Plastic Free July: Tips to Refusing Plastic From Three Local Eco Heroes

This week, let’s take a look at the first of the Rs – refuse! Refuse is the first step in eliminating waste from the onset. It’s the action of saying “no” to things you don’t need, or for which you can find a substitute. 

There’s an endless number of ways you can refuse plastic in your everyday life. That’s why we thought we’d take this opportunity to spotlight three amazing young environmentalists, who are making a huge difference in their communities and for the planet!

Varsha Yajman 

At just 18 years old, Varsha is a social justice advocate. Over the last few years, she’s been involved in the climate justice movement, forming part of organisations like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and SS4C to organise and mobilise strikes and campaigns in support of climate justice. 

Varsha helped organise SS4C’s 2019 Global Climate Strike, which had 80,000 people in Sydney and 350,000 people across Australia come together to fight for climate justice. 

Out of the five Rs – refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle, why is refuse so important?

“Refusing plastic is the most preventative way we can reduce our plastic consumption – if we are refusing plastic that means that there is no accumulation of plastic in the first place that we need to reuse or repurpose or recycle.

“Refusing plastic also shows the effect of people power. While there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, when we refuse plastic we are using our people power to shape what kind of products complies produce. We have begun to see that companies are creating more reusable and recyclable products and this is because of people power”.

Do you have any tips to help people refuse plastic?

“It’s all about making the effort and remembering that it takes time! But if you can eat in restaurants instead of takeaway, bring your own cutlery, and invest in some reusable silicone or beeswax wraps instead of using cling wrap. 

All of these ways are easy steps and sometimes we may mess up and that is okay, it’s all about trying to do our best and that’s it. Having conversations with those around you is also great, spread awareness about what you’re doing and someone asks you why you can just use a plastic bag or says that they can’t be bothered to buy a reusable bag, explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing in a kind way is the most important thing. There’s no point in gatekeeping what should be a movement that is spreading awareness!”

Stephanie Evans

Steph founded Seas of Change when she was 10 years old. Now 17, Steph raises funds and awareness for marine life and their environments. Sea of Change focuses on climate change, plastic pollution, dugongs and sea turtles. 

Growing up with a teacher for a mother, Steph has been focused on youth empowerment, aiming to inspire other youth to follow their passions and take a stand for their environment by educating within schools and mentoring students globally. Steph thrives working in schools and mentoring youth through programs such as the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp and with Ervis Foundation.

Do you have any tips to help people refuse plastic?

“My number one tip to help refuse plastic is to be prepared. There are so many great alternatives to plastics available, yet if we let them sit in our cupboard they aren’t going to help! If you forget to bring your reusable, try and be creative! 

For example, when we go grocery shopping we just don’t use bags, we pile it all in the boot or use boxes. Forgot your keep cup? Sit in at the cafe and slow down for a second! I’d also say that we are all on this journey together. Everyone messes up so don’t beat yourself up about it, you’ve still succeeded by trying in a world that revolves around plastic! As a perfectionist, this was hard for me but we also have to remember that individual action is only part of the solution, we also need government and business action – they contribute the most to this issue! Additionally, growth only comes from positive places so don’t shame others, instead help and educate as everyone is at a different stage on their journey.”

Can you share a few examples of ways you refuse plastic?

“I think the simplest way that I refuse plastic is by avoiding the top four single-use plastic items, plastic straws, plastic bottles, single-use coffee cups and plastic bags. These are all easy to refuse with preparation as there are some great alternatives available. 

I only buy and take what I need when shopping, meaning that I refuse all those little freebies offered at shops and markets! 

If we have a big group of people over we use regular plates and cutlery, not plastic ones, and wash them up. The extra effort is worth it! I also bring my own cutlery with me to avoid having to use plastic cutlery.”

Arlian Ecker a.k.a Plastic Free Boy

When Arlian Ecker was just 11 years old, he witnessed the release of three rehabilitated sea turtles being released back into the ocean after they had ingested plastic and had become very sick.

Now aged 15 years old, Arlian has spent the past four-and-a-half years presenting as ‘Plastic Free Boy’ in films and inspirational speeches to school students about the devastating effects plastic pollution is having on the ocean, our ecosystems and how it affects us!

What do you do if you’re in a situation where you can’t refuse plastic – for instance, you forgot your reusable bag – what is the next best thing?

“Well, first of all. I have learnt not to be too hard on myself or other people. Change comes from trying your best in the moment and having a strategy.

Whenever my mum and I go shopping spontaneously, we often do not have our reusable bags with us. When this happens, we’ve got a few options, either walk to the car and get the reusable bag or just carry the food with our hands. The most helpful solution is trying to find a cardboard box instead. 

With take away containers, we always bring our own container, because we can’t deal with the burden knowing that this plastic container will last on this planet for hundreds of years!”

Can you share a few examples of ways you refuse plastic?

“Some single-use plastic items are pretty hard to avoid, for example, lots of food in the supermarket are wrapped in plastic. To be 100% plastic-free, you need to have bulk food in your town, where they supply food in either reusable glass containers or a local farmers market where they sell local produce. It is definitely worth searching on the internet for sustainable food shops in your area!”

If you want to learn more about our incredible eco heroes, connect with them on Instagram at @Plastic_Free_Boy, @Varsha.Yajman and @steph.a.e.

Stay tuned for next week, where we’ll dive into the third R – repurpose!

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