The UK has a lot to learn from other countries when it comes to plastic — my experience of Plastic Free July

Peppers in plastic packaging

Vilma Olofsson took part in Plastic Free July for the first time this year and was surprised by how difficult it can be to avoid or recycle plastics in England, compared with her home country.

  • 29 July 2022
  • 4 min read
Vilma Olofsson

Plastic Free July is a global movement to encourage us to reduce the amount of plastic we use in daily life. 

The University supports the campaign as part of its Revolution Plastics initiative, which is dedicated to finding solutions to the global plastics crisis. Each year, staff and students are encouraged to avoid single-use plastics for at least one day or one week in July. 

Vilma Olofsson, Graduate Media Assistant and MA Fashion Marketing student, took part in Plastic Free July for the first time this year. Vilma is from Sweden and moved to Portsmouth in 2018 to study Business and Management. Here she compares another country’s plastic consumption with England, along with her favourite eco-friendly, plastic-free swaps.

Delving into a plastic-free lifestyle was an eye-opener

I have a passion for the environment and do everything I can as an individual to reduce my environmental impact, which includes trying to use as little plastic as possible, so Plastic Free July was definitely something that intrigued me. 

Taking part in the challenge was an eye opener, both in regards to how much single-use plastic we actually use but also how easy it is to remove most plastics. I did experience some challenges, especially as a person with food allergies and a restrictive diet, but also with items such as plastic-free dairy goods, spices, cleaning supplies and specific hygiene products.

Taking part in the challenge was an eye opener, both in regards to how much single-use plastic we actually use but also how easy it is to remove most plastics.

Vilma Olofsson, Graduate Media Assistant and Plastic Free July participant

The UK has a lot to learn about single-use plastics

As an international student, you are warned about culture shock when arriving in a new country — one of my biggest culture shocks was the use of plastic. 

It surprises me that a well-developed and forward-thinking country such as England still uses a ridiculous amount of unnecessary plastic. I am from Sweden and we are somewhat known for being a really environmentally friendly country. Our plastic use is minimal and most of the plastic we use can be fully recycled. Barely any of our veggies, fruits and dairy products come wrapped in plastic.

I think the UK has a lot to learn from other countries in regards to single-use plastic. There is no need for six apples to come wrapped in plastic! But also to simplify the plastic recycling process. The current recycling system puts the responsibility on individuals — each county has a different recycling scheme and it is up to the people to find them out. Based on what I have seen, the UK encourages people to make environmentally conscious decisions but does not give them the means to follow through. For example, how can people use less plastic when everything available to them comes in plastic? As the consumers, we can only do so much. The government and companies need to step up and make a change as well.

Vegetables in a supermarket in Sweden

In Sweden, plastic use is minimal. Barely any vegetables, fruits or dairy products come wrapped in plastic.

Plastic wrapped fruit and vegetables in an English supermarket

Whereas fruit and vegetables for sale in English shops often come wrapped in plastic packaging.

It surprises me that a well-developed and forward-thinking country such as England still uses a ridiculous amount of unnecessary plastic. There is no need for six apples to come wrapped in plastic!

Vilma Olofsson, Graduate Media Assistant and Plastic Free July participant

My favourite zero plastic swaps

After taking part in Plastic Free July I have definitely been inspired to continue the challenge for the rest of the month and beyond. Many of the choices I made during the challenge I have incorporated into my day-to-day life, such as using a bar of washing-up soap, shampoo and deodorant in an aluminium tin, charcoal electric toothbrush head, condiments in glass bottles, and cupboard foods stored in tins or cardboard.

I think the best way individuals can act on single-use plastic is to start small. Instead of buying a plastic-wrapped meal deal for lunch with a snack in a plastic packet and a drink in a plastic bottle, bring a sandwich and snack from home in a reusable container and your drink in a reusable bottle. When shopping, take your own bag, pick the loose fruits and veggies, and choose a milk carton instead of the plastic pint. Many small changes eventually lead to big ones. Reducing your plastic consumption is much easier than many would think. I suspect many people use single-use plastic because it is convenient but that might just be an excuse for being lazy.