Plastic Free River sign

Plastic Free July: how to live the low waste lifestyle

The low-waste movement is growing, especially following all the single-use plastic generated because of the pandemic. If you’re not sure where to start in reducing your waste, now is the perfect time to find out more about why conscious living is so important and how you can get involved.

Emily Cooper


This blog was written by Gabriella Ghelani, one of our wonderful Project Communications Officers. She's a total expert when it comes to cutting down on plastic; she started living a low-waste lifestyle in 2019, and has since set up her own business which offers a refill service as well as selling plastic free products.

What is Plastic Free July?

Plastic Free July is a key initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation that allows everyone to work towards a global reduction in plastic waste.

Since launching 10 years ago in 2011, the initiative has involved millions of people around the world. In the simplest form, it encourages individuals, corporations, and communities to break the ties to single-use plastic. You can hold events, spread the word within your community or simply take the journey as an individual.

As we dive deeper into this topic, we also need to acknowledge the inequality and ableism that goes along with a lot of the plastic free conversations. For some, reducing all, or even a large amount of plastic is not possible, which in turn can pose a very real and conflicting challenge. To understand this issue further, Greenpeace and illustrator Ananya Rao-Middleton have created a comic to explain.

What are the first steps I can take on this journey?

There are lots of ways to get started, the first step is always the hardest but once you’ve taken the plunge it will only get easier!

Have the conversation

It’s important to involve everyone in the conversation when it comes to waste and the impact it’s having. By having a widespread discussion with people of all backgrounds and ages it’s easier to pinpoint where there might be a need for further action.

Reducing waste isn’t a one size fits all solution, but if we can all take small actions and empower others to do the same this can equal collective change on a larger scale.

We should also be speaking to figures of power and advocates for change such as MPs. As well as holding companies accountable for what they’re producing, especially when it comes to reusables, with universal design needs (i.e., suitable for all) in mind.

Conduct a “waste bin audit”

Bins in a row

For a practical on the ground task, this is a simple and fun exercise to get everyone in your household involved in. Take an empty tub or box and collect all the plastic waste you and your family create in a week. After a week is up, lay a sheet down and separate all your rubbish into piles i.e., glass, plastic packaging, bottles, tin cans etc.

From there you can make a note as to where the majority of your waste is coming from and where to source alternatives. For example, if you can see that you have packaging from fruit and vegetables, can you source these locally at a farm shop or market stall without plastic. There’s also a great opportunity to find hidden plastic items in your home through these audits!

Plastic Free July has more information on the process here.

It’s also important to note, the most ecological action you can take is to use what you already have first. It can be tempting to throw all your plastic items away in favour for bamboo or “eco” alternatives, but this is both wasteful and perpetuates the ‘throwaway’ culture.

If you have an item in a plastic bottle; material, energy, resources, and water have already been used to make that product. By using up the produce and then refilling, upcycling or reusing where possible, you’ve saved another bottle from landfill and not had to buy a new bottle from virgin plastic.

Get involved in local community projects such as litter picks, “plogging” or planting trees

Litter pick

Being part of an ‘eco-community’ can be empowering while you’re doing great things for your local wild spaces. There are a large number of charity-run planting opportunities while local community gardens aid wildlife and native species.

Litter picks are the most popular and they’re easy to organise through your local county council. Grab some pals and head out into the wild to give nature a helping hand!

Why is it important to reduce my plastic footprint?

Whether we like it or not the plastic pollution crisis is on the up. There are lots of reasons why this durable material has stood the test of time and in the right settings it can be a useful and critical tool. However, there are elements of plastic that are completely avoidable.

“[There are] approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons. That is about the same as 1345 adult blue whales. And 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy.” – Surfers Against Sewage

Despite the current situation, there are huge movements in the sector and reasons for optimism and hope. This year the UN Environment Assembly signed a treaty to take action.

“The UN Environment Assembly has voted to adopt a resolution that paves the way for a legally binding agreement on plastic pollution by 2024. The vote was unanimous, with almost 200 nations agreeing to create an intergovernmental committee to negotiate the terms of the treaty.” –

While this is a great step in the right direction there are still lots of steps, we can take to put the pressure on.

What is The Rivers Trust doing about plastic pollution?

Our fantastic member Trusts carry out litter picks up and down the country. They help local people to improve the health of their local river, and play a really important role in ensuring that beautiful freshwater habitats stay that way.

We also work on a number of projects exploring new possibilities for tackling plastics in the environment.

  • Preventing Plastic Pollution is a fantastic cross-Channel project which aims to nip plastics in the bud, by tracking them from their source all the way to the sea.
  • In-No-Plastic investigates innovative approaches toward reducing plastic. The project will develop and demonstrate new technology for the removal of nano-, micro-, and macro-plastic from aquatic ecosystems, as well as pioneering social strategies for plastic waste reduction and removal.

Want to hear more from Gabs? Listen to our new podcast!

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