Plastic Free July: The Pandemic Year(s)

17 ways to participate in Plastic Free July during coronavirus

Like much else in 2020, Plastic Free July will look a bit different this year, as Covid does add challenges to the challenge. But instead of focusing on what you can’t do—perhaps your favorite take-out restaurant will no longer fill your clean containers—focus on what you can do. Because we can all do a lot.

Choose to reuse

The industry couple from hell—plastics and fossil fuels—and their lobbyists want the public to believe that choosing reusables will kill us all. But the science says otherwise—reusables are safe. Look for industry to deploy its usual tactics—sowing the seeds of doubt regarding facts, questioning the science, paying for its own studies that magically show how plastic is great stuff that we should consume more of, not less.

More than 100 scientists, including epidemiologists, chemists, microbiologists and doctors have addressed the safety of reusables during coronavirus. They’ve signed a statement that includes the following:

Based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.

1. Shop with reusable shopping bags, containers and cups

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to do this. One of the current hurdles to reusables during Covid comes from stores and cafés banning them. Just when we had been making so much progress!

Take heart. Last year, 250 million people participated in Plastic Free July. That proves that we the people want to use our reusables. While I wait for reusables to become the norm again, I do save a fortune by brewing my tea at home.

Depending on the grocery store you patronize, you may be able to return your un-bagged food to your shopping cart after the cashier rings it up. Wheel your cart over to your car or bike and fill your stashed bags.

2. Order online from zero-waste delivery shops where available

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have Zero, a grocery store that delivers food in reusable containers that it later picks up. Fillgood.co, also in the Bay Area, delivers cleaning and personal care products in refillable containers.

While stranded in Ontario, Canada due to Covid, I learned about Zerocery, a zero-waste grocer that delivers in Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph (were I stayed for a few weeks), Cambridge and Hamilton.

If you know of more of these stores, please leave the information in the comments.

3. Wear a reusable mask

Throwaway masks are winding up in our oceans. These contain synthetic (i.e., plastic) materials that do not break down. A reusable mask will likely save you money in the long run. Check Etsy for loads of masks, including very cute embroidered ones. Or sew some masks if you’re crafty.

4. Wear reusable gloves

You can even make your own reusable gloves! This pattern uses fabric scraps and calls for a whipstitch but you could make them quickly on a machine. I’m thinking a rolled hem on a serger. But I haven’t made these myself. You can also buy reusable cotton gloves from Life Without Plastic.

Cook something

At the time when we decided to go plastic-free in 2011, most of our plastic trash had come from the kitchen in the form of food packaging. Cooking from scratch takes a huge bite out of this plastic.

5. Shop the refrigerator and pantry first

Take a quick inventory of your refrigerator, your freezer and your pantry before you hit the store. What can you make with what you find there? You likely have everything you need for a meal. Here are a bunch of use-it-up meal ideas.

Shopping this way reduces food waste and packaging waste (unless you buy everything unpackaged) because the less food you throw out, the less food you’ll buy, some of which may be packaged in plastic. During a pandemic, by shopping the refrigerator and pantry first, you’ll avoid the store for longer.

6. Start a sourdough starter (if you haven’t already)

Yeast shortages won’t stress out your inner bread baker if you start a starter. You’ll use it to make incredibly delicious bread that contains only flour, water and salt (or you may never make the bread and will stick with easy crackers and cake).

Most supermarket bread comes packaged in plastic bags. Eliminate those bags, eat tastier bread and learn a lifelong skill. Go here for instructions on starting a starter that won’t take over your life.

7. Ease Covid-19 anxiety: Make yogurt

To make homemade yogurt, you heat milk to about 180°F, cool it to about 110°F, stir in yogurt with live cultures from the previous batch and let the mixture ferment overnight in a warm spot. (Go here for more detailed instructions.) You’ll eliminate plastic yogurt tubs while the probiotics in the yogurt may help ease anxiety, according to this study.

Take care of yourself and others

Like food, personal care can involve huge amounts of plastic, sometimes from unlikely places.

8. Wash with naked bar soap

During this crisis, I’ve avoided hand sanitizer and have instead opted for soap—bars and bars and bars of soap. Washing with soap and water removes more germs and chemicals than hand sanitizer does. And unlike hand sanitizers or liquid soap, naked bar soap has zero plastic packaging.

9. Take off the (synthetic) bra

I apologize for the steady stream of TMI on here but I think I last wore a bra when I discussed food waste on live TV over Skype back in early May. Several women—including well-endowed ones—have told me they will never go back to regular bra wearing after Covid.

Most bras are made of synthetic (i.e., plastic) fibers. Just now I looked up bras on the Victoria’s Secret website and the first one that popped up contains 100 percent polyester. Synthetic fabrics like polyester shed microplastic fibers in the washing machine and a typical load of laundry can send 700,000 of these tiny plastic fibers into our waterways and all levels of the ocean food chain, from plankton to marine mammals—and eventually to us.

If you prefer to wear a bra, look for one made of natural fibers. A quick online search will bring up dozens of choices.

10. Choose plastic-free sex toys

Sales of sex toys have boomed during the pandemic, according to this New York Times article. Some online shops have seen sales swell by 200 percent!

If you’re on the market for a sex toy, as with a partner, don’t just settle for the first one that comes along. Avoid sex toys made of potentially toxic jelly or PVC. Look for plastic-free sex toys made of medical-grade silicone, stainless steel or polished quartz.

11. Have a healthy pregnancy

Covid baby boom jokes will likely prove to outnumber actual babies. We’ll know around November or December. If you are expecting or plan on expecting, download a free copy of The Healthy Pregnancy Guide, created by Plastic Pollution Coalition and Made Safe. The info-packed guide will help you create a toxic-free environment for you and your family.

12. Send a friend a meal kit

Meal kit sales have skyrocketed during Covid. These convenient meal kits come at a high price—obscene amounts of packaging. I understand the appeal. They enable you to assemble a meal quickly during a stressful time.

Here’s an idea: create a meal kit for a friend who could use a hand. I personally would love to find this on my doorstep. Or drop off a gift in a jar. Show you care while caring for the planet.

13. Share and barter

Are you cooking vats of soup? Baking sourdough bread a few times a week? My lovely assistant Cecilia told me today that she has been brewing kombucha for her neighborhood every week during lockdown. In return, her neighbors give her their excess vegetables or fruit.

Cecilia’s community has created an informal barter system where everyone trades whatever excess items they have. Sharing reduces consumption and reducing consumption almost always reduces plastic (the item is packaged in plastic or made of plastic, for example).

Get involved

If we want real change, we need government and industry on board. But individual companies won’t simply decide one day to do the right thing of their own volition. That would give other polluters a competitive advantage. Companies will get on board only after government has created an even playing field through regulation. And government regulation will only come about through grassroots activism.

14. Sign petitions

Plastic Pollution Coalition wants to stop corporate polluters from exploiting Covid in order to push more plastic into our world. Go here to sign.

15. Sign this petition too

The big beverage producers like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé use their deep pockets to lobby against bottle return programs. These programs would slash the amount of plastic entering our waste streams. Sign Story of Stuff’s petition to demand that these corporations stop blocking these programs.

16. One more…

And here is one from Greenpeace demanding that the big polluters phase out single-use plastic. Petitions can and do work and they take only a minute to sign.

17. Join grassroots organizations

Fossil fuel companies know that the end it near—demand for oil and gas will continue to fall. To keep the party going, they have made big plans to ramp up plastic production (plastic is made from fossil fuels). Such plants often operate in marginalized communities, such as St John’s Parish, Louisiana—one of the most polluted areas in the US and known as Cancer Alley—where residents are currently fighting the construction of what would be the biggest plastics facility in the country. This is what environmental racism looks like.

The proposed facility has license to spew 800 tons of toxic pollutants yearly into the already compromised air. Spell this out to anyone who tells you that quitting plastic is frivolous. Consuming less of the stuff will reduce demand. And while we consumers alone can’t turn off the plastic spigot, at least we can take a stand and do what we can to turn down that spigot. We can also join organizations fighting for climate justice, such as 350.org, and racial justice, such as Black Lives Matter.

Bonus step! Do your best!

In a good year, to curb the plastic thrust upon us in our off-the-rails consumer society, we swim upstream. In 2020, we swim upstream, during a hurricane, followed by an earthquake that sets of a tsunami. Don’t feel guilty for not being perfect.

Meme from @mariagranel.lx, photo from @happymindmag.

13 Replies to “Plastic Free July: The Pandemic Year(s)”

  1. A great post with lots of good ideas …have signed the petitions 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind words Carol. And for signing the petitions!
      ~ Anne Marie

  2. thatfoodguy62 says: Reply

    This is a really good, and comprehensive post. Thanks for the links to sign the petitions. Even though I’ve taken many steps to reduce my plastic consumption for some time, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about “July Free Plastic”.

    1. Thank you Food Guy 🙂 Plastic Free July has done so much good work. It started with only a handful of people! And now millions participate, all over the world.
      ~ Anne Marie

  3. Thank you for the health expert statement. I think I will email to our county health department and take it to the grocery stores where I shop.

    1. Thank you for doing that Anita!
      ~ Anne Marie

  4. Sandy B Duke says: Reply

    Wow. LOTS of great info here. I’m bookmarking this post!

    1. Thank you Sandy 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  5. Disha Aggarwal says: Reply

    Loved this post!!

    1. Thank you Disha!
      ~ Anne Marie

  6. Bitten Jensen says: Reply

    Great post. It is interesting the way PepsiCo and CocaCola fight against a return system for bottles and cans in the US. Here in Denmark most glas bottles (e.g. beer bottles), all drinks cans and most plastic drinks bottles go through a return system, which is run on a national level. When you buy something with a return label, you pay a bit more for the item, but then you get the money back when you return the container. I think the number is about 90% of all the containers in the return system which are actually returned for recycling. The few times I have been to the US I feel almost embarrassed at seeing all the drinks bottles all over. Furthermore, in the city where I live we have to sort our trash into different categories, and the government is actually working on approaching 10 different types so everything that can be recycled will be recycled. I believe that you have to have the attention from the state or council for return systems to work, since they are large systems. I hope you will be able to create a system and divert things from the landfill.
    During corona I have not experienced any shop at all which will not allow for the use of reusable bags. In a way, I really want to do Plastic Free July, but we do not have any bulk shops where I live. But I will refuse plastic bags and straws and try to gain more momentum before 2021. 🙂

  7. […] Free July blog post titled  Plastic Free July: The Pandemic Year(s). Check out all 17 ideas here to help you reduce plastic this month.  Here is idea #17 illustrating the intersection of […]

  8. Great post! Eco & the Flamingo (https://ecoandtheflamingo.com/) is a store in Chicago, IL in the Lincoln Square neighborhood entirely devoted to zero waste! They have lots of bulk food (no fresh veggies), cleaning supplies, and beauty supplies all for refill in reusable containers!

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