Plastic contamination has reached every corner of the planet. And while many, many organizations and individuals have been working on the problem of plastic pollution for years, thanks to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and National Geographic’s June issue focused on plastic, awareness of the crisis has finally reached mainstream consciousness.
Plastic Free July this year will be huge.
When I first wrote about Plastic Free July in 2016, the organization’s website stated that 40,000 people would be participating. This year, that number has mushroomed into the millions. You can take the pledge to use no plastic for the month of July here.
If you’ve never taken the challenge before, it may seem daunting. The stuff is everywhere. Keep the following in mind to stay motivated.
1. You are not alone
When you first take a container to the deli counter and ask your server to please, pretty please put your sandwich in it, you may feel like a freak. By the time you have made this request a dozen times, you may feel like, well, a freak. But remember, all over the world, people will make the same request during July. Some of them may even do so in your very same store. And with Plastic Free July serving as a gateway event to plastic-free living, many will continue to bring their containers to the store well after the month ends. Eventually, with enough people saying “Please put my sandwich here,” this behavior will seem normal.
2. You make a difference
Viewing image after image of beaches strewn with so much plastic that you can no longer see the sand or reading grim statistics such as “Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans,” you may think that your efforts don’t matter. But grassroots activism—like Plastic Free July—leads to change.
And changes are coming. Governments around the world have slowly begun to ban some plastics, including France (plastic plates and cutlery), Britain (plastic straws and ear buds) and India (all single-use plastic). Without regulation, corporations will continue to produce planet-choking amounts plastic. Why wouldn’t they? The more noise we make, the sooner this madness will end.
3. You will influence others
Other people can see what you do. No, I don’t mean plastic-free paparazzi will hide outside your home ready to catch you in the act of eating a bag of chips. (But be careful of Alexa…)
I am referring to your family, your kids, your friends, your coworkers and even the vendors at the farmers’ market and the cashiers at the bulk store. Some of these people will adopt your habits and at the very least, you will start a conversation. So keep it up, positive role model you.
4. Plan ahead
Going on a road trip? Throwing a party? Starting a business? With a bit of planning, you can substantially reduce your plastic consumption or even eliminate it. This would be difficult if you want to start a business that produces, oh I don’t know, let’s say plastic shopping bags. (Are you trying to lose money? You may as well invest in coal.) But in many situations, a little bit of planning prevents many plastic snafus.
5. The best laid schemes of mice and men…
But sometimes the plan doesn’t work out. The laundry detergent packaged in a cardboard box for which your searched high and low contains a plastic liner. Your in-laws mail your kids some plastic toys swathed in plastic. You get sick and must take all sorts of medications wrapped in plastic. Yes, some plastic has sneaked in. But look at how much you’ve avoided! Focus on your successes, not “failures.”
Have I mentioned that women make up the vast majority of my readers?
6. You can find support
You may wonder how you’ll ever make it through a day without using plastic, much less an entire month. If you need advice on navigating our plastic minefield of a society or could simply use some moral support, take to social media. Search using the hashtags #plasticfreejuly #plasticfree #breakfreefromplastic #beatplasticpollution and so on. You’ll find lots of like-minded people. If you feel like a weirdo in the real world when exercising some of your new habits (see number 1), you’ll feel normal online.
7. You can just buy the bread
I enjoy baking bread so I bake bread. You may not want to bake bread or you may not have time to bake bread or you may prefer the bread at the bakery. Just buy the bread! A store near me carries Acme Bread loose and I sometimes buy that in a cloth bag for my daughter. You don’t have to do or make everything yourself. This challenge should be fun, not torture.
8. You never really arrive at your destination
Don’t expect to reduce your plastic footprint to zero overnight (or possibly ever). It took us several months to overhaul our routine and new challenges regularly present themselves. Amazon buys Whole Foods and the store no longer carries bulk rye flour (to the outrage of bakers everywhere I imagine). The deli stops selling cheese in bulk and points you in the direction of a refrigerator section crammed with plastic shrink-wrapped packages of cheese. You travel out of town and upon arrival, servers refuse to put hot tea in your thermos and insist you must use a plastic-lined throwaway paper cup. Personally, I enjoy a challenge and can usually find a solution.
9. Perfect is not an option
Hello my name is Anne Marie and I am a recovering perfectionist (and jar addict…but that’s a different 12-step program…). When I was younger, I was afraid to try things because I worried I couldn’t do them perfectly. Better to attempt Plastic Free July and fail 90 percent of the time than to not attempt it at all. A 10 percent success rate is still progress. Where should you start? Anywhere. Start with one thing—bottled water, plastic bags, coffee cups or even just straws. But do start.