Happy Plastic Free July to all! We are now a week into the challenge–congratulations for making it this far! For those who have maybe ignored it for a day or two or are frustrated with where you’re at, this is your call in to reset and try again.
As you become more aware of the ubiquity of plastic, it is very natural to become overwhelmed. How could we allow a material that takes centuries to break down to permeate every corner of our lives? How does refusing a bag at the store save plastic if the bag is already in the store? What can I, a single person, possibly do to solve this massive problem?
I had an experience a few years ago where I walked into a Wegman’s (my favorite chain grocery store) and was flabbergasted by the amount of plastic in there. I got a headache walking around, looking at all the “future trash” in the isles. I had been in grocery stores before of course, but in this moment the reality of problem hit me hard. I am still learning to manage my own overwhelm in the face of this issue. When your worldview is changing it will not always be easy or pleasant.
Survival during this month of abstaining from single use plastic is TOUGH. More than anything though, it’s about mindset. I’ve got some tips below to keep you on course for the rest of the month, or whenever you want to avoid plastics. Best of luck to all!
1. It’s the habits that count.
Everyone on Instragram throws around these infographics at the beginning of Plastic Free July that show you “15 Ways to Avoid Plastic”. Whoa! That’s a lot of things to keep track of! When you’re just starting out, it can be super frustrating–you learn about these things you’re supposed to be doing to help the earth but you can’t keep track of them all and you get so discouraged you don’t do any of them.
Breathe. You can’t change your lifestyle overnight, so don’t try to. In the end, the consistency with which you do a few things will have more of an impact over time than trying to do everything at once. Pick something you want to change for a week: bring a reusable water bottle with you when you leave the house, keep a shopping bag in your backpack or your car, practice saying “no” to straws when you eat out. Change one thing, and you’ll have a foundation on which to change other things in your life. You’ve done it before, so you know you can do it again.
2. You are part of a movement.
When you avoid plastics, it’s easy to feel like a lone warrior fighting a battle that most people don’t care about. But that’s just not true. Plastic Free July is a testament to just how many people care about the planet enough to change how they live.
When you start attempting to be plastic free, people notice. When you say you don’t want something because it comes in plastic, when you bring your own bottle, when you talk about plastic pollution, you are an agent of cultural change. If you do your thing and don’t force others to change, they will take notice and ask questions and reconsider things for themselves. Since I started making changes in my life (and writing this blog) I have seen the ripple effects of my actions in the people around me. Seeing them make changes motivates me to keep going. Talk openly about Plastic Free July, and refuse plastic with pride–you never know who you’ll impact by doing so.
3. The cards are stacked against us by a small group of companies.
Ah, capitalism. She’s always lurking in the background, isn’t she? It is widely known that major companies who use plastic packaging are the source of anti-littering campaigns, which put the responsibility of waste management on the consumer. We must now turn the tide and demand that the PRODUCERS of the plastic take responsibility for their actions and stop flooding the world with garbage.
Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Nestle are the three biggest producers of plastic trash, according to a report from Greenpeace and Break Free From Plastic. You can, and should, refuse to buy their products, but we must also take our activism to the next level by joining campaigns to hold them accountable. Sign petitions, call your representatives, and protest for this stuff. Take some of the burden off yourself and remember that big business got us into this mess.
4. Remember why you started.
Maybe you’re doing this for the turtles. Maybe you’re passionate about microplastics. Maybe you’re a concerned citizen wondering what will happen when the landfill is full. Maybe you’re doing this because this is one of the few things in the climate crisis that you can fully grasp and process (me).
Whatever the reason, remember it. Hold it tightly when you’re at the store tempted by plastic wrapped treats. Remember it when people look at you funny for bringing your own container. Remind yourself every day, and tell other people why you’re doing it. You are making the world a better place. Don’t forget.