Yes, It’s Plastic Free July. Yes, I’m participating…you can check out why here.
I’ve been cutting back on plastic use, particularly single use plastics for a years now. I’ve read innumerable books and blogs, listened to podcasts…and I’ve eliminated a lot of plastic waste.
That said, I do have a few cautions if you are just getting started.
Embrace the Imperfection
In our current paradigm plastics are inescapable. Our systems are set up to create products, get them to consumers where they will be used then move on to a landfill. We live in a linear system. Nature is a circular system. Until we move to more circular systems in our business models, waste, including plastic waste will be unavoidable.
Because of this, unless you move off grid and live a completely self-sufficient lifestyle, there will be some plastic. Even if you are obsessive, plastic will sneak into your life. A medical emergency, dental work, or medications will involve plastic, bulk stores receive their goods in plastic containers, computers, phones, cords etc…all make use of plastic. Added to that, there will be the server who, despite your request for no straw, sticks one in your drink, or there will be plastic stickers on fruit.
Completely eliminating plastic use in our system is unrealistic.
I bring this up because many people just give up because it’s too hard. But it’s only too hard if your expectations are perfection. If you have realistic expectations it’s far more likely you’ll continue to make changes and stick with them.
Eliminate perfectionism and judgement and be kind and gracious to yourself and others.
Plastic is not the enemy, the overuse of plastic is
Framing this conversation correctly is critical. Nuances matter. When it comes to plastics a black/white, good/bad approach is not helpful.
Plastic is truly a remarkable invention and, when used appropriately can improve our quality of life. The excessive use of plastic, particularly in the form of single use plastics (cups, forks, straws, ziplock bags, water bottles etc.) or limited use plastics (lotion bottles, yogurt containers, toothbrushes etc.) is at the center of the battle.
When we name our enemy correctly…the overuse of plastic…we avoid a lot of silly arguments and unfounded guilt.
Cutting back on plastic is not a competition
If you are using a reusable grocery bags, awesome. If your family of four only produces one jar of trash in a year, awesome. If you have started carrying a water bottle, awesome.
Not everyone has access to the same things, has the same lifestyles, or priorities. It’s not a competition or a race. There is no checklist or set of rules.
Every change you make is a win. Take inspiration from others, but realize that everyone’s journey will look different.
Don't throw away the plastic already in your house
Going plastic free does not mean throwing all of your plastic out and purchasing all new, cute, wood items…despite the pictures on Pinterest and Instagram. If you have plastic containers you should use them until they can’t be used anymore, then recycle or repurpose them. Best to get whatever use you can from them first. (Many of my old plastic containers, squirt bottles etc. have gone into the outdoor play bucket for my toddler granddaughter as our tiled patio isn’t glass friendly.)
If you have shampoo, liquid soap, and cleaners in plastic containers…use all of that stuff up before you shop for alternatives. And, keep and repurpose the containers if they are still in good shape.
Bamboo toothbrushes are a great swap…but not if you have a drawer of brand new plastic ones. Either use them first, or donate them to a homeless shelter.
I’ve read complaints that plastic free or zero waste living is for rich, white, millennial girls. Nothing could be further from the truth. Living sustainably is far cheaper in my experience, but only if you think before making impulse purchases.
Start small and build one habit at a time
Small changes that you stick with over time will have a greater impact than going all out for 2 weeks and then giving up. The easiest places to start are with single use plastics.
Likely, you have a water bottle and travel coffee mug somewhere in your house. Get in the habit of keeping them with you and using them. Simple, but significant.
Look through your trash and assess which swaps you could make that would have the greatest impact, then choose one or two changes to focus on. When those become a habit, try something else. Slow and steady wins the race.
Not a 'to do' list, but a 'to be'
We are all busy and have long lists of things to do. Convenience is the major reason people overuse plastic, and the idea of going plastic free seems like it will add dozens of items to your ‘to do’ list. I get it.
For me, I had to get clear on why I wanted to change my lifestyle. Much of my thought process was on lining up my values with my actions. Having grandchildren challenged me to consider the world I’m leaving them, being a person of faith challenged me to consider how I was caring for creation.
Who I want to be, the relationship I want to have with creation is what I think about. I don’t obsess about a checklist of things to do, or the occasional plastic that comes into my life. Instead I try to be aware and intentional, and to think a bit differently about my relationship with material possessions.