Could you go a month without disposable plastic?

It takes centuries for plastic to decompose. All the plastic we’ve ever used will exist long after we’re gone. And it’s causing real problems for sea life. Up to 100,000 marine mammals and a million birds die each year from eating plastic.

Bread, fruit, clothes, cosmetics, cleaning products; so many of the things we use every day usually come packaged in some form of disposable plastic. It’s almost impossible to avoid.

How did we become so overly dependent on plastic packaging? Do we really need it? I decided to see if I could avoid buying any form of plastic for a month. My family (including my cat, Jose) joined me.

Jose helping me cook

The first week was the most challenging. When I asked a cashier in the grocery shop to weigh apples in my own bag, she thought I was a bit odd. In the bakery, I found that while doughnuts were wrapped in paper, bread rolls came in polyethylene packaging.

I was born in the Soviet Union. Plastic packaging was scarce and I remember everyone buying bread without any packaging and carrying it home just like that. It baffles me how the same people now sit behind a shop counter, and find it hard to understand that I want my bread without the plastic bag.

After a while, I realised that I’d have to brave the funny looks. With a sense of pride, I requested to have my bread and cheese wrapped in paper. A women working at the bakery told me, “People often ask me not to wrap things in plastic and I’m still trying to figure out why…”. It felt like a victory: I wasn’t alone after all!

Baking a cake

My eating habits improved. I found myself cooking from scratch more and avoiding chips, salted nuts and candy. I replaced my cravings for sweet food with jams and fruit, and baked myself a cake. I even had a plastic-free birthday party!

Life without plastic isn’t as hard as I imagined. I was worried about finding replacements for deodorant and shampoo, but I found unpackaged bars at an organic cosmetics shop. With a little research and creativity, I found alternatives for things like sanitary pads and cotton swabs. My coffee flask became a closer companion than my phone.

Going plastic-free has helped me declutter my home — it’s never looked better! Gone is the ugly packaging that used to be stacked in every corner. Instead, paper bags and fresh produce fill my kitchen.

We habitually use plastic when we don’t actually need to. I’ve managed to stick with many of the habits I developed when going plastic-free for a month.

It’s up to us to change our lifestyles, but we also need to persuade our governments to stop the production of disposable plastics at the source. First refuse, then reduce, reuse and recycle.

Violetta Ryabko is Media Coordinator for the Zero Waste project at Greenpeace Russia