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You may not know it, but you have been part of Plastic Free July. The campaign is an initiative of Australian organisation The Plastic Free Foundation. These are, of course, not descriptions of a reality but expressions of an ideal. Will we ever be plastic free? No. But it’s a useful rhetorical device, what linguists might refer to as a perlocutionary speech act: its intended effect is to cause someone to feel or do something.

The tricky thing is that, because very few people actually take up the challenge of avoiding single-use plastics entirely, the inevitable gap between the ideal and the reality gives the rest of us plenty of wiggle room. We can participate in Plastic Free July simply by reducing our plastic usage ever so slightly. It’s barely an inconvenience, but our consciences are nonetheless alleviated. More extreme behavioural shifts are required...

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