5 Reasons Why I Failed Plastic Free July

5 Reasons Why I Failed Plastic Free July
Kate Hall
Written by Kate Hall

For some of you, July was just another month. But for many of us eco warriors, it was plastic free. My husband Tim and I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle, but undertaking Plastic Free July was a slap in the face, a kick to the ego, and tested my very core.

Plastic Free July is a campaign which promotes the refusal of single-use plastic for the month of July to raise awareness around the impact of plastic on the world. Over 1 million people from 130 countries join forces every year to challenge themselves and others to question our plastic use. Going plastic free is no small feat. I don’t like to admit my failures (I’m pretty damn competitive), but here I am, bearing my all. I failed Plastic Free July, and here are 5 reasons why.

Kate Hall is ready for Plastic Free July

My Plastic Free July arsenal. Image supplied.

1. Not everyone understood

Dining out during July was one of the hardest parts. My usual “no straw thank you, I don’t like using plastic” failed me many times. I watched multiple bar tenders make the drink, stir it with a plastic straw, throw the straw away, and hand it to me… *face palm. Top tip: keep a metal straw in your handbag (or your girlfriend’s) and hand it over to the bar tender when you order your drink. This means they have something in their hand to remind them to snap out of auto pilot. Who knows, you may even have them yelling “save the turtles!” as you walk out of the bar too- speaking from experience of course.

Related Post: How to Transition to a Plastic-Free Lifestyle in Just 8 Simple Steps

Bar tenders make it difficult during Plastic Free July

Bar tenders make it difficult during Plastic Free July.

2. Other values took priority

A surprise to many: I am not a vegetarian. However, I only buy meat which is free-range certified. My zero-waste and free-range values were put in the fighting ring when I couldn’t find a butcher who offered free-range chicken that I could place in my reusable container (avoiding plastic trays and wrap). Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for my respect of animals’ quality of life to outweigh my Plastic Free July oath.

Kate Hall shopping at the farmers markets

Shopping at the local farmer’s market. Image supplied.

3. My palette craved variety

Ever since I began my journey to zero-waste in March, the range of foods I can eat has dramatically reduced. I have tried my best to attempt new dishes, but often I find myself eating boring, plain meals with simple ingredients I can buy at my local bulk bin and farmers market. This is not sustainable for a palette (and husband!) which loves variety. Plastic Free July was a test of my tastebuds. For example, some sauces I use come in glass jars, great, but have a plastic seal around the lid which isn’t so great.

Plastic Free and Zero Waste Living often means eating plain food

4. I live with other people

Tim and I own a home in New Zealand, and have two lovely flatmates, both totally supportive of our eco lifestyle. But I am very aware of forcing my views down other people’s throats. I’ve taken charge of our shared utilities and refill jars and bottles at a bulk store. Bin liners were a Plastic Free July fail for me, and I should also admit I’m not sure if I am ready for a naked bin.

Kate Hall trying to go plastic free for July

5. I am busy

Let’s face it: plastic is everywhere and it takes a whole heap of time to avoid it completely. In an ideal world, I would have spent July slaving in the kitchen concocting all sorts of zero-waste alternatives. But reality is, I had one free morning a week and there was only so much I could make. Meals on the go and snacks for the handbag are a zero-wasters nightmare.

Related Post: How to Make More Time to Live Sustainably

It's hard to go plastic-free when you're busy

Being busy gets in the way of plastic free and zero waste living.

I failed Plastic Free July, and maybe your July wasn’t perfect either; BUT this is not our chance to give up. This is an opportunity to focus on our wins and carry them with us into the future. Reusable veggie bags, homemade zero waste quiches, making beeswax wraps, and converting my work office to reusable mugs were just a few of my conquests and it won’t stop there.

So, dare I ask, what are your Plastic Free July wins and failures?

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About the author

Kate Hall

Kate Hall

Kate Hall is an ethical living advocate, brand-rep, zero-waste enthusiast, and lover of all things hand-made and environmentally responsible. As a small business owner and freelance writer, when she’s not huddled away in her New Zealand based bunting-filled office, you’ll find her teaching yoga at her day job, planning eco-wedding fairs, or cooking up a zero-waste storm in her eclectic styled home with her pet bird on her shoulder.


  • Great read! At least you tried. I didn’t quite go as far as your attempts but I did take on the challenge of reducing my plastic waste. So i purchased upsized products instead of small containers and ensured the containers were reuseable. I nearly managed no plastic bags at the supermarket 100% of the time! But I did have to substitute with a box a couple of times since my brain failed me on that one – forgetting to take my bags (as i dragged my son and new baby to the store), so i came home with a box more often than not instead. But hey I was conscious and did a better than usually. Hats off to you for such a huge attempt!! Congrats!!

    • Hey Anna, thank you for your kind words and sharing your July wins and fails. Wow that’s super amazing of you to tackle the challenge with 2 kidlets tagging along too- I so respect mothers who could so easily write it off as being too difficult. I whole heartedly applaud you for the small changes you are making and the effort it takes to be conscious of these things. Power to you!! P.S. Excellent compromise on the box/bag thing. Its great to find alternatives like these- a friend of mine uses the paper mushroom bags for her fruit + veg if she forgets her produce bags, just a tip that may be helpful too.

  • It’s always encouraging to have someone share their sense of failure – but to even try this is a victory I reckon.

  • Apart from the obvious that you stated (except for the meat), my biggest defeat is tampons. I still use them instead of the cup which I have been thinking about for a couple of months now. It’s something that’s entirely in my control and I should have made the switch. Just feel too nervous. Maybe I am overthinking. But what the hell, one step at a time. Yeah? 🙂

    • Hi Kriti, I know the feeling! I toyed with the idea for a long time as it’s firstly, hard to change your habits and what you know works, and secondly, something you don’t want to screw up!! My juju cup is AWESOME though and I am so so pleased I made the switch- it’s not only more cost effective, but it is so much easier to use and makes that TOM a lot less stressful! I bought mine from Flora and Fauna in Australia online, so perhaps check them out, and let me know how it goes. Baby steps, but I would 100% recommend this change!

  • I think everyone who knew about #PlasticFreeJuly and took just one step to reduce their plastic use was a winner – it is all about raising awareness and changing attitudes so gradually what was once seen as weirdo hippy green stuff actually slips gradually into “normal life” My July was full of a mixture of failures and successes but overall the journey is in the right direction (I hope).

    • Yes, you’re so right. Oh my I cannot wait until that switch over to the norm. I dream of it! If we all keep doing our part, this can totally be reality- keep at it! 🙂

  • Hey Kate…awesome work for attempting Plastic Free July. But, saying that you failed is being way too hard on yourself! Have a read of this article to understand why you can’t fail at Plastic Free July :)… Also, you mentioned wanting a varied diet. If you have a look at the ingredients on your favourite sauces, my guess is that they’d be pretty simple to make yourself…and homemade generally tastes way better. Making stuff from scratch is a little more time-consuming than buying pre-made, but it’s totally worth it, I reckon. As for zero waste snacks, here’s an awesome recipe for tamari roasted almonds – be careful though – they’re addictive! (I usually make a half-batch to avoid juggling trays 🙂 ).

    • Hi Kristy- lovely to meet a fellow earth lover and zero waste warrior! I love your article and especially appreciate your talk about awareness- as I think this is the basis of it all. I am with you on the fact that you can’t fail PFJ, and I know I didn’t ‘fail’ per say, but what I am getting at is that we must be honest and aware of our decisions, focus on our wins, and make them greater in the future. And yes- I have discovered some really cool recipes! I make my granola and have trialled some fun dinners, and I cannot wait until I have time in my day (I currently work full time, own a small business, and write regularly for a handful of companies) to really dive into all that is out there! Oooh thanks so much for that recipe- I am sure even your ‘addictive’ warning won’t be enough for me to eat them all in one go!! They sound INCREDIBLE. Thanks for sharing, and happy ‘zero-wasting’, I love what you’re up to.

  • I thought that skipping bin liners would be hard too. But then I realised that since I started collecting my green waste separately for compost there wasn’t actually anything wet going in the bin. And with collecting all the recycling separately there ends up being hardly anything to go in the bin.
    I have also started using thinx period underwear instead of disposable sanitary pads – going well so far. There is an aussie brand called modibodi that make some as well but they are not as absorbent as thinx.

    • Great to hear you have made the change! Go you! Yes bin liners wouldn’t be a need for me if it was just myself and my husband, but having two flat mates means I don’t make all the decisions around food purchasing and waste- though they are great at separating soft plastics, recycling, compost, and waste. Ooh I only just discovered this underwear yesterday actually- awesome to have a testimony of it’s effectiveness. My moon cup has been amazing paired with a few Hannah-Pad liners just in case. It’s great to know these really do work so I can recommend them to others when they ask!

    • Thank you Darcey! Sometimes it seems like literally the whole world is against us zero-wasters… but you gotta start somewhere right? Appreciate the support!

  • Our family made some changes over Plastic Free July. We got a bokashi bin (in addition to the worm bin we already had), I’ve started ordering some things in bulk on-line (non-plastic wrapped loo paper for starters), I have been more diligent about bringing my own containers into shops for buying staples and meat and fish, and overall we made an effort to not buy anything wrapped in plastic (not always practical nor possible). As per your experience life sometimes gets in the way of zero waste. But I feel like we had more wins than losses. We haven’t put out a rubbish bag in six weeks and have only been to the supermarket once in the last month. A school trip to the waste transfer station in West Auckland has only furthered my resolve to keep our family on this mission. Small changes suddenly become habit and then you don’t even think about it.

    • Wow Paddy I agree- you definitely sound like you’ve had more wins than losses!! I am so inspired by the fact you haven’t put a rubbish bag out in 6 weeks, that’s very impressive. We are nearing the same type of frequency, and I am so proud of my flatmates for getting on board! That’s also awesome you visited the waste transfer station- I think that this would be a very eye-opening experience for anyone, as the mind set is so often ‘out of sight out of mind’, and these places really but things into perspective. Thank you for sharing! Got me all fired up 🙂

  • Hello, I’m quite interested to know what went well and how you went about it more than what didn’t go well – it seems quite difficult to do, plastic is so insidious now.

    • Good question! Always good to focus on the positives. Main things that went well: I buy my fruit and vegetables all from the local farmers market in my own bags, along with my free range eggs (I bring back my containers for them). I then fill up containers with meat from the butcher, I carry a straw with me wherever I go, as well as a little tote bag that fits in a tiny little bag itself. I don’t drink coffee, and rarely drink hot drinks out- but use my cup when I do. I buy all my grains from the local bulk store, and then fill up my laundry liquids, oils, cleaning products etc. from another bulk store who specialise in everything organic too. I now have napkins to reduce my paper towel usage (even though mine are compostable), and am making a hanky for myself as we speak! I also pick up rubbish where I go if I see it, and I try not to eat out and instead prep my meals- also really cost effective. Any more questions, just ask! I am still totally learning as I go 🙂

  • Hi Kirsty – I also tried Plastic Free July here in London. I think this year’s campaign was all about avoiding single use plastic takeaway items so it sounds like you did pretty good. I managed to avoid almost all through carrying a keep cup and cutlery. I did use reuseable plastic snack boxes that I already owned. Agree that straws were the hardest to avoid – think I will have a tee shirt printed with my request – No Straw Required. Cheers, Aileen

    • Hi Aileen,

      Haha great idea about the t-shirt- I would buy one for sure! That’s super great to hear you were able to dodge plastics and bring your own devices. I would be interested to know if you have kept this up after July too? It’s super difficult I know! But empowering to hear people making even the smallest differences- the movement is spreading! Kate x

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