As a friend of U Konserve and a recent admirer of the waste-free and reusable communities, I was excited at the opportunity to sign up for the plastic-free July challenge. The task was simple: refuse single-use plastics for a week and write about my experience.
Being in my late twenties, I’ve grown up in a disposable culture. I never thought twice about plastic water bottles, straws or utensils. As long as I was recycling, I felt that I wasn’t harming the environment. How uninformed was I?
After learning more about the lifecycle of plastic and realizing the harm it really causes, I was ready to dive in to this week of skipping any plastic that is used once and then tossed. When I sat down to plan my week and troubleshoot, I realized that plastic is truly all around me. I felt overwhelmed, but motivated to get through this week without plastic.
Sunday: Plastic-Free Grocery Shopping
Going into my plastic-free week, I knew that planning would be key to my success. Armed with my list and reusable bags, I headed to the grocery store on my first mission of not buying any food wrapped in single-use plastics.
Since it is Summer, choosing more fruits and veggies was the logical choice. I always skip the plastic produce bags and put the fruits and vegetables into one of my reusable totes in the shopping cart. I did notice that for certain items like carrots, the plastic bagged version was less expensive than the loose carrots. I did look around for someone to ask, but made a mental note to bring it up next time I was in the store.
The challenge began when I hit the bulk food bins. Not one for being the best at measuring how much I need or weighing what I have, I bought enough quinoa to last me through Christmas. For the most part, everything I needed was available from the bulk bins. I spent a little time googling alternatives on my phone and found some new ingredients to incorporate into my cooking.
Monday: Reusable Picnic
Happy Fourth! Since today was a holiday I was lucky to stay at home in my haven from single-use plastics. The big event of the evening was watching the fireworks with friends. I packed all sorts of snacks and plenty of drinks in mason jars and reusable containers and challenged them to do the same.
I was feeling very proud of myself for a successful day two until I went to take out the trash and realized that trash bags are plastic and get thrown straight into landfills…. After obsessively researching alternatives online for a while, I decided that figuring out plastic alternatives for around the house would be my challenge for the rest of the month.
Tuesday: Enjoy that cup of coffee
I work in coffee shops daily, so I was very aware of packing a reusable glass water bottle, coffee cup, and utensils to take with me in case. When I arrived that morning, I noticed for the first time that the coffee bar had ceramic cups and saucers (I’ve been here over a dozen times). Interesting what you see when you are avoiding single-use plastics.
I ordered a latte and when the barista asked if I’d like a disposable cup or ceramic one I chose the cup and saucer. I’m not sure if it was in my head, but it was one of the best lattes I’ve enjoyed in a long time. The ritual of sipping out of a cup and saucer doesn’t exist in the age of disposables, and I’m bringing it back into my life.
Wednesday: Dinner with friends
I had let my friends in on my pledge for the week, but I’m not sure they fully understood until I ordered my drinks without straws and pulled out my reusable containers at the end of dinner for my leftovers. They were supportive, but I did receive questioning looks. At first, I felt a little self-conscious but then realized that if I continued this habit at least, I would make others think twice about their disposable habits.
Thursday: Bulk Beauty
When I fist started planning the challenge, I decided to focus on one area of plastic in my life and gradually incorporate other areas. The next primary target was in the bathroom with the majority of my cosmetics in plastic containers. Getting on my computer, I researched my cosmetics products and found that the company reuses empty containers you bring in and rewards your account! Not plastic free, but a temporary solution.
Shampoo and conditioner seemed to be a little more tricky. From my internet research, I found that many people recommend making your own. The brand Lush also offers shampoo bars wrapped in recycled paper or a reusable stainless steel tin.
Friday: Treat Yourself
Nearing the end of the challenge I was feeling good. I pick up food to go at least three times a week, and this was an area that I knew could be a trouble spot for me since most of the to-go containers are single-use plastics or Styrofoam. I chose a restaurant that I knew had recycled paper containers and ordered.
When I went in to pick it up, I declined the plastic bag and utensils. Arriving home, I was excited to eat my salad until I opened the container to see a plastic container with the dressing inside. Total oversight on my part.
Saturday: Reusable Reflections
While I was (mostly) successful on reducing my plastic habit for the week, I focused on the progress I had made. Here are my big takeaways:
- People in the service industry won’t mind if you bring your own reusable cup, container, or ask for no straw.
- Sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee or meal served in non-disposable containers is a refreshing change of pace for our on-the-go lifestyles.
- To cut down on single-use plastics you need to plan ahead. Always put water in your reusable bottle before you leave the house and keep bags in your purse or car.
- Skip individually packed food items and make your own alternative instead.
- Take it one step at a time. Start by focusing on not using single-use plastics. Slowly shift into the zero-waste mindset and take it one day at a time.
To learn more about plastic or going plastic-free visit U Konserve’s Pinterest Page. I used many of the articles as motivation to help me stick to the challenge and find new recipes to incorporate into my routine.