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How Realistic is a Plastic Free July

I love the idea of a plastic-free July. It is a great challenge for those who want to do something for the environment and who want to feel part of a community. But I have been trying to go plastic-free for some time now and I know how hard it can be.

In addition to the logistics, there is the mindset. Once you become aware of all the plastic we consume you can't go back to the simple life. Every decision you make starts to take into account the plastic you may end up using.

And when you can't avoid it, the guilt creeps in. It can get a bit demoralizing. To keep maintain our focus but still find the humour, my husband and I, Arrow fans that we are, have started using the phrase "You have failed this planet!", when we make a mistake.

The plastic-free July movement was started by the Plastic Free Foundation, an independent organization based in Australia and established in 2017. Thanks to the internet, the movement has grown to be a worldwide sensation with many people taking up the challenge to refuse plastic beyond the month of July.

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.

Essentially, you sign up to get tips and tricks as to how to avoid plastic in your life. You can do as much or as little as you are comfortable with and you can post your progress on social media. It's a great idea that I applaud it heartily. But for those just starting out it isn't easy. It means a really big change of attitude and approach to day to day living.

However, considering the state of excessive waste in the world, I don't think we have a choice anymore. And so while it may be challenging and inconvenient, anything you can do to go "plastic-less" on the road to "plastic-free", is worth the effort.

I have learned that it is easiest to go plastic-free if...

  • You don't eat meat or cheese

  • You don't have a dog or cat

  • You don't have children

  • You don't have a property that has a garden and or needs maintenance and repair

  • You don't travel, anywhere

  • You live in a progressive city

  • You have a 100% supportive spouse or partner and family

That being said, they always say start with the simple things and go from there.

First steps...

  • Carry your own reusable shopping bag, everywhere. There are tons of small pouch-like bags available that fit easily into purses and knapsacks. Refuse to accept plastic bags everywhere you shop.

  • Take your own coffee mug, everywhere.

  • Carry your own water bottle or just use your coffee mug.

For the more dedicated...

  • Carry your own travel utensils with a straw if you like. There are lots of different options for this now. Nu Grocery in Canada has many eco-travel products.

  • Refuse straws and stir sticks when ordering drinks at restaurants. Most places are switching away from plastic straws but ask anyway.

  • At the grocery store, refuse all vegetables wrapped in plastic. Don't use the plastic bags for loose items, take your own fabric bags like these.

  • Don't buy quick snacks like chips or bars. Bring something from home.

  • Take your own lunch to work or if you want take out, find places that will use your reusable container.

  • Stop eating at fast-food restaurants. Your burger may come in a paper wrapper but your drink still comes in a throwaway cup. A&W is better if you stay there as they put your drink in a glass.

  • If you tend not to finish your meal at restaurants, take your own take out container like this collapsible box. This type of container also suits your lunch requirements though some prefer the stainless steel version.

  • Stop using plastic wrap for left overs. Use wax products like these instead.

For the super dedicated...(I'm still working on a lot of these)

  • Stop eating cheese and meet or find a deli/butcher that will use your containers or wrap things in paper. There is one in Toronto called Unboxed. Their supply is limited but it is a start. You can also ask your local grocery store if they will let you bring in your own containers. This is becoming more accepted but still awkward.

  • Buy as many products as you can in bulk. Keep soup and jam jars for storage. The ones with wide openings are best. Bulk items include dry grains and nuts as well as liquids like dish and clothes detergent. I have started doing this but it does take time and more often than not, a car. It is also hard to find vendors but more and more are popping up.

  • Switch to shampoo bars vs liquid. Minimize your beauty product consumption. Reuse your containers and shop in bulk.

  • Don't travel, or if you do, carry all of your containers and your food. This usually means travelling by car. Air travel can be a nightmare - think meals and drinks on the plane and those free snacks.

  • Never buy anything online unless the company uses eco-friendly packaging. Anyone who shops at Amazon knows how ridiculous and wasteful their packaging can be.

  • If you have property, buy all soil and mulch in bulk and either have it delivered or bring it home in your pick up truck. Yes, this one is very specific to our situation. Just keep in mind that almost all packaging in the gardening section of stores is not recyclable.

  • It is easier to buy plants now because some municipalities will recycle the plant containers. Better yet, start your own from seeds or do plant exchanges with friends or community groups

And now comes the hard part.

I don't have kids but I can just imagine how tough it is to manage all of their needs. From diapers, to toys, and snacks, it must be super difficult. I do have a friend who is teaching her young son about plastic. The other day when she refused his request for a snack at the check out, he actually asked "Too much plastic?" I suppose it's best to start them when they are young.

I do have a dog and a couple bird feeders. The bags used for all pet food and birdseed are not recyclable but I have discovered my local hardware store will sell me birdseed in bulk in paper bags. This is better but now I must buy a sealed container to store it in my garage. I'm lucky to have space.

Home renovations like our recent shed project are the most difficult. The building industry is one of the worst for plastic packaging. Anyone who has ever renovated or built new or even just moved knows that when it comes to housing products, plastic and styrofoam wrap is impossible to avoid. Then there is paint and caulking. There is nothing eco-friendly about either.

I don't know how I could ever manage to get plastic-free in this area. Just buying a new screwdriver or new drill bits means unnecessary plastic packaging. Most tools are made of plastic parts and they don't last forever anymore. We do our best, repairing and reusing as much as we can but I cringe when I have to put out the workshop garbage bag.

And don't get me started on the toxic waste disposal issues. That is for another post.

Finally, there is family. A single person can go plastic-free with enough focus and determination. A relationship and family takes negotiation, organization, and leadership.

Education is the first step. Discussions about why it's important to reduce waste are essential. If one person does all the shopping then it is easier but due to how much plastic is used in what we consume, there will have to be compromises and changes to what you normally buy.

Toothpaste, for example, can be a bone of contention. No toothpaste tube is recyclable and neither are traditional plastic toothbrushes. Switching to toothpaste sold in jars and bamboo toothbrushes could get challenging. It's important to me so I am willing to go the extra mile to make it happen but I know it will take longer for others to come on board.

The perfectionist in me hates that we are not completely plastic-free and even waste-free yet but I must accept that we are doing what we can. Of course, there is always room for improvement. In addition to Plastic Waste July, there are lots of zero waste bloggers out there as well.

One of my favourites is Treading My Own Path, interestingly enough, another Aussie.

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