Follow usFacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedInYouTube

Our plastic expert reveals how she tries to stay plastic clever

In honour of Plastic Free July, we sat down with our in-house plastic expert, Debbie, to find out about the plastic challenges she faces and, more importantly, how she stays plastic clever!



Since the 1950s, we've produced over eight billion tonnes of plastic. Most of it isn't recycled, and around 32% pollutes the natural environment. We all know that we need to cut the amount of single-use plastic we use, and most of us are making efforts to do this. Plastic Free July is a great incentive to kick the plastic habit - however, for lots of different reasons, going plastic-free is very difficult! Instead, if we all champion a plastic clever approach, we will have a far bigger impact in fighting plastic pollution.

Plastic Free July is a good kick to get back on track with a low-plastic life. I’m back to plastic-free lunches, avoiding soft fruits in plastic tubs (one of my worst offenders due to having a toddler), and getting on the back of the supermarkets I online shop with if they send me plastic bags that I didn’t ask for! And basically, making sure I think twice about every plastic product I buy.

Here are some of the biggest challenges Debbie has come across:


  • Time - Being a full-time working (and pregnant) Mum, I am very time-poor. Although I aspire and have dabbled in making my toiletries and household cleaners, I rarely have the time. Even finding time for simple day to day things like making the next day’s lunch can be hard! I have found good alternative options though – I get refills for my toiletries and household cleaners from our local zero waste shop (I am very lucky to have one in my village), and fill up as many bottles as I can to stock up for a few weeks. I’ve also built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of the plastic-free lunch options around where our office is, including where will allow me to bring my own tub.


  • Individually wrapped snacks – With a toddler, the ease of individually wrapped snacks is an area where I really fall down. I just don’t have the time to make all his snacks, and when I do they don’t get eaten quick enough and tend to go off. My son loves the oaty bars, biscotti biscuits, pom bears and fruit yo-yos that all come in plastic wrappers. I can recycle most of these through Terracycle, but it’s not ideal. I do reduce plastic by avoiding individually wrapped options in some cases though, like brioche buns, Soreen and Cheddars - the big ones taste just the same!


  • Forgetfulness – we all suffer from it, and although I have a reusable bag on me at almost all times, I am not so great at remembering my coffee cup or water bottle, as I just don’t use them enough. I also drink out so rarely, that I can forget to ask for no straw. I don’t understand why they are forced on us rather than being on request only – that would save companies money and people the guilt from all those unwanted straws!


  • Dietary requirements – I have to have a low dairy diet, but plastic-free options for things like dairy-free milk, yoghurts and spreads just don’t exist. It’s the same for a lot of gluten-free, vegan and other specialist foods. It seems if you have a dietary requirement, you are doomed to having a higher plastic footprint.


Because of my constant plastic battles, and the fact that encouraging reduced plastic consumption is my job, I get called three different things:

  • Plastic guru - by people who are interested to know more, have a question or generally want tips or advice. And sometimes by the lovely people that I work with
  • Plastic Police – often by my partner, if I tell him he’s put something in the wrong recycling bin or that he should have bought the loose apples rather than the ones in a plastic bag…
  • Plastic hypocrite – if someone who knows what my job is and catches me using something single-use plastic (or sometimes anything plastic at all!)


My attempts at plastic-free July tend to focus on avoiding the last one – so for every plastic item I purchase, I try to ask myself if I am being a plastic hypocrite by buying it! But, I regularly remind myself that although I do make compromises in places where theoretically I could try harder to reduce plastic, I still do an awful lot to reduce our consumption. One of the biggest things I do is to use reusable nappies and wipes, and I also make a batch of homemade nappy cream every few months. The reality is though, that because of the time I have to spend laundering and putting together those nappies every other day, I have less time to devote to other things (like making packed lunches). But when I think of the volumes of waste I have saved in nappies and wipes alone, I realise it probably dwarfs the amount I could save by making homemade snacks or cleaning products. Especially as there are other alternatives – refills are probably my biggest plastic-guilt saviour!


Going plastic-free – or plastic clever, as I prefer to aspire to – is about working out what is right for you and what changes will fit into your lifestyle. I heard a great quote recently which sums the situation up perfectly – We need a billion people doing zero waste imperfectly, not a few thousand people doing it perfectly.

What was the biggest change you made for Plastic Free July?

If you need some inspiration, why not use our Plastic Pledge sheet and continue your own plastic clever life. For more information head over to our Plastic Pollution page.



Sign up
Earthwatch Europe

Creating Knowledge. Inspiring Action.

Contact us

Tel: +44 (0)1865 318838

© 2018 Earthwatch Institute. All rights reserved.
Earthwatch Institute (Europe) is a registered charity in England and Wales, no. 1094467.