It’s time for another Plastic Free July! I have participated in a few of these since it was first started in 2011. I have already made a lot of changes in my lifestyle to be more eco-friendly and eliminate the majority of plastic and single use items, but there is always room for improvement! Plastic Free July was started as a way to make diving into the zero-waste/low waste lifestyle easier and also for people who are looking to make small changes to reduce their environmental impact.
For a lot of people, reducing their waste can be overwhelming when they look around at all the plastic in their daily lives. It can also seem expensive when you see all the pretty pictures of the labeled jars and bamboo containers and pretty unpaper towels. The best part about Plastic Free July is that you can dedicate the month to as many or as little changes as you would like. You can devote the month to making a different swap each day (I have an Instagram highlight from last year with tips for each day) or you can choose just one area to focus on for the entire month. The goal is to use the month of July to be mindful of your waste and work towards being more eco-conscious whether it be a big or small way.
I wanted to throw this blog together with large and small ways that you can change up your lifestyle this month with the hopes that you will adopt the changes for good. The idea isn’t to just give up plastic for one month, although it is still a step in the right direction, but to bring awareness to the environmental crisis so that you can continue to protect and nourish the planet we live on. The low waste lifestyle does not have to be expensive or fancy. It can be as easy as washing out your spaghetti jar and storing your cashews you bought in bulk in it. I hope this blog can inspire you to adopt a few changes, show you just how simple they can be and give you an understanding of why its so important!
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Single Use Plastic
I am sure we are all familiar with reusable cups, bags, straws, etc by now. With hashtags such as #savethefishes #ditchplastic #savetheturtles and more just like it, reusable straws have become somewhat of a trend. We all know that single use plastic grocery bags and plastic straws and cups are one of the worst offenders when it comes to plastic pollution and yet they are still being used today. These are some of the simplest swaps you can make so if you make any changes this month let it be this one.
There are so many options for swapping out plastic straws. There are reusable plastic straws, stainless steel, glass, and bamboo. If you have children silicone straws are a great option to prevent injury from tripping or falling. If you are hosting an event you can purchase paper straws (you can buy these in bulk or even at the dollar store) and they can be composted afterwards. I like to keep a set of straws in the diaper bag so we always have them on us. If you forget yours consider skipping the straw all together and drink straight from the cup!
As for cups there are limitless options to avoid single use cups. Bring a mason jar or even and old pickle jar to the coffee shop if you don’t want to purchase a reusable mug. You can buy a reusable bottle and fill it at home before you leave the house or again any old jar will due. You don’t have to spend any extra money if you don’t want to.
If you are looking for an investment bottle, there are a lot of great options for bottles that will last you a long time before needing replaced. We really like the Fifty/Fifty bottles and the Hydroflasks, but many swear by Swell and KleanKanteen. Calvin never leaves the house without his Yeti cup and our little bean has a set of stainless steel cups with silicone straws that we bring along to fill up while we are out and about. If you aren’t in a hurry, ask the barista for a drink to stay and they will sometimes put it in a mug or a glass. Some places will even give you a discount for bringing a personal cup! Starbucks gives $.10 each time!
As far as reusable bags you can find these everywhere these days! Most grocery stores have them for $1 a piece at the checkout lines and I have even seen them for $.25 at thrift stores. Places like Aldi will even charge you for plastic bags if you don’t bring your own and most Wholesale stores like Sam’s Club and Costco don’t even offer plastic bags. Instead they have boxes available that are leftover from the products after they are put on to the shelves. If you don’t want to invest in bags you can simply knot up an old t-shirt and turn it inside out or skip the bags all together. I refuse bags all the time when I go shopping. I am usually met with a concerned eye brow raise and a “Are you sure?” I use these opportunities to educate others on plastic waste.
Consider starting a zero waste car kit to make it easier to remember to ditch the plastic. You can keep a few reusable bags, reusable silverware, straws and cups for unexpected trips so you are never caught having to use single use plastic. You can even include a container for bringing home leftovers and a jar for food scraps to bring home to your compost. Add some reusable napkins too (wrap dirty utensils in here) and even a carrying case for utensils to keep them clean before use. Keep your kit in your car or designate an area by your door to store it so you don’t forget to bring it with you.
Grow your own/Farmer’s Market
Most of the waste created by the average household is related to food. Whether it be the packaging or the food itself, looking at your food habits is a great starting point. Start by looking at the items you purchase that come in the most packaging and opt for another option when possible. A great place to start is the produce bags from the grocery store.
- Skip the bag entirely or use a reusable produce bag.
- When possible purchase items in glass bottles or cans rather than plastic containers.
- Locate bulk buying options. Sometimes purchasing a large quantity is better than a lot of small containers.
- Some cities are fortunate enough to have bulk bins that are great for buying things like nuts, seeds, pasta and more without packaging by using your own bags or jars.
Taking up gardening reduces the resources used to transfer produce as well as any potential packaging waste. It’s also a great way to save money and to be sure you know what conditions your food is growing in. Start with a few herbs or a tomato plant. If gardening isn’t an option then locate a farmers market and get to know the farmers in your community. You will be able to learn all about their growing procedures, support your local economy and reduce waste in the process! Farmers markets are great for insta-worthy photo opportunities too!
Eliminate Food Waste
Now that you have sourced your food sustainably make sure you put it all to use! Use scraps for making veggie broth (recipe here) or my recent hobby dying clothing (see my creations here). Freeze or juice produce that is on the verge of going bad or opt for recipes that utilize it all such as stir frys, soups, smoothies or a tofu scramble (recipe here). Compost your food scraps that can no longer be used or make a DIY household cleaner or a houseplant fertilizer! There are lots of way to make sure our food does not end up in a landfill.
Check out my post here with more useful tips!
Clean Up Your Closet
One of the topics on sustainability that is particularly near and dear to my heart is “Fast Fashion.” I could write an entire post on this topic (and probably will) so I will try to keep it short.
What is fast fashion? The Merriam Webster definition is as follows:
Definition of fast fashion
: an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers
In other words it is the ever changing selection of clothing that is usually made in unethical work conditions, often times using child labor and it is one of the largest contributors to the climate crisis. Stores are always fighting for the attention of consumers by creating the latest trends at the lowest prices. This produces so much textile waste when the next season is brought out and the old season is tossed in the trash. There is so much textile waste that we end up shipping it to other countries.
Fast fashion is an ethical issue as well as an environmental issue.
‘Demand quality not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.’— Orsola de Castro
Many large companies use child labor and unfair labor to be able to make clothing cheaply for larger profit. The work conditions are often unsafe and workers do not get fair wages or access to health care. These companies are often the same ones that are dumping waste into our water. Fast fashion also uses our most precious natural resources at alarming rates. Just the amount of water to produce one pair of jeans is enough to make your head spin.
“Each year, 1.3 trillion gallons of water is used for dying fabrics alone, and it’s estimated that the amount of water needed to grow, dye, and process the cotton for just one pair of blue jeans ranges from 500-1,800 gallons. Global production of cotton is estimated to use 222 billion m 3 of water.”
Some incredible documentaries on the topic are:
- The True Cost
- River Blue
- The Machinists
Avoiding fast fashion is a great starting point, but what if you want to take it a step further? Opt for natural fibers vs. synthetic fabrics that are often made from plastic. Synthetic fabrics leach micro plastics into our rivers and oceans. A guppyfriend can help collect these micro plastics during the wash cycle.
There are a lot of incredible companies that are making clothing from bamboo and hemp which grow quickly and don’t require as many resources to grow. When choosing cotton, organic cotton is best, but any cotton is better than fabrics such as polyester or nylon. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides that are harmful to the environment and our health.
When its time to update your wardrobe start by hosting a clothing swap, re-purposing an old item (ex. turn an old t-shirt into a tank top, headband or romper for a toddler), hit up your local second hand stores or yard sales, and finally when choosing to buy new items shop from companies that are using sustainable ethical practices.
Clean up your bathroom
Your bathroom is one of the biggest areas of plastic waste. Perhaps the worst offenders are the micro plastics used for exfoliation in face and body washes. Make it a priority to ditch these kinds of products and trade them out with products that use natural biodegradable exfoliants. Some products use coffee grinds or oatmeal as exfoliants. Micro plastics are tiny plastic particles that end up in our water supply. They pollute the oceans by the tons. There is an inconceivable amount of these micro plastics in our ocean. Animals and marine life eat these micro plastics causing many of them to die. This is also concerning because as they travel up the food chain we are eventually consuming the plastics and the chemicals leached from the plastics.
Sea birds and other other animals are dying from plastic pollution because they are confusing it as food. See this unsettling photo here of just how much plastic one sea bird will consume resulting in death. This is far too common and represents a small part of a huge problem. A great documentary on this topic is “A Plastic Ocean”.
Each year, 8 million tons of plastics enter our oceans; that is equivalent to dumping a truckload of plastics into the ocean every minute.[Source]
Some more ideas for cleaning up your bathroom is to switch to a shampoo and conditioner bar and bar soap, or use a reusable service like Plaine Products. Switch to a safety razor instead of disposable razors. Opt for a wooden or bamboo hair brush that can be composted. (I have this one.) Bamboo toothbrushes, dental lace in glass containers and tooth powder or tablets can help clean up your dental routine. Use a loofah from the loofah squash (we are growing our own this year! future blog? maybe!) instead of a plastic loofah or use wash cloths. Switch to a more sustainable toilet paper such a Who Gives A Crap who uses recycled content or bamboo or skip it all together and use a bidet and family cloth! (Cloth wipes.)
Use What You Have
Use what you have and replace items when its time. So many people want to dive into this lifestyle and ditch everything they have to replace them with prettier fancier items. For example throwing out plastic containers for new glass or metal containers or throwing out Ziploc bags for new Stasher bags. While these new items are more sustainable than their alternatives, it is not sustainable to throw them out before they have been used to their fullest. For example throwing out plastic razors before using them so that you can buy a safety razor just creates more waste without purpose. Instead you should use what you have until you can no longer use it and then replace them with more sustainable options.
Before purchasing a new item consider if you actually need it. If you wait a few days or weeks you might realize it would have been an impulse purchase. You should also take a look around at what you already have to see if something else you own could be used instead.
Analyze Your Trash
One of the best starting points is to learn about your trash. If you have to lay out all your trash on the floor to get a good understanding of what you throw away then do it! You won’t know where you need to make improvements until you understand the areas that are the most wasteful. Once you have a clear understanding you can make an action plan to improve.
Give Yourself Grace
I think its important to remind yourself that perfection is not the goal here. Even the most seasoned “Zero wasters” often use plastic in their lives. We live in a society that is FULL of plastic. Plastic is simply unavoidable and by reminding yourself of this you will be able to truly make a difference. You won’t be weighed down by the pressure to be perfect and will be able to focus your energy and attention on making changes, advocating, reaching out to government officials and local businesses, etc. Don’t waste time feeling guilty when you use a plastic bag or forget to refuse the plastic straw at a restaurant, instead use these as learning opportunities.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef.
For more tips:
Keep an eye out for future blogs that already in the works with more sustainable tips and ideas “Eco-Friendly & Non-Toxic Sunscreen”, “Sustainable & Non-Toxic Menstrual Care” and “Zero Waste Popcorn”. Sign up for my mailing list for email notifications when they go live!
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