Plastic pollution continues to hit the headlines, with programmes such as the BBC’s Blue Planet and Blue Planet 2 showing us the horrific extent of what it’s doing to our oceans. 

Plastic is such an integral part of our daily lives, so is it really possible to go plastic free? Or is our dependence on single use plastic products so strong they are impossible to do without? Mhairi Scott, one of our Waste Wise Volunteers, took on the challenge to go plastic free for the whole of July! Changeworks' Kathleen Vaughn asked Mhairi some questions to see how she got on. 

What is the plastic free challenge all about?

The Plastic Challenge by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) challenges everyone to see how many days they can go using little or no plastic. I think total avoidance would be impossible today, but it’s a challenge! It’s done in a fun way and it’s mainly to get you thinking about what plastic you use and to provoke discussion. Blue Planet made this famous recently, but since doing it I have discovered that lots of people were doing ‘plastic free’– it’s not just a Marine Conservation thing. 

Why did you want to give it a go?

I’d read about it before in the MCS newsletter, and it caught my imagination somehow. I support conservation causes anyway, especially for wildlife. Then, when volunteering at Changeworks, I did some bin-monitoring, and it made me think about litter. I realised, it’s not just people littering, it’s about everything you buy coming in packets that get thrown away. The volume of waste is incredible.

Who joined you in the challenge?

I persuaded my immediate family to join me – my partner and two children age six and nine. Actually, they were pretty happy and up for it. We agreed it needed to be a light-hearted challenge, not an obsession (ho ho – how wrong I was). 

How was it?

Overall, I would say it was really hard! You suddenly realise life today completely revolves around using single use plastics. I enjoyed it though, even with the challenging moments, because often it was funny. For example, my partner’s brother walked out of a shop because he was so embarrassed at my partner arguing to be given a piece of steak in his box, not their plastic bag! I was amazed and impressed with the efforts my partner went to once he got the bug.

What's next?

Will I go plastic free forever? Not completely. It was too much effort. But I’ve converted to some things like making my own bread, taking tins or boxes when shopping for meat, fish fruit and vegetables, and using the toothpaste in a glass jar that I found (it’s brilliant and I actually prefer it). Also, I now know where to get certain items plastic free.

What was the hardest bit?

This was having to make a whole lot of basics rather than buying them ready made. I had to make time to make yoghurt, pizza, gluten-free bread, snack bars, wraps. Every week. In one way it was fun – I enjoyed making pizza and felt amazed the yoghurt actually worked, but everything together was a bind. 

The children said the hardest thing was going without crisps, most favourite sweets and grapes - try finding plastic free grapes in the UK! An added complication was being on holiday for the first two weeks of July, touring England and Wales. Oh, and being allergic to gluten!

What advice would you give to other people interested in trying to go plastic free?

Through trial and error, here are my top three tips for anyone considering going plastic free:

  1. Carry these six reusable items: water bottle, coffee cup, sealable tub, shopping bag, waxed paper bag and cutlery.
  2. Find the lightest or smallest of the above!
  3. Search the web for: plastic free [insert name of item], plastic free life, plastic free Scotland, plastic free living etc. There’s hundreds of tips and blogs out there from all over the world!

While Mhairi found it difficult to go completely plastic free, she was able to make some permanent changes. Through a little bit of research, she also knows more about how to reduce her plastic use. If we all make small changes like Mhairi to our plastic use habits, we can make a big impact on the environment.

Need more motivation to get started? Take a look at these plastic free campaigns: Plastic Free Fridays, Plastic Free Scotland, The Cotton Bud Project, Nae Straw at Aw, Have you got the bottle?

Mhairi spoke to Kathleen, Changeworks' Senior Waste Project Officer, who takes a big role in organising our Waste Wise Volunteers and Education Programme.