Take the wrap — to cut plastic waste out of your life, start small

It’s difficult to overstate the scale of the planet’s plastic problem. Each year about 11 million metric tonnes of plastic waste end up in bodies of water, according to the United Nations. Over the next two decades, that number is expected to triple.
As soon as Carolyn Armstrong started looking for plastic in her life, she realised it was absolutely everywhere.
There are plastic water bottles and straws, of course, but also make-up, clothing, laundry detergent, food wrappers and packaging. “Everything that we use is encased in plastic,” Armstrong says. “Sometimes, I go to the grocery store and take pictures of the fruit that is behind the plastic and I email the store and say: ‘Please stop doing that!’”
The 52-year-old author first thought about cutting plastic out of her life while researching a children’s book on ocean plastic pollution, and soon joined Go Green Winnetka, a local environmental activism group. But this year, for the first time, Armstrong took her commitment a step further, pledging to go plastic-free for an entire month. She’s far from alone: for more than a decade, people all over the world have been taking a similar pledge, formally known as Plastic Free July.
It’s difficult to overstate the scale of the planet’s plastic problem. Each year, about 11 million metric tonnes of plastic waste end up in bodies of water, according to the United Nations. Over the next two decades, that number is expected to triple. Facing a crisis, the 175 member countries of the UN Environment Assembly agreed in March to develop a treaty for curbing plastic use by the end of 2024.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Plastic waste polluting South Africa’s oceans needs answers from bright young minds”
Companies, not individuals, are the biggest plastic offenders. Specifically, 20 companies, which produce more than half of all single-use plastics, according to a 2021 analysis by the Australian non-profit Minderoo Foundation. Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp is the world’s top plastic polluter. But that hasn’t stopped millions of individuals like Armstrong from trying to cut their own plastic footprint — even if only for a month.
How to use less plastic
“I never set out to start a global movement,” says Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, who founded Plastic Free July in her native Australia. “It started the last week of June in 2011, when I visited a recycling facility for the first time. I was really overwhelmed just seeing what we throw away ...