This movement started only only eight years ago in 2011 with a handful of participants. And today? According to Plastic Free July’s Instagram feed, in 2018:
- Plastic Free July was one of the most popular environmental movements of the year
- More than 120 million people participated from across 177 countries
- The challenge prevented 490 million kg of plastic waste from entering the waste stream
Strategies for Another Successful Plastic Free July
Yes, plastic is everywhere. For typical consumers, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed at night, they each toss a number of single-use plastic items in their plastic-lined trash cans—shopping bags, baggies for lunches or snacks, straws, disposable coffee cups and paper to-go boxes (both lined with plastic), plastic utensils and so on. Plastic overload can paralyze you. Don’t think about it too much and just start anywhere.
Check out the list below from Plastic Free July and choose the actions you can take now. You will find them pretty easy. Download the list here.
2. Consume less
Consuming less plastic becomes much easier when we consume less overall because so many products come packaged in plastic.
You could go on a buy-nothing-new fast for the month. If you do want to buy a certain something, consider waiting and buying it as a reward for participating in the challenge. By July 31st, you may have forgotten about it or no longer want it. Or, if you think you do need something immediately, get creative and try to find a solution with what you already have.
This week, for example, I’ve been baking galettes—essentially freeform tarts. Just about every pastry recipe instructs you to “wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill.” Chilling makes rolling out the dough so much easier but you can chill it without wasting plastic wrap. I use a revolutionary system. Be sure to take notes on this complicated method…
- Place the pastry on a plate.
- Cover with another plate inverted.
This works well, costs me nothing and I prevent plastic from contaminating my food and contaminating the environment.
3. Figure out what to eat
You may be able to do without many things but you must eat. When we first went plastic-free in 2011, we realized immediately that most of the plastic came from food packaging: produce wrapped in plastic and also snacks like crackers and cookies. Unintentionally, I overhauled our diet as a result of kicking the plastic.
If you want a replacement for your favorite food, there’s a recipe for that. Can’t live without Oreos during July? You’ll find recipes online for them. Check out my recipe index for many simple recipes you can make yourself sans plastic.
4. Eat more meals at home
(Update 06/22/20: You’re likely already doing this due to Covid…)
Eating at home and entertaining at home aren’t so awful. I think most of us enjoy a night in with friends. Do this and you’ll avoid to-go food packaging, the plastic doggy bags, straws and more.
I recently read about “scruffy hospitality” and loved the term and concept. When you practice scruffy hospitality, you let go of the idea of an Instagram-worthy kitchen and home and invite guests over regardless of the visual evidence that you actually live in your abode. Making your home look picture-perfect or working constantly to pay off that kitchen renovation both require so much effort, you won’t actually have time to entertain anyone.
Worried your guests will look down their noses at dirty dishes in your sink or mismatched plates at the table or the simple food you serve? Invite different guests.
5. Lose the guilt
I was raised in a very religious home where I learned all about Hell and guilt at a young, tender, life-scarring age. I never found guilt to be very motivating. If anything, it had the opposite effect. Why bother trying if you’re already doomed?
Don’t worry about doing this challenge perfectly. Just dive in and try it. When you fall short, don’t beat yourself up. Move on and try again. Tackling plastic pollution requires all hands on deck doing their best, not all hands wringing below deck, worrying over every little plastic infraction.
6. Get involved in your community
Every time my sewing bee gets together to make more produce bags or distribute them, I bombard my followers on Instagram with pictures and videos. We have so much fun doing this.
Last Saturday, we gave away another 453 bags. That puts us at a grand total of 1,937 bags distributed to date. When we give the produce bags away, we don’t merely help people refuse single-use plastics, we also educate them about plastic pollution and how to prevent it.
If you have a venue—your church, school, library, book club, farmers’ market—give a talk or workshop or giveaway or demo. When I speak with groups, I see lots of lightbulbs going off in the audience. People want to learn about this. The enthusiasm for a better way is contagious.
7. Get involved with your local government
The Plastic Free July website provides many great tips for getting your local government on board. As the site explains, once you have the community involved in reducing plastic, you can more easily discuss necessary changes with policy makers.
Here in Northern California, a single-use-plastic ban goes into effect in Palo Alto on January 1st, 2020, which bans plastic straws, cutlery and stirrers. A ban on plastic produce bags goes into effect later in the year, on July 1st, with more single-use bans kicking in later. How did this all start?
The ban on straws picked up momentum a year ago, thanks to a coordinated campaign by the city and Girl Scout Troop #60016, which conducted outreach to local restaurants and received commitments from more than three dozen of them to only offer plastic straws upon request. In response, the council declared May 2018 as ‘plastic straw awareness month.’
So if someone tells you that your month-long plastic fast doesn’t make a difference, know that it does. Grassroots activism works. Just ask the Girl Scouts.