With Plastic Free July underway, now is the time to take stock of my zero-waste journey. This month-long campaign raises awareness of our global plastic waste problem while encouraging people to avoid single-use plastic through the #choosetorefuse challenge. I have made good headway since I started my journey in 2014. I have invested in reusables, my kitchen and bathroom are slowly becoming zero-waste zones. But, still, I haven’t totally eliminated single-use plastic from my life.

Why? Well, there are those occasional and unplanned trips to the grocery store when plastic inevitably ends up in my trolley. There are times when I inadvertently buy plastic, like when I find hidden seals on glass jars. Or when I have chosen to buy something wrapped in plastic, like when I needed a plant-based cheese for a dinner party. Then there are those frustrating times I am unable to convince a pharmacist to give me medication without a plastic bag.

I have to accept that plastic happens

Last year I took the Plastic Free July challenge and committed to avoiding all single-use plastic for the month. I felt such a failure by the end. This year I will not become discouraged. While I keep striving towards a plastic-free life, I have to accept that plastic happens. I’m doing as much as I can which is way better than doing nothing at all. I also have to remember that in South Africa, we have our own particular set of challenges when it comes to low-waste living. We don’t have nearly as many affordable (zero waste) shopping options, our country’s recycling and waste management infrastructure is not what it could be, there is a general lack of awareness regarding reducing waste amongst industries, many of my peers and the places I frequent – not to mention the socio-economic difficulties our country still faces in the wake of post-apartheid. So I’ve realised that it really is pointless to compare our efforts to those of people living in first-world countries like Australia or America, a mistake I have made before and won’t make again.

July also happens to be my birthday month and with birthdays, so often comes unwanted single-use plastic. So, considering plastic is likely to find its way into my life this month, I decided to look at a more encouraging way to commit to Plastic Free July this year.

I like the idea of each piece of single-use plastic being treated like a swear word

I thought about starting a trash jar, the iconic emblem of the zero-waste movement. The process of collecting all of your non-recyclable waste into a trash jar. It’s been popularized by zero-waste heroes like Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer who have managed to fit years’ worth of trash into their respective jars. There are also variations of the trash-jar-turned-into-challenge, such as the one-month-long ‘jam your jar’ challenge. But nothing caught my attention as much as the ‘plastic swear jar’ challenge I came across. If you know me well, you know I use profanities to express myself. I like the idea of each piece of single-use plastic being treated like a swear word.

For July I will put every piece of single-use plastic I accumulate into a jar and for every piece of plastic, I’ll put R5 into a second jar, a ‘plastic swear jar’. I will donate the money to The Beach Co-op at the end of the month, an organization set on curbing the rising tide of single-use plastic. Any plastic I accumulate will also be transferred into my usual spot for non-recyclables, our home eco-bricks. These 2l bottles stuffed with non-biological waste are used as building blocks for building projects in South Africa.

I might not be near the end of my zero waste journey, but taking part in Plastic Free July in this way is surely another step in my personal fight to beat plastic pollution.

  • Follow Sarah on Instagram at @SustainableSarah
  • Image: Andre Harms/Ecolution