plastic-free july: what I learned

I’m back on with some plastic-free updates on my Month of No Plastic. if you haven’t read it yet, check out my post on going plastic-free for the whole month of July. 

Just to recap: I set intentions for the month of July to be plastic-free. For me, that meant that I would not buy any new plastic, I would avoid using plastic outside the home (plastic utensils, straws, etc), and that if I finished a plastic item in my apartment, I would replace it with a plastic-free alternative. 

My goals for my Plastic-Free month:

  1. To raise my own awareness of my plastic use and impact.
  2. Create new habits.
  3. Maybe even save some money by making more sustainable changes that avoided single-use actions 

So how did I do?

Technically, I failed. I kept a tally of each day that I was successfully plastic-free and I made it FOUR days with absolutely no plastic consumed. That was really discouraging. I also learned a lot though, so in my mind I still won. I had to remind myself that the point of this challenge wasn’t to be perfect but to grow and learn. This is what I found: 

1. It is HARD and your environment really counts.

If you’re in an environment where plastic-free solutions are readily available, these switches are no-brainers. But, very few of us live there and have to make daily adjustments. Often, I felt really defeated and overwhelmed.

In my apartment, it was easier, but I couldn’t stay in my apartment forever! The easiest changes were ones I made long ago: carrying a reusable water bottle, a tote bag, and meal prepping.

The harder moments were when I was out and about and wanted a coffee but hadn’t thought to bring my reusable coffee thermos. Or,  when I travelled across the country and tried my best to pack snacks but got so hungry I caved and accepted food and drinks from the stewards cart on the airplane. 

2. Food was my biggest hurdle.

I don’t live near a bulk grocery store, or even a grocery store with bulk bins. I did my best to buy food with limited packaging, or plastic-free recyclable packaging, but I have a limited diet because of food sensitivities and can’t eat most plant-based proteins, so I couldn’t rely on canned beans or lentils. I had to buy plastic-wrapped meat or tofu if I wanted some protein that didn’t wreck me.

When I buy fresh vegetables at the grocery store, I just pick them off the stands, put them in my basket, and then set them straight on the conveyor belt at check out. This may sound gross but I wash everything thoroughly, and 99% of the vegetables I buy get roasted in the oven or cooked in soup. This way, I avoid those thin plastic produce bags that are not recyclable.

I also have canvas produce bags, but I usually forget them at home or use them more for when I do find myself at a bulk-friendly food store. However, buying loose produce isn’t necessarily plastic-free. You know those little produce stickers that have the barcode on the fruit and veggies? They’re made of plastic and/or use plastic adhesive to stick them on. 

3. Plastic really felt unavoidable most days.

But our consumer cycle is not set up to be completely plastic-free, so we will never achieve “perfection” and that’s ok. It’s more about making thoughtful changes that will show long-term progress.

I’m not giving up hope!

This experience was not meant to be about perfection, it was meant to be about exposure, and it truly opened my eyes.

After five years of trying to limit my plastic and make changes, I finally really realized how much plastic I still use and rely on.

Recently, I started a new job, and at said new job they have snacks available for employees. Most of them are in cereal dispensers so I brought in a reusable bowl. There are also bags and bags of chips and snacks and it took me a few weeks of a snack bag daily to realize they were made of plastic and foil…I knew they weren’t recyclable but I just never stopped to think what they were made of. And I gave into my wanting the chips. That was definitely the low point—when I realized that I just didn’t want to do this challenge anymore because it felt so limiting. Which was a really important takeaway.

One way we can combat the overuse of plastic is to “vote” with our dollars. I will continue to choose the lowest plastic options, but I’m not going to punish myself or completely forbid myself from something just because it has some plastic. If I want the bag of chips, I will let myself get them, but I just won’t get them every day.  I’m not perfect, I don’t ever want to be striving to do something that’s an all-or-nothing task, and I have to be okay with that on this journey.

Have you tried to go plastic-free or use less plastic?