Slow down and eat in #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

ALSO, I should add, that while having two side dishes with my meal is something I could seriously get used to... I cannot wait until I can return to frequenting my favourite food spots again 😩

DAY 24: Choose a recycled plastic phone case

I feel personally attacked by this particular challenge. I don't use a phone case (a reality that my phone does NOT thank me for)!

But I did a little snooping and as it turns out there are loads of people making recycled plastic phone cases. Some clever folks even compiled an extremely helpful list of a few.

If you need something a little more durable, looks like even big brand Lifeproof are on the bandwagon.

The other alternative is choosing a phone case that isn't plastic at all. Thanks to my friend Kathryn Hannah Birch, you have trusted testimonial on the Pela phone case. Kat says it is ‘100% compostable! They have them for most phones, in nice colours and designs (mine has a turtle). Plus - I drop my phone aaaall the time and not one crack! They do a liquid screen cover too, I've not used it but heard it's great.’ 

DAY 25: Choose a pencil over a pen

When I do use paper to take notes these days, I generally do use a pencil. It's funny, because it was a pretty hard adjustment from a pen (if I do say so myself!) There's something about the nice smooth lines of a top-notch fountain pen.

However, ditching pens (because let's face it, you probably don't recycle them when they’re done), is a fairly simple way to decrease your plastic tally. I personally love the black graphite pencils from Buy Eco Green. They also make a wooden sharpener!

They are light, they last ages and sharpening them is particularly gratifying.

If buying your pencils from a speciality store is a bit too hipster, you can buy pencils just about anywhere! Just make sure you look out for the FSC logo on your packet of pencils, to indicate that it has the Forestry Stewardship Council certification mark, so that you know the wood was sourced sustainably 👌

DAY 26: Skip plastic bottled drinks

There have been a few challenges during Plastic Free July that basically have come down to retraining habits. This is one of them.

As a point, I try my very hardest to avoid buying drinks that come in plastic - whether that's when I'm out eating or buying to eat at home. I prioritise drinks that come in cans or glass bottles wherever possible.

If I really *have* to have a soda when I'm out, I try to make it a soda in a can. If a place doesn't have drinks in a can, I generally won't have one. And If I really *have* to have a drink in a plastic bottle, then I take it home with me, or to the nearest recycling bin.

Honestly, most of it is just a matter of training and habit and letting go of the 24/7, 365 convenience we’re used to.

DAY 27: Take your own bread bag to the bakery

Welp, while an abject failure in the actual challenge of the day, I did learn a few things.

I walked up to Harris Farm to get some bread because I know they sell the reusable bread swags there. Unfortunately by the time I arrived the bread window had closed. So I left wet, breadless and deflated. The trick here (and at some Coles) is you have to come early in the morning if you want to bag your own bread. Before mid morning, I am told.

However, I may have failed the daily challenge, but not all was lost! Next door is a Bowen Island Bakery and they will give you bread in a paper bag, so that's a good start. You can also bring your own bread bag.

In Five Dock we are lucky enough to have not one, but two Vietnamese bakeries (which I discovered on my walk home). So as I passed by, I asked if they would also let me supply my own bag - which they both cheerily said they would.

So my lesson for today was:

  1. Ask, before you walk 40 minutes for bread
  2. Most bakeries or bakery divisions in supermarkets have a morning window, during which they will allow you to use your own bags. Ask, and ye shall receive!

DAY 29: Give old plastics a new life

As a crazy plant lady, I have definitely found many productive uses for old plastic products - especially takeaway containers and any plastic bottles that make their way into my apartment. Almost all of them involve being reborn as a water dish that sits inside an indoor planter - exhibit A below (featuring my cyclamen showing off its colours).

Recycled plastic plant water dish #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

I also found a very fun list of ways you can reuse a plastic bottles - heads up to parents with young kids, there are some SUPER cute crafty looking suggestions in this list.

My favourites were numbers 43 (the charms for personalising glasses and napkins), 52 (Christmas tree decorations), and 54 (pencil pots).

DAY 30: Make your own newspaper bin liner

This is something Dane and I have been doing for a couple of years now. Obviously it takes an additional 30 seconds longer than lining your bin with a plastic bag, but I encourage you to take a more introspective view of the task at hand, and what that 30 seconds means in the greater scheme of things.

Firstly, it gives newspapers a second life - I collect these ones from my workplace, so I'm not buying them specifically for bin lining.

Secondly, you are keeping some of the worst types of plastics out of landfill. Instead of using your soft plastics for bin liners - recycle them. Take them to your nearest RedCycle collection point (lots of Coles and Woolworths participate in the program).

Thirdly, you get to put Donald Trump in the trash - where he belongs, and if that doesn't excite you, well then I'm not sure why you are still reading this blog.

To avoid any possible anxiety my faithful viewers may have about how to line a bin with newspaper, I have prepared for you the Marie Kondo method to newspaper bin lining (*note: not actually a method necessarily employed by Marie Kondo, but I like to think that we are probably linked by our love of a crisp bin liner).

DAY 31: Switch to steel or bamboo pegs

We currently do already have a very nice set of wooden pegs bought from Coles a long while back as well as a few plastic ones from IKEA.

Dane is very kindly (unwillingly) modelling our wooden pegs for me here.

Day 31: Switching to steel or bamboo pegs #PlasticFreeShop Challenge
© Steph McCann / WWF-Australia

Next time we do need to replace them though, I think we will opt for some of these stainless steel ones. They even have a rating system to help guide which sort of pegs you might need. Who knew that there was a peg for every purpose?

Depending on where we're living, I may opt for some of these bamboo ones, although after doing a bit of reading as you might imagine bamboo (while fully compostable) may not be as hardy and durable as the stainless steel. If we are living in some kind of single biome environment that is singularly treacherous, I might stick to stainless steel, for the sake of my pegs.

WWF-Australia is proud to be supporting Plastic Free July’s global movement helping millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution.