Plastic Free July 2019 In Review

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.

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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.

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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?

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It’s Plastic Free July 2019!!!

You’ve probably seen at least one challenge online in the past few years. Most are quick stints that earn either a little bit of limelight and/or some money for charity. This internet challenge is longer lasting and asks people everywhere to challenge themselves to cut back on their single use plastic consumption, or better yet to refuse single use plastic for the entire month of July. The movement began in 2011 and has grown in popularity in the past eight years. This year can you commit yourself and your family to making smarter decisions to help us all decrease plastic pollution?

Here are some tips for minimizing plastic use this July

Opt for Real Stuff

First, in order to not use plastic you have to swap it out with real things. Choose real silverware over plastic and make this happen by carrying a bag of silverware with you everywhere you go. Check out a thrift store for cheap, used silverware (if you’re thinking that’s sort of gross, then remember that you probably eat off of used silverware at restaurants weekly) and go for smaller sets that are more transportable. Another good option would be a camping spork if you have one.

When you go out for a coffee take your tumbler to get a discount and to say no to the single use plastic of the lid or cup and straw of a cold drink. It’s summer here in the US and I see a lot of people with frozen coffee drinks, yum, but yuck to the waste produced. Ask for your frozen drink in your reusable-thermal container, it helps the planet and will keep your drink cold hours longer than a plastic cup. Melt city.

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Change Shopping Habits

Get your hands on reusable produce bags and remember to take them with you when you grocery shop. Produce bags are very wasteful and unnecessary if you have something that you can use over and over again. Some produce is sprayed frequently to keep it fresh, in order to deal with wet lettuce, take ziplock bags or tupperware with you to put those items in. In my household we do not buy ziplocks but we often end up with them from my mother, so we keep them and wash them until they eventually form a hole. If you use tupperware or jars when shopping be sure to have a store attendant find the tare weight so you’re not paying for the weight of the container.

This is old news, but of course be sure to take your reusable shopping bags with you when shopping. Be cuter by taking a large basket the way Europeans do, it’s so nice to carry fresh produce in a woven basket, although a reusable shopping bag is a good second choice.

 

Recruit Everyone You Know

Ok, maybe not everyone you know, but recruit as many people as you can. Spread the word by using #plasticfreejuly and post regularly on social media about your successes. Tell your friends and family about what you’re doing and why. Most people won’t make the change in their lives to cut back on plastic unless they understand how bad the issue is, and the issue is bad.

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Good luck on your Plastic Free July journey, I hope that you are able to be as successful as possible. It is really difficult to cut back on single use plastic completely because the modern world is swimming in it (literally,) so don’t knock yourself down if you get handed a straw and it’s too late to send it back. Those experiences will reinforce the habit and will encourage you to try harder next time.

I’ve been trying to cut back on my use for years now and I still run into issues, but I try my best and keep my head up. If you have any tips on cutting back use, please send them my way!

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Plastic Free July

It’s the end of July 2017 and to your knowledge or not it is the end of another annual campaign to cut back on plastics use. Plastic Free July is a worldwide campaign that began in Australia a couple of years ago. I mention that you may not have been aware of the movement because sadly it is still on the fringes of public awareness. My feeds are sprinkled with posts and hashtags, but yours may not be. Mine are because I am a known plastic hater, I seek out information on how to cut back on use and what other’s are doing around the world to make a change to the mindless use of single use plastics.

Plastic Free July is a challenge simply put and you don’t have to think too far out of the box to get a sense of what it’s all about. Of course the challenge is not to cut plastic out of your life for a month 100%-completely, that would be impossible. Plastic makes up the computer I type on, the fibers in the carpet I lie on, the watch face of the sports watch that I wear and never take off, and almost everything else in the room that I am in at the moment (fan, lamp shade, parts on my bike, my phone, my phone case, the list goes on.) No, it would be very close to impossible to give up plastic totally, instead what the campaign is about is cutting back on single use plastic.

Single use plastic make up big portions of our day-to-day lives in the modern world, but unlike what was listed in the last paragraph, single use plastics can (and very much should) be cut from your life.

To the point, single use plastics are described in the name but if you can’t think of an example  then let me list a few: plastic forks, knives, spoons, plastic zip lock bags, plastic bags at any grocery store or shop, saran wrap, straws, lids on to go cups, plastic cups, lids, and straws for cold beverages, most packaging of processed foods and many vegetables at grocery stores, etc. These are things that have a life span, or a use of roughly 20 minutes which is said of plastic shopping bags and straws. Oh how I hate plastic straws. Those little buggers get given to us without thought or question at restaurants and cafes. If accepted they’re sipped out of for a few minutes or at the most for the length of the meal at the restaurant which may extend to be an hour or so. After the meal or smoothie is finished they’re tossed in the garbage can – they are not recyclable – from the bin they are put in the dumpster, taken to the landfill, buried underground or possibly first put on a container ship and shipped to another location where they may make their way into the ocean on their way and stay there for quite sometime. Whether in the landfill or the ocean that little straw that was useful for less than 30 minutes will then stay on this earth for up to 200 years.

Think about that. Two-hundred-years. That is a long time for an item that has a life cycle of five minutes from opening the wrapper to tossing in the garbage. If John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the Unite States, had enjoyed his beverage of choice with a straw, it would still be here today. The next time you’re at a restaurant, cafe, or bar, look around you and notice all of the straws in use there. I bet it’s a lot, and those are just the straws in use while you’re there, think of how many were used during that entire day, week, year… all of them will be around for a very long time.

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It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

Straws are almost the worst of the single use plastic items in my opinion because at least with a plastic bag you can recycle it when you return to the store (although I’d argue that most people don’t – I have dug many plastic bags out of other people’s garbage cans) if you don’t recycle them you can use them as trash can liners (which is what I do with all of the plastic bags that I rescue from trash cans.)

To give up single use plastic for the month of July you have to think ahead. You have to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. You have to tell the waitress when you order your drink that you do not want a straw. Everywhere you go you must carry your water bottle with you – to work, in the car, to your yoga class.

And why? Why do all of this hard work to not use plastic? The dramatic answer is to save the world. Or at the very least to save the ocean and her inhabitants. And if you’re like me and you live hundreds of miles from an ocean so may think that floating plastic islands the size of Texas in the ocean are not only unfathomable to you but do not really affect you living in the middle of a big country, think again. Those plastics break down in the sun, are consumed as food by fish and other sea life, we consume that fish which has chemicals from the plastics inside it’s body, then the plastic is inside of our bodies and they cause a lot of disruption in there. If you don’t like seafood, do you drink bottled water or soda from a plastic bottle or iced coffee from a plastic cup? If you answered yes then the same chemicals are making their way into your system, too.

Plastic is for sure a convenience in our lives, we almost cannot live without. It’s in everything, likely even the clothes that we wear (if you’re wearing synthetics), but single use plastics can be avoided and refused. Learn to say “No straw” at a restaurant and “I don’t need a bag” at the checkout. Those are the best places to start.

The month of July will be over in a few days, whether you knew of the Plastic Free July challenge or not, I encourage you to try the Plastic Free Life from now on. Habits are hard to change, but with effort they can be altered.

Plastic Free France in Plastic Free July!

Plastic Free July is an initiative that challenges us to say no and refuse single-use plastics for the entire month of July (and hopefully the newly strengthened habit will carry over into August, September, and every other month.) You can read more about the campaign on the official website here.

Examples of plastics to say no to for the rest of the month are plastic forks/knives/spoons, red solo cups, plastic bags at the check out, and straws. Shop smart by choosing items packaged as lightly as possible, and go to a farmer’s market and buy your produce there, have them place your fruit and veg straight into your reusable bag instead of using those pointless produce bags at the grocery store. Bonus! – you support local farms and eat healthier, local foods!

What’s the big deal about single-use plastic anyway? Well quite frankly, it sucks. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no other way to put it. These items of “convenience” are produced with oil (polyethylene) and other chemicals at very high temperatures (500 F), packaged and shipped out to stores, where they’re freely given out or are charged at a very low price, carry your items where you are going and then likely get tossed in the garbage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows thinking, “But wait, I recycle!” well then I am grateful that you take that extra step, and everyone should be recycling by now, it’s 2016 after all, but I’d argue that the energy used in transporting, cleaning, and processing the recycled plastic is unnecessary. Consider if instead we all used real knives and forks (or any other real, multi-use item instead of a single-use plastic one) and then washed them after use to be used again, and again, and again. Recycling is energy intensive, and although yes, it is better than tossing plastic into the trash or on the street; I don’t think that it’s the answer to all of our problems.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. This is not a post about why we should refuse plastic, no that can be found here  and here, and tips on how to cut back on plastics in your life are written here. No, this post is actually a celebration of an entire country banning plastic bags – an entire country! That country my friends, is France.

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This is what happened: starting on July 1, 2016 all shops and super markets no longer carry thin, single-use plastic bags at their check out. Instead shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, or buy heavy-duty bags that cost more than the typical 10 cents. Bags that yes, _DSC4495are plastic, but that are meant for multiple uses. Plastic bags generally have a life span of carrying your groceries from the store check out line to your car and then from the car to your kitchen where they likely get tossed in the trash, recycle bin, or in a designated area where they’ll sit with all of the other useless plastic bags that have come home with the shopping and that have no other purpose. It is a beautiful thing that France realized the waste and inefficiency and made laws to get rid of them all together.

What’s more, is that starting on January 1, 2017 in France plastic produce bags found next to the fruit and vegetables will go from being plastic (the norm) to being paper or a compostable corn-starch plastic. A lot of waste is going to be saved in France not just in the shops and super markets but also in the weekly markets and night markets that are still alive and thriving in  almost every small town and village.

Thank you, France! What an inspiration for all other cities and countries to aspire to. In my most optimistic dreams the U.S. will follow suit one day, and I will anxiously be awaiting that day.


*Note on Photography: All photos were taken on the ground near Bordeaux, France by my accommodating partner, Ben Lear.

Hosting a Plastic Free Event (and Why I Did It)

This post is about my first experience hosting a plastic free event. I did not do this alone, the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest were amazingly proactive with my initial idea to go plastic free for their event, and did a lot of work. Initially I thought this would be a simple, short bulleted post  comparable with, but not as bad, as Buzzfeed, but it was impossible. I had to include the reasons why to host a plastic free event, because it’s not just something to do for fun. There is substance and ethics behind it. You have two options as a reader, you can jump to the bullet points and read the How-To’s, or you can read the post in it’s entirety.


Single-use plastic is everywhere. When I comb the beach for litter, I mostly collect cellophane wrappers, candy wrappers from individually wrapped candies, coffee cups (paper and plastic,) water bottles or other beverage containers, and straws.

That plastic that either comes in with the tide or goes back out with it, or is haphazardly dropped by a hand,  will be floating around the ocean for quite some time as it slowly photo-degrades, seeping out chemicals as it does so. An equally depressing result is that it will be consumed by marine life that mistakes the small, broken down plastic for food. If you’re no animal lover and could care less about flounder being discovered with plastic stomachs, then at least consider this – that plastic consumed by fish, will make its way through the food cycle straight onto your plate. Plastic is even being found in table salt. You can do your part by planning Plastic free Event and sharing why you did it.

Generally people planning parties find it more convenient to buy a box of plastic forks, some colorful paper plates, and those ubiquitous red cups for their guests to eat and drink from. I agree, it is easier to toss a box of plastic forks into the cart with ingredients for your food, but is it wise? Those forks might not make it to the recycling bin and instead go straight into the trash where they’ll take hundreds of years to go away. That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away. And recycling is nice and green, but it still uses a lot of energy to transport, process, and reproduce when the alternative would be to wash some forks in the sink.

That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away.

Ditch the straws and plastic forks and opt instead for what’s in your kitchen drawer. Here are some tips for planning a plastic free event.

  • PROMOTE – As you promote your event let everyone know that no single use plastics will be used, so they must B.Y.O.E., Bring Your Own Everything. Include this information in your invitations if you go old school with paper invites, or write a prominent description in the events page if you use social media.

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  • EXPLAIN – Although it wasn’t that long ago that plastics were nonexistent, the majority of the population has gotten used to the convenience of using plastic. It might seem odd to some guests to pour holiday punch into a coffee mug that they carted with them as opposed to filling up a red dixie cup, so be sure to let them know why you are making them do so. Once people learn or are reminded of the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans, they will hopefully jump on board for your party (and carry the habit into their daily lives.)
Above: An informative display on the afterlife of plastic if disposed of improperly. The numbers are the estimated years it takes for such items to decompose. Photos are of a local beach, covered in PLASTIC LITTER FROM A TROPICAL STORM.
  • RECRUIT HELP – Ask like-minded friends to help you get the word out. My first attempt at a plastic free event would not have been possible without the help of the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest. They let the providers of food know and even provided plates and supplemental utensils.
The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

  • CONSIDER OPTIONS – If you have a kitchen with enough utensils, cups, and plates for all of your guests, then of course you would provide everything instead of asking your guests to B.Y.O.E. If you’re hosting a big event and do not have enough to go around, then do both: encourage guests to bring their own, but also bring extras for those that are uninformed or lack the materials.
  • BE KIND – It’s not us vs. them when it comes to environmentalism, it’s educating those who simply are unaware of the extremely negative impacts of single use plastics. Before public awareness and mass drives of knowledge, people used to smoke cigarettes without a care in the world, but once the science came out actions and laws changed. I’m saddened almost daily by the damage that human beings are causing the land, but I try to remain hopeful at the same time. If someone comes to your event with a fresh bottled water in their bag, don’t scorn them or even double take. In order to get your point across to everyone give a small talk about why you chose to make your event plastic free, and/or create an informative display or poster, hopefully inspiring the water bottle holders to go to their local thrift store and look for a tumbler.

Best of luck in all of the planning of your next event. It’s not impossible to host an event plastic free. On a smaller scale, say a family event, it might be what you’re doing already, I hope that this post inspires you to expand that to bigger community events. The Busan Veggie Fest had around 30 guests and not a single plastic utensil or bottle was provided for them.

How have your plastic free events gone?

Tropical Storm Brings Trash to Gwangan Beach

Last Sunday, July 12, 2015, was a turbulent day of wind and rain brought to Busan by tropical storm Chan-hom. There had been talk of a typhoon making it’s way to us, but it settled down into a tropical storm. Winds were high and the rain went from heavy to light throughout the day. This article on weather.com, states that winds were recorded as high as 47mph here in Korea.

Although it was not an ideal day for a bike ride, that’s exactly what I did during a period when the rain wasn’t so heavy. We took the boardwalk path on the way back to my apartment and were shocked by how much trash had washed up on the beach from the winds and surf. I snapped a few pictures, but most of the photos in this post are from early Monday morning, the following day. This amount of trash on the beach is extreme; there is always litter, casually dropped by beach walkers (cigarette cellophane, lighters, candy wrappers, straws, coffee cups, etc.) but the storm brought a whole array of trash.

Things that I noticed were shoes, balls, a lot of plastic drain filters, plastic beverage containers (water, soju, makgoli,) styrofoam and so on. There were great big styrofoam buoys, corners and bits from styrofoam coolers, and tiny pieces that had been broken down by the ocean. These little pieces are the ones that threaten the life of birds and fish because they resemble fish eggs so are consumed as food.

I noticed that there were still tourists snapping pictures at Gwangali Monday morning, however they were ignoring the length of beach covered in trash and instead aimed their phones at the bridge. I suppose to most people when they see a sight like that they think about how ugly it is and feel no responsibility to it so simply ignore it, but when I saw it, I wondered where was it coming from, how do we stop it, and how many innocent wildlife will die from our waste?

As I was taking pictures Monday morning, about half of the beach had already been cleaned up. Busan is great about getting crews out there every morning to make the (tourist) beaches look pristine. While the beautifying of the beach seems beneficial to us all, I can’t help but wonder if habits would change if people’s litter and trash stayed on the beach instead of miraculously disappearing every dawn.

Witnessing the debris that was washed up on the shore was depressing but also inspiring for me to question how I can decrease my impact on this finite planet even more. This month there has been a campaign online – Plastic Fee July, take a look at the link of their facebook page where you can get ideas about how to decrease your plastic use. Here’s a previous blog post of mine with tips. We can all do our small bit by carrying reusable bags, refusing bottled water, creating and using DIY cleaning/beauty products and most importantly sharing and inspiring others with our efforts.

How are you having a Plastic Free July and Plastic Free Life?


Better quality photos taken by Ben Lear.