Zero Waste Living

Plastic Free July: The What and the How (to Reduce Plastic)

Plastic has been in the news lately. A LOT. So, you may already know the issues with it. However, if you don’t or need a refresher, check out some of these startling statistics:

  • A plastic bottle takes 450 years to break down in the environment
  • A plastic bag takes 10-20 years to break down in the environment
  • A disposable diaper (which is made of plastic) takes 450 years to break down in the environment
  • 91% of all plastic is not recycled (source)


Additionally:

“Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year and can enter the ocean as large, identifiable items or as microplastics – pieces under five millimetres in length.” (source)

And let’s not ignore this one:

“1 million plastic bottles are purchased EVERY MINUTE.” (source)

Do the above stats invoke your eco-anxiety and eco-guilt like it does mine?

After reading all of that, how are you feeling about plastic?

What if I told you that I don’t believe plastic is the enemy?

Yep – even after knowing all that I know about plastic, even after seeing photos after photos of birds and turtles and other animals being impacted by plastic pollution, and even after knowing how toxic plastic can be to our health, I don’t think it’s the enemy.

I think that all the issues regarding plastic pollution is a direct result of our society’s want for convenience, cheap products, and everything in between.

You see, not all plastic is bad. There are actually lots of benefits to plastic. Some people RELY on plastic for survival.

I talk a lot about this in my post: ‘Plastic is Not The Enemy. Our Mindset Is’ so if you’d like an in depth review, go check it out. However, two specific examples of those who NEED plastic are: people who don’t have access to clean drinking water (re: Flint, Michigan) and rely on bottled water each and every day, and also certain individuals who have disabilities who can’t use other types of straws.

Plastic is also beneficial in settings such as medical facilities for sterilization. Again, I talk about this more in the post linked above, but hopefully you get where I’m going.

I personally believe that plastic has become an easy scapegoat for avoiding looking at our own personal consumer habits (for those of us who are able to give up single-use plastics). It’s easier to place blame on the subject than it is to take a long look inside and change.


Other reasons may be because we simply don’t know any better. Maybe you grew up drinking out of plastic water bottles for everything. It’s just the way it was.


However, now that you know differently, it’s time to make a change!


Ok. Now that we got that out of the way. Let’s move on to another (potentially) hard truth.

If you have the resources to give up single use plastics, you should! Not everyone does. As shown in the above statistics, plastic, while having benefits, is obviously not great – otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And (again, obviously) there are real issues with it polluting us and the environment.

The good news is that it is really easy to swap some of those single use plastics for reusable ones!

Enter Plastic Free July.

Plastic Free July is a 120 million person large movement that is happening in over 177 countries (source). Basically, you commit to reducing single-use plastic for the month of July, with the idea that you will develop habits that will continue after July is done.

There is an entire website dedicated to Plastic Free July, so I’m not going to repeat everything they talk about on their own website. If you’re interested in learning more about it, I’d highly recommend checking out the website. The information is good: you can sign the pledge and also learn about different ways to make plastic swaps.

I’m also not going to reinvent the wheel and list everything they do on how to reduce plastic (plus that would be illegal). Instead, I’m going to provide some of my own resources – starting at if you’re a beginner all the way to more ‘advanced’ tips. These of course are not all inclusive.


Tip: Be sure to read all the tips, because certain ones that I label in a category may seem easier for you!

Finally, note that the ‘advanced’ tips are categorized as that simply because they require more resources than the other categories, not necessarily because they’re hard.

Let’s get into it!

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All Levels

These tips are for those at any level of waste/plastic reduction!

Contact companies

One of my favorite treats is bubble tea. What I don’t love about it is that it comes in a thick plastic cup with a plastic lid. When I think about it, that cup is going to sit in a landfill for 450 years for maybe 30 minutes of my pleasure while I drink up the deliciousness.

A month or two ago, I reached out to the company I frequent and asked them if they had any plans for changing their packaging. I mentioned some plastic statistics as well. Consumer feedback drives change.

Reach out to companies you frequent that don’t use sustainable packaging, and ask what their plans are to reduce plastic. Express your wishes! And in the meantime, bring your own containers!

Contact local and national government officials

While you’re contacting companies, take a look at the environmental initiatives in your city and at a national level. When I looked at mine, I noticed there weren’t any listed on their website, so I reached out and inquired!

Research your public officials and see what their stance is on environmental laws, for example. Send them emails and encourage them to support certain bills currently making its way through the system. Remember that they work for YOU.

As with companies, we have the power through our voices to encourage change. Use it!

Speak up at work, school, etc

Another great way to induce change is by talking about it! A lot of times we are going through life doing things just because ‘that’s always how they’ve been done’. Encourage your office to use a reusable keurig cup, for example. Ask about composting in the school cafeteria.

Sometimes things aren’t being done because no one has stepped up to take initiative.


Just Starting Out – Beginner

Are you just starting out reducing waste/plastic? Great! Here are some tips to start:

  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Use apps like FindTap and WeTap to find places to fill up your water bottle while traveling/out and about
  • Use a reusable coffee mug instead of using a disposable coffee cup (disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic)
  • Bring your reusable bags at the grocery story and farmer’s market
  • Use a reusable bag instead of plastic produce bags
  • Buy items second hand to reduce packaging waste
  • Pick up litter!
  • Join a supportive community to facilitate your journey. I run a group called ‘Trash Talkers’ on Facebook that in my humble opinion, is great!
  • Reduce your junk mail! Contact companies directly or check out my tips at the end of the post (12 Zero Waste Resources you can Implement in 5 Minutes or Less)
  • Switch out plastic sandwich and storage bags for reusable options
  • Use your local library


Why plastic is not the problem


Intermediate

Have you already got your foot in the waste/plastic reduction door, but looking for some next steps? Here are some tips:

  • Bring your own container for takeout, leftovers at a restaurant, at the bakery, etc.
  • When shopping in bulk: bring your own containers
  • Shop in bulk!
  • Start paying attention to food packaging at the store. Are there items you can live without? Buy in a non-plastic container? Make at home?
  • Start reducing overall consumption
  • Plant a garden! This helps reduce packaging waste, emissions, and more.
  • Start looking at product packaging: cleaning supplies, paper goods, household goods, etc. What can you replace with reusables (using what you have or finding secondhand)?
  • Going to a party/picnic/festival? Bring your own reusable silverware and plateware (and of course your reusable water bottle)
  • Use an app like Olio and reduce food waste in your community
  • Learn how to reduce gift wrap waste – here is a guide


ways to reduce plastic


Advanced

Here are some tips that I consider ‘advanced’ because they require more research, time, money, and other resources, not necessarily because they’re extremely difficult. Here they are:

  • Pet supplies: start looking for replacements for cat litter, pet food, doggy bags, etc.
  • Research companies that value reduced packaging and try and support as much as you can
  • Cloth diapering
  • Get a bidet
  • Organize a litter pickup event in your neighborhood/local community
  • Learn to make your own products, and consider teaching a class!
  • Read books about reducing waste. I list a ton of options in this post.
  • Switch to a menstrual cup/reusable pads/period underwear
  • Host a waste-free/low waste party/event/holiday
    • I have a number of holiday related posts where you can find such tips here


single use plastic


Additional Helpful Resources:


What are some of your favorite plastic/waste reducing tips? Resources?

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Ashley M Havecker
Guest

I did cloth diapers and it helped a ton. We also stopped buying water bottles and only use a water filtration system now. I switched all my plastic tupperwear to glass because it last longer and doesnt break down. I love this post and now I have a few more ideas to have a plastic free July!

Carrie
Guest

Thanks for the post!!! I am currently reducing my waste enormously so I loved reading your tips! Also, glad you reach out to companies, definitely something I’m going to do, too!

Kristina
Guest

Love this! I try to use minimal plastic and do thinks like use reusable bags at the grocery store, drink from a stainless steel tumbler, and not use straws at restaurants for example. I live in Florida and I’m always picking up trash off the beach and wouldn’t you know, a lot of it is plastic, sadly. It’s bad because it can kill the sea turtles. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be checking out the July pledge and sharing as well.

Janferie MacKintosh
Guest

Fantastic post, loads of helpful ideas to reduce plastic waste. I’ve been reducing our family’s plastic waste for quite a few years. We used reusable nappies and have now passed them on a family member to use with her baby too. I have a Community re-use project where I crochet breadbags into baskets and shopper/beach bags. Local people now keep them for me instead of throwing in the trash. I’ve reused over 300 now and have a few hundred more stashed in my cupboard!

Dominique Jones
Guest
Dominique Jones

Very informative for someone who hasn’t dived to far into this yet. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights!

scatteredkat
Guest

What a well put together article! Thanks for the reality checks and sharing your voice for change! 🙂