The ultimate guide to a month without plastic and why you should try it

Text by Radical Broccoli

Anette (27) and Susanne Bastviken (26) are the sisters behind the green blog and business Radical Broccoli. They are always looking for inspiring people, products and food that are in line with the values they live by, and that can make our oceans a bit cleaner and our Earth a better place. This search is well documented on the website, where you can read about everything from secondhand clothes, organic products and green well-being, to delicious plant-based food and recycling.

Anette has experience from the EAT Foundation, The Norwegian Atlantic Committee and the Norwegian Armed Forces, where she among other things founded the podcasten «On the Warpath». She has an M.A in War Studies from Kings College in London. Susanne has also worked at the EAT Foundation, at the consulting company A.T. Kearney and for the UN Development Programme. She recently completed an M.Sc in Economy at Copenhagen Business School. In addition to Radical Broccoli, Anette and Susanne write for the newly founded lifestyle magazine Dailystory and work for the environmental organization Nordic Ocean Watch.

As we started becoming aware of the world's plastic problem, we played around with the thought of going plastic-free for a whole month. This would be our ultimate challenge - not only to see how much plastic we actually use in our everyday lives, but also to find out what barriers exist in our modern society and in what areas we should seek out change. The idea was good and our intentions even better, but we always found reasons not to begin: we wanted to wait until the summer, thinking that would be easier with warmer weather (isn't everything?), we wanted to plan it better, and we wanted to ease into the lifestyle. In the end of January, we received a phone-call from the editorial staff of Norwegian media house VGTV, who had heard about our idea, and we just knew that we had to take on the challenge straight away. That's how #plasticfreeRB was initiated. No planning, no excuses - just jumping straight into it, hoping for the best.

The month without plastic is now officially over, and its time to spill the beans: let's just say we are glad it ended up being the shortest month of the year - because it turned out to be pretty intense. It involved one three-hour grocery shopping, a few unplanned packages in the mail, re-using single-use lenses for a whole month, and some intense chocolate cravings. On the other hand, it was the best detox we have ever tried, the birth of 100 new business ideas and the experience of a little community coming together for creating habits that are great for ourselves and the planet. (If you want to read how we felt halfway through, we have written an article about that as well.)


The why
Why did we want to have a plastic-free month? In our modern society, we have learned to become dependent on practical, single-use plastic items such as plastic bags, wrapping around food, snack bars, bottles and coffee cups. We wanted to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives because it is a part of so many of the biggest environmental problems of our time; such as air and land pollution, production of fossil fuels, trash management, marine littering and health issues both for humans and animals. The consumption of this material, which is designed to last forever, has increased beyond what’s healthy for the planet and for us living on it. By trying to avoid it for a month, we hoped to become aware of the hidden traps and how much plastic we unconsciously consume.

"By trying to avoid it for a month, we hoped to become aware of the hidden traps and how much plastic we unconsciously consume."

  • On the production side, plastic is produced from petroleum (oil), a non-renewable resource. It takes about 2 kilograms of oil to produce 1 kilogram of plastic raw material (1).

  • Today our oceans are filled with plastic, and according to a study by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey and Company, we pour the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic in the ocean each minute. Per today the ocean contains about 1 kilogram of plastic for every 5 kilograms of fish, a ratio that will be 1:1 in 2050 if we don't take action right away (2).

  • Plastic items such as bottles, bags, packaging, and straws break down into microplastics, which fish and other marine animals confuse for food. Eventually, we end up eating plastic in our fish and seafood. Toxic chemicals are also released into the ocean and air when plastic begins breaking down.

  • Plastics contain chemicals that might negatively affect our health, such as BPA and phthalates. These substances might disturb our hormonal balance, and increase the risk of diseases such as cancer.

The how
We decided to set up some rules for the challenge, in order to make it meaningful, eco-friendly and doable. You can see our guidelines in this post. In February we actually had quite different schedules: Susanne stayed in Norway working, while Anette had planned to take a yoga teacher training course in Spain. Luckily, we had a couple of days together before Anette left to test this new lifestyle. Here's what we did:

  • Out and about & take away: We ate out a few times during the month. As some of you saw on Instagram, Susanne ended up with two minor fails when getting take out. The first try involved two fully plastic wrapped meals, which we gladly ended up donating to a homeless family. At the second try, a plastic lid tagged along with a yummy veggie curry from Fragrance of the Heart while trying the food-waste preventing app TooGoodToGo. Susanne brought boxes, but the food was already packaged. Learning, learning. Anette did not have the opportunity to cook where she stayed at the yoga teacher camp, as the food was included in the stay. She made sure to order beverages without a straw, but had an encounter with a plastic-covered teabag.

  • Grocery shopping: We learned that you always have to bring a tote bag when you leave the house, because you never know when you will go to the store. We tried to shop at regular grocery stores, but in the end, the selection was not good enough so we also went to health stores, specialized bulk-item stores, and fruit and vegetable markets. We tried an extra challenge - leaving the plastic in the store as an activist move, and asking them to recycle it for us. It was uncomfortable when we weren't in the mood, and felt like cheating. One of the most genius things we discovered food-wise was to make our own oat milk, because most plant-based milk containers contain a thin plastic film.

  • Health food, vitamins, supplements: We both love kombucha, but most of the bottles are made of plastic, or have a plastic lid, and they are also really expensive. So we decided it was finally time to brew our own kombucha, which was a success! We also grew our own sprouts, and this took two tries before we got it right. Susanne got a cold and needed a nose spray - the whole lid is made of hard plastic. We always prioritize health, but luckily we had most of what we needed.

  • Traveling & transport: Traveling and not consuming any plastic is really hard. As we described in our two-week update post, Anette had some water issues during the trip. Other than that, she brought food for her flight, which is just genius (and healthier), and it worked well to travel with a water bottle, bamboo cutlery, glass jars and a food container, explaining the situation to the people she traveled with. With regards to transportation, one of the largest sources of microplastics in the ocean in Norway is car tires, and we have eliminated car use to an absolute minimum.

  • Cosmetics & hygiene: We had to be creative in the cosmetics department, as we ran out of shampoo and conditioner. Some lovely people on Instagram suggested using baking powder and apple cider vinegar, which actually worked. We did not buy any new makeup, and Anette was makeup free for the last three weeks. We both use bamboo toothbrushes and plastic free dental floss made from silk, which comes in a tiny glass container with a refill option.

  • Clothing & apparel: Anette needed new yoga pants and a yoga mat to attend the yoga teacher training, but ended up borrowing everything she needed and did not buy any clothes in February. Susanne was guesting breakfast TV in Norway and wanted to look fresh, and opted for a really nice 100% organic cotton t-shirt (you can see it here). Other than that, she didn't buy anything.

  • Tech items: We didn't buy any tech items, but received some images from a friend who bought a new charger. Hello, hard-plastic-covered-plastic-thing-that-cannot-be-recycled…

 

The advice

  • Out and about & take away: Never ever leave home hungry. (Hehe, seriously!) Small snacks on the go are usually wrapped in plastic, and the packages are hardly or never recycled. Always carry some nuts, dates, fruit or other snacks that you like. Bring a box if you usually don't eat everything (for a doggy bag), and do some research before you order take-away.

  • Grocery shopping: Bring your own shopping bag and small cotton bags for bulk items. It's so easy and so incredibly important to reduce our consumption of plastic bags. Avoid wrapping your vegetables in plastic, and try to choose the items that are not pre-packed. Explore your neighborhood and you might be surprised to find stores with better options than your regular one. Also, ask in the shop if they have made any specific considerations regarding plastic - maybe they will take some steps to improve.
     

  • Health food, vitamins, supplements: This one is tricky, because health is always a number one priority. Making your own kombucha and growing your own sprouts is highly recommended, and there are plenty other natural foods that are good for your health that you can make at home. Most vitamins and supplements come in glass jars with a plastic lid, which can be reused for other purposes afterwards if you get creative.

  • Traveling & transportation: Plan your travels and research the area you are going to. If you need plastic free snacks, bringing chia seeds or oats in a glass container is genius. All you need is water and a banana to make a perfect snack. Bring your own water bottle and tote bag. Overall, one of our big goals this year is definitely to use more public transportation, and play more in our own neighborhood.

  • Cosmetics & hygiene: Start with one area and expand. Get yourself a bamboo toothbrush, and aim for a shampoo soap bar when you're ready for the next step. A vinegar and baking soda hair wash may be too much to begin with, but it's really fun to try!

  • Clothing & apparel: Quality over quantity! A lot of the cheap, synthetic materials in the clothing we buy contain microplastics, which leak into the sewage system when washing them. Therefore, it's recommended to always check the label and ask yourself if you really need it. You can read more about recommended material choices here. It feels much better to buy something that you’ve put thought and investigation into than buy something crappy in a hurry.

  • Tech items: Oh man, this is a whole other article. Most of us can't avoid technology, and it's amazing, but we can all think about the amount we consume and take good care of what we have so it lasts. Not only does a small charger come in a huge plastic box, but there are vast resources put into the production of each item.

The unavoidable items turned out to be

  1. A plastic lid from a takeaway box from when we tried TooGoodToGo (an app that lets you buy leftovers from cafés and restaurants at the end of the day)

  2. Three (!) plastic bags/pieces from shipping of one pair of pants from Urban Outfitters (ordered in early January and arriving in the middle of February)

  3. Fruit and vegetable stickers on avocado and grapefruit from our first grocery shopping

  4. Plastic packaging on a pair of stockings - didn't find any without plastic packaging, but the stockings themselves are made from recycled nylon

  5. Luggage tags from traveling

  6. A tea bag from a café, unfortunately wrapped in plastic

  7. A lid from a kombucha bottle

  8. A bubble wrap envelope from ordering a sustainable notebook in January

  9. Plastic packaging for contact lenses



The lesson learned
The feeling of detoxing your life from plastic is quite similar to the feeling of jumping into the ocean, taking a fresh shower after a workout, cleaning out your closet or treating yourself to a healthy meal. It's something you put effort into in order to feel lighter and more refreshed afterwards. It’s a super-gigantic cliché, but: it makes you happy. We recommend everyone to try a plastic-free day, week or month. A new world will emerge - and that's one with less clutter, toxins and trash, and more freshness, wellness, and freedom. Peace.