How to make habits stick: What to do now Plastic Free July is over

Five key tips to help cement those excellent changes made over Plastic Free July, into a more sustainable zero-waste lifestyle.
Reusable Cup

In 2019, Plastic Free July inspired a staggering 250+ million people across 177 countries to reduce their plastic waste. And from the looks of it – 2020 will be no different. The impact of Plastic Free July has been fantastic, with participants reducing their household waste and recycling by 23kg per person per year (almost 5%), thereby contributing to a total saving of 825 million kg of plastic waste each year. Importantly, it is thought that 9 out of 10 people made changes that have stuck as a habit and a new way of life. (Read the full report here

 

But now that we have swiftly moved into August (already?!), I can’t help but wonder about that 1 in 10 for whom the habits have not stuck. How can we encourage positive progression to continue past July 31st and to make every month a little bit more plastic free? Here are five key tips to help cement those excellent changes made over the past 31 days, into a more sustainable zero-waste lifestyle.

 

💙 Tip 1 – Remind yourself why you started in the first place.

Let’s begin with why. If you joined Plastic Free July for the first time, or even the ninth… Why? Did you want a new challenge? Or to learn something new? Or was this the necessary encouragement you were seeking to join the movement?

 

Or more broadly speaking, try to consider why the zero-waste movement is important to you. Why do you believe we should try to live a zero-waste lifestyle? Was there a sudden ‘switch’ moment? Or was there a zero-waste seed planted that needed some time to grow? 

 

Reminding ourselves of why we first felt passionate about the zero-waste movement can be a useful tool to keep up our sustainable habits, and it can encourage us to refocus and reconnect with the movement.

 

 

💙 Tip 2 – Appreciate the intrinsic value in what you are doing.

Rather than concentrating on extrinsic values (those often derived from external approval such as wealth, image, social status and authority), consider your intrinsic connection with your new zero-waste actions. These are things that we find inherently rewarding such as:

-       connecting with others and feeling part of a community

-       protecting and connecting with nature 

-       using, rediscovering and improving our creativity

-       participating in social justice

-       concern for and helping others

-       protecting those that are vulnerable (e.g. marine animals consuming or trapped in plastic).

 

So, let’s ask ourselves: what do these new habits mean to me? What are my intrinsic values connected to the zero-waste movement? How does my participation make me feel proud and happy?

 

💙 Tip 3 – Focus on instilling one new behaviour at a time, and when you do – normalise it.

Rather than seeing a zero-waste lifestyle as something that must happen overnight, try to envisage it as a journey – mastering or conquering one element at a time. 

 

Set yourself one small goal or target that you know you can achieve. Once you reach your target, keep practicing and try to allow hitting this target as something that feels normal. Congratulate yourself, and move on to the next one. The potential targets are both individual and endless, but no matter how big or small your goal – every action towards zero-waste is important.

 

If you can handle several goals at once, brilliant! But remember that this is a journey, and everyone must start somewhere.

 

💙 Tip 4 – Accept inconvenience.

As we’ve seen from the current pandemic in which we find ourselves: sometimes, life is inconvenient. And it is no different for a zero-waste life either. 

We’ve also seen that we – on a personal, national and even global scale – can tolerate such inconvenience when faced with a palpable and immediate threat. When dealing with the climate crisis – arguably a less palpable threat, yet no less immediate or remorseless – we can, and should, accept inconvenience. 

 

Perhaps your nearest bulk store is a 20-minute walk, rather than a 5-minute stroll around the corner. Or it takes an hour to produce your own toothpaste. Or you really, really wanted broccoli with tonight’s dinner, but cannot find it unwrapped in any of the stores nearby. 

 

Here, we need to understand our priorities, and – if a plastic free choice is our priority in the situation – accept the inconvenience. (Maybe you can have broccoli tomorrow night!)

 

💙 Tip 5 – Focus on your successes, not your failures.

And most importantly: don’t beat yourself up! As Anne Marie Bonneau (a brilliant zero waste chef) puts it: 

 

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” 

 

The reason that so many New Year’s resolutions fail is that people often set unattainable and binary targets. Once a small slip has occurred, the flood gates re-open and life resumes just as it did the year before. 

 

Allow yourself the 10% off, in order to keep the 90% on.

 

The 21/90 rule states that it takes 21 days for a habit to form, and 90 days for it to be a lifestyle change. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were you! Be kind to yourself: give yourself the time, be proud of your efforts and keep doing your best!