I knew going into my Plastic Free July challenge that success was not going to hinge on my ability to completely refuse single-use plastic for the month, but rather, in discovering new and fun ways to make long-term commitments to a lifestyle change. In the end, I can happily report that the 30-day experiment was a success! But, it is also just a beginning.
My initial thoughts confirmed:
In today’s world it is REALLY hard to live a plastic-free life. Just take an inventory of everything you touch between the time you get out of bed and the time you finish breakfast (less than an hour for most of us), and you’ll quickly realize how heavily we've come to depend upon the disposable plastic industry. Your toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, medicines, contact lens solution, etc. are most likely made of plastic or in plastic containers. Then, it’s your cereal, bagels, coffee, milk, juice and more that come in plastic packaging. So many habits to change, and the caffeine hasn't even kicked in yet.
Hard lessons learned:
I knew plastic was everywhere but I did not know it was EVERYWHERE!
- It is hidden in tea bags and milk cartons.
- Even the “greenest” of supermarkets and the “healthiest” products are swimming in plastic packaging.
- Trying to reconcile other life-style priorities (fair trade, organic, palm-oil free, etc.) with plastic-free is sometimes impossible, and choices have to be made
Just getting started:
When I took this challenge at the beginning of July, I committed to make three long-term lifestyle changes that would eliminate single-use plastic from my daily routine. While the jury is still out on whether they’ll stand the test of time, I’m on the path to incorporating the following changes:
- Shopping in the bulk-food section. More and more stores are carrying a larger variety of food items as bulk food. I’ve switched to bulk coffee, nuts, granola and snacks—and I’m working on tea and grains next
- Canning my own food. Mostly instigated by a bumper crop of cucumbers this year, I’ve begun canning vegetables. There is no better way to eliminate unwanted packaging than by “packaging” food items yourself.
- Speaking up. Staff in stores and restaurants are often happy to help you on your plastic-free quest. Let them know this is something that is important to you. Consumers have a powerful voice; we just need to learn how to use it for things that matter.
Ultimately, this was an eye-opening experience, even for someone who thinks about issues like this on a daily basis. I’m glad I took the challenge—it pushed me to develop priorities and make some changes. It also inspired me to keep going. July is over, but my commitment isn't.