Are you Ready for Plastic Free July? This Movement has gone Global, and its Founder Shares the Story
Updated: May 20
Plastic Free July is right around the corner! Some of you may be new to Plastic Free July, while others have engaged in this challenge multiple years running. Even better, some people have overhauled their lifestyles to reduce their plastic consumption ever since undertaking the challenge to avoid single-use plastics! Wherever you are in your journey, Plastic Free July is for everyone.
Plastic Free July is a campaign to raise awareness of our growing plastic waste issue, and is run by the Plastic Free July Foundation, a registered charity. Their mission is to build a global movement that drastically reduces plastic use and improves recycling. Their vision is a world without plastic waste.
Over 2 million people from 159 countries are taking part in the annual Plastic Free July challenge by reducing their consumption of singe-use plastics in July and beyond. This July, they are calling on global citizens to collectively tackle one of the world’s greatest environmental issues of our time, plastic waste. Join their movement by taking up the challenge and #choosetoreuse by taking part in #plasticfreejuly!
This challenge started as a humble office initiative in 2011 in Perth, Australia, and now the Plastic Free July Foundation is an independent not-for-profit Foundation and registered charity. Having grown so much over the years, the Plastic Free July campaign raises awareness of the issue by supporting behaviour change to help people avoid single-use plastic. Their scale is wide-ranging, and engages community groups, businesses, schools and other organizations.
Lucky for us, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Founder and Executive Director of the Plastic Free July Foundation has kindly spared some time to interview with The Zero Waste Collective!
ZWC: Thank you Rebecca for taking the time to interview with The Zero Waste Collective. With the Plastic Free July challenge right around the corner, we're very lucky to have this opportunity. In its 7th year running, people worldwide participate in the Plastic Free July challenge. When you started Plastic Free July in Australia, did you anticipate that it would become a global movement?
Rebecca: Definitely, not! I didn’t even anticipate it would become a movement – I only set out to change myself, specifically, and what went into my family’s rubbish bin. A decision which took me on a journey and created an ‘accidental’ campaign and grew into something I couldn’t have imagined. I certainly never anticipated that it would become a global movement.
ZWC: It's incredibly impressive how much Plastic Free July has grown in such a short time frame. What inspired you personally to create Plastic Free July?
Rebecca: It was one day in June 2011 that changed everything. I’d started working in waste education for a local county in Perth, Western Australia and visited a recycling facility. There I saw the mountain of waste that one single suburb had thrown away. The enormity of it shocked me. That night when I went to put out the recycling, something fundamental shifted within me – this behaviour I had done so many times before went from being a ‘feel good’ action to a concern about ‘how did I come to have this item in the first place?’.
I’m half Spanish so at times impulsive and blurted to my colleagues ‘I’m going single-use plastic free next month – who wants to join me?’. So my 2 colleagues and 35 volunteers decided to give it a try.
Those 40 people in 2011 grew to 400 the following year and 4,000 in 2013 and so on until in 2017 and estimated 2 million people from 159 countries participated.
ZWC: That's amazing! Can you tell us more about the early days of Plastic Free July?
Rebecca: Because we didn’t set out to start a campaign and we only ever tried to change ourselves, we learned that many other people just needed a prompt to bring to the surface their concerns about our over consumption, plastic waste and plastic pollution.
It has grown by word of mouth as people with shared concerns joined us. People participating in the challenge talked to friends and family, colleagues at work, school, and out in the community and shared their journey online and in social media.
Avoiding single-use plastic was so much harder than I could have imagined, and we quickly realized that plastic was everywhere!! Shopping at a supermarket meant coming out almost empty handed. So we shopped at farmers markets and local stores and had to remember our reusables. We shared ideas and recipes – for example someone would ask about pasta and one person would suggest a brand that comes in a cardboard box or a bulk food store and another person would share their secret family recipe! It was a challenge, frustrating and at times overwhelming but doing it together provided support and a sense of purpose.
We have always kept the challenge simple and positive and whilst acknowledging the problem, we focus on solutions. In the following years we started sharing the challenge online through social media and a website. People sign-up for the challenge on our website and also share their plastic free tips and ideas on social media. We then share these stories and solutions which inspires and empowers others...all without paid advertising!
I didn’t ever imagine this challenge would have a life of its own but as it had spread so far beyond our local county boundary I ended up doing most of the work in my own time. I guess it was inevitable that one day it would need to become independent and I took that step late last year and established the Plastic Free July Foundation as an independent charity.
ZWC: Congratulations on taking that big step and making creating the Plastic Free July Foundation. The website is packed with information, resources and tools for everyone to get involved in Plastic Free July. What is your favourite tool or resource for beginners?
Rebecca: We have tried to collect lots of tips and ideas from our participants on how to refuse single-use plastic and share them on the website. We have also developed an ‘Action Picker’ which helps people to choose their challenge. It lists actions in order of the ones that are popular (easy to do) and make the biggest impact.
Plastic Free July provides practical solutions and a movement for change that connects with people’s shared values as citizens. We aim to empower, rather than to ‘educate’. As people take the challenge from their own lives into the businesses, schools, workplaces and organizations we have created a toolbox of resources and shared ideas to spread the challenge further.
ZWC: Plastic reduction in a disposable world can seem like a daunting task. What advice would you give to people feeling overwhelmed by the challenge?
Rebecca: Start with one thing.
Don’t try and do everything or be perfect. Look around at the plastics in your life – check your bin and think about the one thing that you can do right now in your life whichcan make a difference. I’m very mindful that depending where you live at what your circumstances are it can be much harder in some places than others. Whether it is plastic bags, packaging or takeaway food and beverage containers just decide on one plastic to avoid – make that happen and forma new habit and then look at the next thing.
It is a journey which starts with one step. If we each take small daily actions, this soon adds up to a collective impact.
How to get involved
Thanks Rebecca! It’s great to get more background on your organization, and to learn about the global movement you’ve created with Plastic Free July.
Are you interested in trying out Plastic Free July? Register for the challenge on their website to get started! There is a wealth of information on the Plastic Free July website to help you reduce your plastic waste, track your progress, and to engage others in the process. Here are some of their tips to get started:
Avoid products in plastic packaging (choose alternatives)
Reduce where possible (opt for refills, remember your reusable shopping bags)
Refuse plastics that escape as litter (e.g. straws, takeaway cups, utensils, balloons)
Recycle what cannot be avoided
Want to ditch the TOP 4 plastic offenders?
Avoid disposable coffee cups and bring your travel mug instead!
Choose to refuse plastic straws, and go without or bring your own reusable straw!
Skip the plastic bags that are destined for the landfill, and bring your own bag!
Ditch disposable plastic water bottles and refill a reusable one!
Want to learn more? Keep your eye out for Rebecca's book: Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherfold Finn, coming out soon!