This July, millions of people around the globe from 159 countries will pledge to consume no single-use, throwaway plastic for the entire month during Plastic Free July. Why?
Plastic pollution clogs our oceans, rivers and waterways; it endangers wildlife; and this pollution has made its way into our food chain. If we continue on our current trajectory, by 2050 we may have more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Such sobering facts propel us to take action. But where to start? If you’re like most people, just thinking back on how much single-use plastic you consumed today alone, you may wonder how you can possibly avoid using the stuff for an entire month.
These steps will help.
1. Conduct an audit. You don’t know if you have a problem if you don’t measure it. Think of dieting. You may stand on a scale to determine if you’ve gained a lot of weight. (“I weigh what?!”) Here, you’ll measure your plastic diet. (“I threw out how many coffee cups?!” And yes, those are lined with plastic.) Once you know where to focus your efforts, you can search for replacements.
2. Refuse the big offenders. The Plastic Free July website refers to single-use plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws as the “TOP 4.” Replace these items with reusables: shopping bags made of natural fibers; metal or glass water bottles; and a ceramic mug or metal thermos. If you enjoy or need to drink with a straw, you can find reusable metal or glass straws in stores and online.
Be sure to have stores weigh your jars before you fill them so the cashier can deduct the jar weight when you pay. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau
3. Build up your reusable arsenal. Next you’ll cut more single-use plastic such as plastic produce bags. I applaud the worldwide plastic shopping bag bans, but most people stuff their reusable shopping bags with piles of plastic produce bags. You can make your own cloth produce bags or you can buy them. And if you need only a few onions or a couple of lemons, for example, you can skip the bag entirely.
4. Eat real food. If you cut the plastic, you cut processed food and eat the real stuff. As a bonus, real food tastes better than processed. You don’t need to cook for hours every day to eat well. As Julia Child said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces—just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau
5. Forgot your own mug to bring to the cafe? Ask for a real one. Want your favorite take-out restaurant to put your food in a container for you? Hand the vessel over, ask your server to put the food in it and give detailed instructions about how to do that and why.
6. Replace the Big Three personal-care products:
• Toothpaste. Let me first say that I am not a dentist. I make homemade toothpaste and homemade tooth powder. In a pinch, I’ll use plain baking soda.
• Deodorant. My homemade deodorant works extremely well and you need only a little bit. It consists of baking soda and cornstarch, with coconut oil as a delivery agent.
• Shampoo. Use a shampoo bar or baking soda, followed by a vinegar rinse. If you dislike how those leave your hair, look for shampoo and conditioner in bulk where you live.
7. Don’t go insane. Once you decide to go plastic-free, you will see plastic everywhere. That’s because it is everywhere. You may start to feel disheartened and hopeless and wonder what’s the point. Birds eat the stuff and die, turtles get entangled in it and die, seals become trapped in old plastic fishing nets and die, fish (which we eat) are full of it and die (when we eat them). WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!
But for a moment, just imagine if millions of us worked together to tackle the plastic pollution problem. That would make a huge difference. The good news? That’s what happens during Plastic Free July! And many people continue with the challenge for the rest of the year.
8. Do your best. Don't beat yourself up if you fall short. You will fall short. Just keep trying. It's called a challenge for a reason. However, cutting the plastic is easier than most people realize.