Plastic-free July: get rid of the “Big Four”

5 min read   •   July 16, 2020
Elmien Ackerman – Copywriter

It’s plastic-free July, which means that for the month of July, the challenge is to eliminate single-use plastics and to use as little plastic as possible. Knowing where to start can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be: start small by getting rid of single-use plastics and work your way towards using less plastic overall.

Single-use plastic

Single-use plastic, as the name suggests, is plastic that is used only once and then thrown away. And while many of us remember the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”, the truth is that a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. We need to rethink our plastic use and change the mantra to “rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse and, only then, recycle”.

The Big Four

Here’s how you can eliminate the “Big Four” and be part of the solution to plastic pollution:

  1. Plastic straws

Rethink your use of plastic straws. These lightweight straws can easily blow into rivers and oceans where they get stuck in the airways of animals, or mistaken for food and ingested.

Alternative option: say “no” to straws. If you’re visiting a restaurant, make sure to let the waiter know that you do not want a straw with your drink. If you must use a straw, choose alternatives made from metal, bamboo, or paper.

  1. Plastic bags

It seems like the easiest option is to say “yes” when the cashier at the supermarket asks if you want a bag. But rethink your use of plastic bags, as they are fatal for animals who mistake them for food.

Alternative option: choose paper bags at checkout or buy reusable shopping bags. Most supermarkets sell canvas or cotton shopping bags in a variety of shapes and colours.

  1. Water bottles

Having water at hand wherever we go is convenient but has led to us throwing away the bottle minutes or hours after using it, where it then stays in the environment for hundreds of years, clogging our waterways, polluting the oceans, and filling up landfills. Refuse to use single-use water bottles.

Alternative option: buy a reusable bottle made from stainless steel, glass, or safe aluminium. Remember to take your water bottle with you when you are out and about.

  1. Coffee cups

While we all enjoy a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate (especially during the cold winter months), switching to a reusable cup will help you save not only the environment but also money – many coffee shops and restaurants offer a discount when you use your own cup.

Alternative option: buy a reusable ceramic, BPA-free plastic, or stainless-steel cup. Using your own insulated cup will eliminate the unwelcome taste of plastic in your morning coffee, and keep your coffee warmer for longer. It’s a win-win.

More plastic-free alternatives

Now that you have the basics down and have eliminated the “Big Four”, you might want to reduce your plastic use even more. Here are some tips on how to use less plastic during plastic-free July and beyond:

  • Avoid buying any new plastic storage containers. While you might already have a cupboard full of plastic containers (some undoubtedly without their lids), avoid adding to your collection. Go for glass instead. And, if you are a coffee lover, why not save the glass containers your coffee comes in and use them as storage containers?
  • Swap cling wrap for beeswax covers. Need to wrap a sandwich and save it for later? Don’t reach for the cling wrap – choose beeswax covers instead or save it in a container with a lid.
  • Use bamboo. Swap your plastic toothbrush for one made from sustainable, compostable materials, such as bamboo. You can also consider switching to an electric toothbrush to avoid having to buy a new plastic one every few months.
  • Give up on gum. Did you know that chewing gum is made from plastic? Rather opt for plastic-free gum or chew on some healthy carrot or celery sticks.
  • Say no to plastic bottles. While you might have already made the switch to reusable water bottles, what about soda bottles? Rather make your own fruit juice at home or use a soda stream to avoid buying two-litre plastic bottles for your refreshments. You can also consider switching to glass bottles, as these can be recycled.
  • Wrap with love. Instead of choosing wrapping paper from the store, get creative and wrap birthday gifts with newspaper. Your wrapping paper doesn’t have to be boring, get creative with some paint and stencils to create a unique design.


Be part of the solution to plastic pollution. Focus on living a sustainable lifestyle so we can stabilise and protect the earth’s natural resources for now and for future generations. Read more about how you can protect the environment and work towards a world free of plastic waste on the Plastic Free Foundation’s website.