Rebecca Prince-Ruiz. Credit: Will Russell

Plastic Free July

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz shares the origins of Plastic Free July and shares her perspective on the important role each of us has as a citizen of the world

In 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz gathered a small group of friends and colleagues and committed to going plastic free for the month of July. Fast forward to today and the Plastic Free July movement has now inspired over 250 million people in 177 countries to reduce single-use plastic in their homes, their workplaces and on the move.

We spoke with Rebecca about the inspiration behind the movement, the role each of us has to play in the fight against plastic pollution and how to get started.

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Rebecca’s ‘aha’ moment was very personal; she never set out to start a movement. After visiting a recycling management facility, she was blown away by the ‘collective impact of our consumption and the choices we had made and our behaviours’. Drawing on her impulsive half-Spanish side, she announced that she was going plastic-free for a month and asked who wanted to join her.

There were about 40 people who took part that first year, and the sense of community was a fundamental element of the movement from day one. They shared the challenges they faced as they looked for plastic alternatives and passed on tips, tricks and ideas they found as the journey unfolded. And that’s still how it works today.

She believes the success in the early days was down to the focus on creative problem-solving: ‘We were talking about solutions, not the problems. And people wanted solutions. Together, our efforts were bigger than any one of us.’

‘Plastic Free July is about individual behaviour change, and I’m really passionate about that and the importance of that. But we’re not going to fix this problem without our businesses taking responsibility and becoming accountable, and our governments introducing the necessary legislation and framework so that change happens across the board.’

We need to call on governments to ban single-use plastic, like the plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers and the like as well as setting out minimum mandated recycled content in all our plastic products and packaging.

‘Recycling is great, but I know that it is more expensive for producers and manufacturers to use recycled content than virgin plastics and so we have to set a level playing field there.’

Rebecca is also a fan of container deposit schemes, which she says ‘are a great example of what they call “extended producer responsibility” where the businesses are responsible for that item for the duration of its lifetime’.

‘We have a voice and we need to use our voice. And business and governments definitely need to listen.’

In terms of how we can get involved with Plastic Free July this year, Rebecca said: ‘There’s something in it for everyone. If we do this, we can save money and become more connected and have fun making things with our families and trying things out, buying more locally, fresh growing produce and connecting with the community as well.

‘It’s not about doing everything. It’s about choosing one or two things you can tackle in your life. Don’t try and start with everything, because that’s when it gets really hard and there’s nothing like failure to put you off!’

To learn more about Plastic Free July, you can visit the website to take the pledge and follow them on social media. Rebecca also has a new book out about Plastic Free July and the many stories of change over the last ten years. You can purchase it from Australia here and it will be available in the rest of the world from December 2020.

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