Plastic-Free July: The Beginning
If you haven’t already heard, we have a plastic problem. Plastic isn’t as recyclable as we initially thought, it clogs our waterways, gets into our oceans, kills marine life, and because it never goes away—it just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, like rocks into sand rather than plants into soil—we are eating, drinking, and breathing plastic. That’s not for me!
I’ve written before about changes I’ve made in my life to live a more zero-waste lifestyle, but I am still struggling with modern convenience and daily life. So, in an attempt to improve my efforts and lifestyle, I’m going to take part in Plastic-Free July to do my best to reduce plastic waste.
This is just part one! I will be back at the end of the month with my findings, learnings, teachings, inevitable failures, and of course, the wins.
So, what is Plastic-Free July?
“Our movement has inspired over 120 million participants in 177 countries. You making a small change will collectively make a massive difference to our communities. You can choose to refuse single-use plastics in July (and beyond!). Best of all, being part of Plastic-Free July will help you to find great alternatives that can become new habits forever.”
Throughout the month of July, I will endeavor to take in NO NEW PLASTIC. Not only will I refuse single-use plastics of convenience, I will do my best to avoid buying longer-term products in plastic too.
No more impulse buys of products from Sephora that will cure my hair from dryness, no more hangry snacks from the grocery store in plastic bags and wrappers, and if I’m buying something for my apartment, it better be made out of anything other than plastic! I am going to do my best to be thoughtful in my purchases, and set myself up for a better, plastic-free future.
Plastic seems to be unavoidable. For me, it feels evil, but also sometimes a necessary evil. What I’m hoping to discover, this month, are ways for alternatives.
For example, I have been refusing plastic straws for over three years now, but some people need straws to have a better quality of life, for better independence and self-feeding capabilities. And that’s why I want to highlight alternatives. Saying no to plastic straws does not mean saying no to all straws! There are some great alternatives out there already—straws are being made with steel, glass, and silicone! There are also some not-so-great straw alternatives, especially in bars and restaurants, where straws are made out of bamboo or paper… not trying to be a hater, but I don’t want a soggy straw in my drink!
I know, as I set out on this journey, that I will fail.
I know it because I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic and overall waste for years and I always feel like I’m failing. I’m not perfect, I’m human.
That’s why, rather than focus on a “Zero Waste” lifestyle, especially for the month of July, I’m focusing on Plastic-Free. I already have a lot of plastic in my apartment, even though when I moved in I told myself I would have a plastic-free living space. But life catches up to you, conveniences and options sometimes outweigh the alternatives. I will fail, and that’s ok.
It’s about learning, growing, and trying to do better. That’s why I’m taking you on this journey with me!
My Plastic-Free July Goals
1. Avoid buying any new plastic.
I already have a lot of plastic things in my apartment, from shampoo bottles in my shower to condiment bottles in my fridge. I will not throw away or recycle any plastic items until the product within is completely used up. I’m not made of money, for one, and the plastic already exists, I don’t want to waste further by throwing out unused product.
2. Find the alternatives, replace with better.
As I use up plastic, my aim is to replace anything with a plastic-free alternative. And my hope is that because it will take me time to use things up, I can research and find the best option for my lifestyle, rather than making a quick decision that ends up with more plastic.
When I first moved into my apartment, I wanted an empty spray bottle so I could make my own cleaning solutions for the windows and mirrors (3 parts water, 1 part white vinegar, it’s amazing and always streak-free!) but I was in a rush, desperate to make my apartment feel clean and homey, so I bought a cheap plastic spray bottle from my grocery store and I’ve regretted it ever since because it is not good quality!
3. Save money!
My third goal for the month is to save money. By finding alternatives and buying reusables, my hope is that my bank account either gets a little fatter or just stops emptying so quickly!
Many people I’ve talked to ask if this is a more expensive lifestyle, and it can be expensive if you go out and buy all new things, but really, it is a money saver if you take your time and do your research, because you can buy many things second-hand, which gives the item a new life and keeps it out of a landfill or recycling center, you only buy the things you need when you need them, and by buying reusables, you eliminate the need to re-purchase something.
Plastic when traveling. I already use mobile boarding passes, rarely check my bag, and bring my metal water bottle with me. I don’t ask for any other drinks on the flight, and try my best to say no to the delicious speculoos cookies they offer on board (wrapped in plastic, tragically!) but I struggle with avoiding plastic when I travel because I can never seem to pack the right snacks or find plastic-free snacks in the airport, unless you can find a banana or apple that isn’t wrapped in cellophane, and really you can only eat so much fruit before your stomach hurts.
Avoiding plastic while traveling, when you’re physically traveling and then just away from your normal routine and home, is SO HARD. I’m headed back east for a week at the beach with friends, and I know that will be my biggest hurdle. STAY TUNED!
ALSO: I feel like a lot of people who are plastic-free or zero-waste are fully vegan or plant-based. Eating more plants is better for you, and better for the environment. BUT I’ve tried before to go vegetarian and vegan and plant-based (I’ve really tried all the diets out there, but that’s a post for another day) and learned because of my body, I can’t do only plants.
I have IBS and there are certain foods I need to avoid to have a happier tummy and GI tract, and so in order to make sure I am getting enough to eat, enough protein, etc. So I do eat a little bit of meat. I don’t eat red meat or anything from the sea, because I don’t like the taste, texture, or how unsustainable these proteins are, and I do my best to eat an 80/20 plant based diet because I do think more plants the better.
Also, I’m not a dietitian, nutritionist, or doctor FYI. But just wanted to share my experience, because I know changing your lifestyle can be intimidating or feel overwhelming!
Changes I’ve Already Made:
I’ve mentioned my metal reusable water bottle and metal straws. I also have two metal bento-box type containers for packing snacks for on-the-go. I do my best to buy products at the grocery store in glass, aluminum, or cardboard, because those are better recyclable alternatives.
For my beauty routine, I bought reusable cotton rounds, that I just wash on laundry day. It gives me a great peace of mind to know I’m not sending single-use face rounds to the landfill on the daily, AND that I don’t have to keep buying them!
This may be TMI but I also switched to a period cup and Thinx underwear for period days. It was definitely a learning curve, but I’m happier and less-stressed about all things period thanks to these changes, and while it was initially an expensive up-front cost, I’ve saved a TON of money overall. I also have regular tampons with cardboard applicators for emergencies or in case a friend is visiting and needs supplies.
As of July 1st, 2019, this is all the single-use plastic I have in my apartment.
In my bathroom:
*I’m not counting anything medicinal items at this point. I’m trying to live life smarter not harder, and while I do my best to eliminate allergens in my apartment, I have no control over the outside world and cannot cut out allergy medicine. Or my anti-anxiety meds, because some plastic is a necessity at this point in our system.
- 7 plastic bottles in my shower (2 shampoos, 3 conditioners, 2 body washes)
- 15 plastic containers in my vanity/bathroom sink of “beauty potions” or face wash, lotion, serums
- 2 plastic bottles of hand soap (one on my sink, one under the counter)
- 3 plastic bottles of bathroom cleaning supplies
- 5 plastic tubes of body lotion
- 3 plastic tubes of sunscreen
- 8 plastic spray bottles of hair styling products
- 1Plastic bottle of nail polish remover
- 1Plastic tub of face mask product
- 20+ plastic containers of makeup / beauty products (I lost count!)
Total bathroom plastic count: 65+ plastic items that will be tossed when they’re emptied—though I do my best to recycle them!
Are you overwhelmed yet? I am. And that was just the bathroom.
In my kitchen:
- 1 roll of plastic trash liners (100ct)
- 7 plastic containers of food items in the fridge (bought in plastic at the grocery store)
- 1 plastic water filter pitcher (I will reuse as long as I can, but it’s still plastic)
- 9 plastic containers of cooking spices and oils
- 13 plastic-wrapped snack items (protein bars, popcorn, chips)
- 15 plastic container/bag pantry items (pasta, rice, coffee, etc)
- 6 plastic containers of cleaning supplies
- Tons of individual tea bags (plastic lining) that I’ve been trying to get through! I made the switch to loose leaf tea years ago, but sometimes I’m given gifts of tea that are the plastic wrapped kind.
Total kitchen plastic count: 52+ plastic items that will be thrown out (most of the plastics in my kitchen are the type that cannot be recycled)
In my bedroom/living room:
Oh boy. This is going to add up.
- 9 plastic click pencils (saved from the trash when my brother was cleaning out his childhood desk)
- 30 plastic click pens (I finally stopped stealing them from hotels and made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t buy any more pens. It’s a writer problem.)
- 17 plastic marker/highlighters
- 4 plastic folders
- 21 notebooks with plastic covers or wrapped in plastic (again, writer problems)
- 20 plastic tech things (I have an “electronics” bin where I keep all things current or dead)
Total bedroom/ living room count: 101+
I know I’ve missed stuff, because there is plastic EVERYWHERE and sometimes it is so small. I have a glass salt shaker but it has a plastic lid. COUNTS AS PLASTIC. Guys, this stuff is tough, it’s no joke. Part of the solution though, is awareness and education. I have to start somewhere!
Total apartment plastic count: 218+ single-use plastic items that will essentially die and rest in a landfill once they’re used up.
Are you discouraged yet? Overwhelmed? I am. But I will persist, because I really care about this issue, and though it feels like just one person cannot make a difference, small changes are really what this movement is all about. Because, choosing reusables over plastic is like voting with your dollar, and companies are starting to notice. Plastic bags and straws are being legislated and banned, as are styrofoam products. We don’t have to change everything overnight, we just have to start making small changes.
For more inspiration, here are a few of my favorite plastic-free and zero-waste content creators:
Marissa Jablonski from Plastics With Marissa – she shares plastic-free tips and easy swaps on her instagram, and ends every video with “Go Team” which I love, because this Plastic-Free movement is all about community.
Monica Rosquillas, who was living plastic- free and zero waste in San Diego, and now is living abroad in Spain with her same lifestyle. I’ve learned a lot about second-hand shopping, the importance of quality, and have a better understanding of waste and the environment from a global perspective thanks to her instagram! She and her husband even have a sweet boxer dog, and he is living a low-waste lifestyle, too!
Would you consider taking the Plastic-Free July Challenge with me? I know with even small changes, we can make the world a better place.