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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Happy Results from a Plastic Pollution Talk

After returning to small town U.S.A. after living in South Korea one thing that really struck me was the lack of recycling. At my job I noticed that there was nowhere to recycle, except for cans and bottles that were NYS redeemable. The exact opposite of Korea where they have really streamlined recycling right down to nationwide composting.

Back home in the US, myself and a handful of my fellow, concerned coworkers in NYS would wash out our recyclables and carry them home to recycle them there. Then, with the help of a kind-hearted, hard-working maintenance man at work, as well as my husband, I started taking the recycling from our admin building to the local transfer station, which is where people in rural communities take their waste if it isn’t collected by the town or a private waste management company. That same kind maintenance man informed me a few months later that we had switched waste management providers and that they provided zero sort recycling. Exciting!

That was over a year ago and most people were doing well recycling. I’d find the odd recyclable in the garbage, dig it out, give it a rinse, and toss it where it belonged at least once a week still, but the majority of people were getting it right, but it still wasn’t perfect. Plastic silverware and styrofoam cups were being used on a daily basis although we have a full kitchen (save a dishwasher, *hint*hint*) available for use that’s steps away from all offices and contains a surplus of silverware and mugs. What to do?

I decided to find an ally, who replied to my email saying others had similar concerns. We all teamed up and had a video conference about ideas. Zero waste my was primary contribution and it was decided that in order to ask our coworkers to make changes in their habits that it should be explained them why it is so important, so I volunteered myself to give my 5 Gyres plastic talk at the upcoming all staff meetings.

The first two meetings were less than a week ago and to be honest I was quite nervous. I have given my talk at places where people chose to attend and who were generally already aware of climate change and environmentalism, places like the local natural history institute and an outdoor outfitters; but to give my talk to a room full of people who are forced to be there and to some who might possibly be climate deniers was making me anxious, mostly because a poll came out saying that climate change is the more polarizing than abortion for Republicans and Democrats. 

My fear was unwarranted. During the sharing of statistics and heartbreaking images of the deadly effects of plastic pollution on marine life and land animals I witnessed shocked and devastated looks on my coworkers faces, it was sinking it. And it may have been the first time that some of them were hearing such information.

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Afterwards, a handful complimented me on the talk and some even shared how they already refuse plastic bags, bottled water, and one coworker asked advice on supplying a family restaurant with paper straws. Hearing that people were already making changes in their daily lives filled my heart with warm gushiness and melted away the nervousness I had originally been feeling.

In the days since giving the talk I have witnessed coworkers swap the styrofoam coffee cups for real mugs, noticed that the recycling is filling up faster meaning that it’s being used more, and have been told by coworkers with a smile on their face that they were rinsing out their yogurt tub to recycle. Things haven’t shifted 180, people still come into work with their iced coffees in massive plastic cups with big red straws, but not everyone has to go zero waste, small conscious decisions are a start.

Hearing the three coworkers’ stories about how they already hate plastic was enough fuel for me to feel really excited and happy, hopeful even, which is a difficult emotion to come by with ever more headlines in the news telling us how omnipresent this major problem is. And hey, the kitchen staff graciously agreed to switch to real silverware this year for our picnic instead of those bundles of plastic silverware, napkins, salt and pepper in single use plastic wraps. That alone cut back on a lot of waste.

What have your success been in this struggle against single use plastics? Please share, it’s these little wins that keep us going.

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