It’s practically mid-August and I’m continuing to reflect on my month of attempting to refuse single use plastic as a commitment to participate in #PlasticFreeJuly. This year was my third or fourth year joining the movement and encouraging others to join with me. This year I was extra careful, but I still had slip ups. This is a recounting of how my month went, good and bad, along with some tips on new ways I’ve discovered to cut back on plastic use.
First the bad and then I’ll end with the good and hopeful. Last month I tried my best to not use single use plastic for the entire 31 days, but there were times when it was given to me before I could say or do anything and there are also items in my daily life that I haven’t quite been able to give up (tortilla chips come to mind, my go to snack).
Two examples of plastic that were given to me without any warning both took place at restaurants. The first was at a cool BBQ spot on Lake Erie where I went with my husband after an afternoon of him riding his SUP and me making progress on my novel (reading not writing, ha!) We sat outside to be able to see the lake as the sun went down and as we perused the menu the friendly waitress brought us two ice waters both with tall, black, plastic straws sticking out of them.
The second time I was out with a friend in Jamestown after teaching my class and we tried a newer restaurant I’d never been to. I’d heard hipstery things about the place, it seemed trendy with an interesting menu and lots of beer on tap. We ordered sliders and tater tots. The tater tots came out with two plastic forks stabbed into them. The sliders were on wooden or bamboo boards. I didn’t say anything and had my real fork in my backpack, but I hadn’t known that the food was going to come with plastic forks. Fail.
In my teens and twenties I worked in the restaurant industry, I like to think that I was a good server – staying ahead of a table’s needs to make them happy and earn good tips. I understand that that is what the waitress at the BBQ restaurant was doing when she brought us waters without prompting. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel comfortable confronting strangers about single use plastic, so I said nothing, besides moaning to my husband. It was an even bigger shame because we were sat feet away from Lake Erie and so many straws were going into the trash at this place everyday. There was a big disconnect between the natural beauty that draws people to the area and the constant litter being produced.
I decided that I will not visit the other restaurant that gave us straws again, that might not be fair, but I don’t like to support restaurants that charge a pretty penny for pretty good food in a hip atmosphere and then use plastic silverware, it knocks the experience down a couple of notches, like drinking a coffee out of a styrofoam cup, yuck. It just doesn’t feel nice.
Success stories time now. For the past few months I have been shopping as much in bulk as I can. Options for this are very limited, so mostly this is just snacks such as sesame sticks or chocolate covered peanuts, but it has meant that I was less wasteful during two recent road trips that I took. I fill up old ziplocks at the bulk section because my cotton produce bags have wholes in them so produce can breathe. A cashier at my local store where I do this commented that she’s trying to cut back on plastic and never thought of reusing zip locks. It touched my heart that she said that, because although this local grocery store chain prides itself on being progressive I have never once heard a cashier ask if a customer would like paper or plastic, instead they ask “Is plastic ok?” and every time I hear that I want to scream, “No! It’s not f*ing ok!” and then go on to tell them all of the statics that I know. But again I don’t like to confront strangers and know that I would look like a real nutter if I did that. I have thanked other customers for remembering their bags though, which is also a little bit weird, but I hope they appreciate it. I’m always taking inventory on how many people brought their reusables and it’s usually just me and one other person out of a good 60 that I watch going in and out of the store. #sad
Straight up denial, refusal, and restraint were the best tactics for Plastic Free July. I was at a farmer’s market with a fellow teacher and she bought a delicious treat at a friend’s bakery stall. I wanted to support her and have a treat myself, but I said no because of the challenge of the month. She explained that due to her permit she has to package them in single use plastic sleeves, I know that it’s an issue of sanitation, but I wish there was an alternative.
Another win was the purchase of a plastic (but not single use plastic) Tupper Ware vegetable tray from a thrift store. I used it to take a veggie tray into work for a snack day. I also made my own homemade dip that was pretty similar to ranch and very easy to make. The base was yogurt which my husband makes in our instant pot. Then spices and herbs from the garden. I bought only produce that wasn’t in plastic bags to use in the tray, so other than the gallon of milk used to make the yogurt there was no plastic involved in the dish. Sure, it was a lot more effort than buying a prepared veggie tray, but it was a lot cheaper than and didn’t create waste with the tray, lid, or dip in a tub. Plus, I now have that Tupper Ware item and yogurt dip recipe to utilize again for a pot luck or family gathering.
The final thing I did last month that has increased my success was to join a couple of groups on Facebook that are geared towards finding alternatives to single use plastic. The primary one that I have been following is called Plastic Free Support and it is an extremely active page. There are multiple posts each day mostly of people asking for advice and tips on how to make good changes and every post gets many responses full of new ideas. I love that it’s an international group to see what others are doing around the world and ways we can learn from each other.
Being a part of a community is a key part of this life change I have been moving towards for the past six years. It is very easy to feel defeated and as if my choices aren’t actually making a difference, but I have had others tell me that I have inspired them to make change, which is a major motivator for me. Plastic is everywhere, look around wherever you are right now and start noticing it, a habit you won’t be able to stop doing once you start. It takes time, effort, research, and patience, but I will one day be living as plastic free a life as I can.
Did you have Plastic Free July success?