The #PlasticFreeJuly Effect

The Western Australian born initiative saved 490 million kilograms of single use plastics from use in its 2018 campaign.

Last week it was announced that ‘The Attenborough Effect’ has led to an impressive 53% of people in US and UK surveyed reducing their single use plastics according to recent research by GlobalWebIndex. Another Australian born initiative has made its own dramatic impact, saving nearly 490 million kilograms of single use plastics being used in its 2018 global campaign.

#plasticfreejuly has grown from a small challenge between a group of friends in Cottesloe, Western Australia in 2011 into an international movement. 2018’s challenge included 120 million participants from over 170 countries.

Earlier this month, a group of 100 or so people gathered in Fremantle, Western Australia for a public lecture at Notre Dame University with Plastic Free July founder Jessica Prince-Ruiz to get a first-hand account of the #plasticfreejuly journey.

“I was visiting a recycling facility as part of my job and that started me on the journey towards Plastic Free July,” Jessica says.

Getting an understanding of the practicalities and limitations of the recycling plant led Jessica to the biggest shift in her thinking, changing her mindset from ‘look how much I am recycling’, to ‘how much less can I put in my bin?’

“The challenge we have is using plastics in a linear fashion, not circularity,” she says.

This comment speaks to the staggering statistic by US EPA that of all the plastics ever made on earth, only 9% have been recycled, and 0.9% of these have never been recycled more than once. This is compounded with a projected 40% rise in plastic production expected into the future.

“I don’t think we can all do everything, but we can all do something,” says Jessica, adding that a small change of just 5% per person has monumental collective impact.

Jessica relates the success of Plastic Free July to its simplicity and the relatability of the challenge that began as a group of friends trying to use less plastic themselves, who then spread it organically to their friends, family and their communities around the world.

Things were propelled astronomically due to social media and Plastic Free July is now a global movement with a living online community where participants can tap into a digital library of ideas and encouragement.

Working with behavioural economists a new “choose to refuse” message has been adopted for the campaign to make Plastic Free July a practical, everyday mantra and remind people that moving to a more plastic free existence is a progression and doesn’t need to be a radical overhaul.

“By being part of Plastic Free July, people can choose one single-use plastic to avoid. The most popular choices are switching from plastic wrapped to loose produce, and choosing to refuse straws and plastic water bottles. It’s all about noticing your plastic purchases and choosing better alternatives,” Jessica says.

“It’s a personal challenge that’s part of a global effort for our oceans, for cleaner streets and for the planet.”

While July marks the official challenge period, refusing single use plastics and joining the #plasticfreejuly community is something you can begin today. For instance, with your coffee cup.