13 Painless Ways to Participate in Plastic Free July

Tomorrow kicks off Plastic Free July, a month during which millions and millions of people worldwide renounce single-use plastic. It began in 2011, the same year I broke up with plastic. As with most breakups, I found my new, independent status difficult at first (but also fun). I didn’t exactly miss the fossil-fuel-based material—we had a toxic relationship—but I missed a lot of the things that came inside the plastic, such as chocolates and shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste.

That was 11 years ago and I’ve since found superior plastic-free replacements for the things I longed for in plastic packages. Today, I wonder what I ever saw in plastic! I’m a bit embarrassed I associated with it at all and I will never go back to it no matter how hard it tries to win me over: “I’ve changed. I’m made of corn now!” or “I’m compostable… where facilities exist!” or “Look at the size of my chasing arrows! You know you can’t resist!”

It’s over. The food I eat today tastes better, I save money, I’m happier and I’m less reliant on corporations hell-bent on killing us all.

If you’d like to attempt Plastic Free July, I’ve put together the following list that I would have found helpful back when I started. These steps won’t hurt one bit and they will eliminate loads of plastic from your life.

Drink more water (but not bottled water!)

If you drink more water, you’ll drink fewer bottled drinks, almost all of which are packaged in plastic, which leaches toxins and microplastics into the drinks. You’ll also save money. If you prefer, filter your tap water with naked charcoal. Of course, if you live in Flint, Michigan, or another city with contaminated tap water, you can’t drink it. However, most Americans pay for bottled water not out of necessity but due to marketing.

Look for a farmers’ market near you or sign up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture)

You can forgo lots of thneeds both made of plastic and wrapped in it but you still must eat. Where I live, the majority of the farmers’ markets sell unpackaged produce without any plastic. (Occasionally someone will tell me that their market has everything pre-wrapped.) In addition to reducing your plastic, more of your money goes to the farmer (90 cents on the dollar versus about 15 cents at an American supermarket). And unless you grow the food yourself, you can’t beat the flavor of farmers’ market produce. Go here to find farmers’ markets in the US.

zero waste farmers market produce
Zero-waste farmers’ market haul

Find a bulk store near you

Bring your own containers and bags to fill with pantry staples—oats, rice, nuts, seeds, flour, sugar and so on. If you don’t have a bulk store near you, buy the biggest packages of food you can find—if you can eat all the food. One giant package of oats requires much less overall packaging than 20 small packages, for example. Go here for ideas if you don’t have access to bulk bins.

Make or buy some cloth produce bags—and use them!

I have been using cloth produce bags at the farmers’ market and bulk bins for 11 years and counting now. (Go here for the simple pattern.) I use at least 6 or 7 a week. I like to be conservative—as in, erring on the side of conservative numbers and conserving resources, not conservative as in, burn the whole world up for profit, believing money will protect me from the laws of physics. So let’s say I use 6 bags per week:

6 bags x 52 weeks x 11 years = 3,432 bags/year

And that’s just one family. If all my Instagram followers, for example, use only 2 produce bags a week for a year:

201,000 followers x 2 bags x 52 weeks = 20,904,000 bags/year

That keeps an astonishing number of plastic bags out of landfill, incinerators and oceans. If you don’t sew or don’t want to sew, you can buy these bags online, in some grocery stores, health food stores and grocery co-ops.

6 reusable cloth produce bags sitting on a dark wooden background

But on the other hand, don’t buy all the stuff

You may feel pressured to throw out all of your plastic stuff and replace it with shiny new, plastic-free versions but that type of consumerism helped create this mess. Try to make do with the stuff already cluttering your home. We can’t shop our way out of global heating. Go here for a zero-waste kit that costs zero dollars.

Learn to make a few staples yourself

I have an entire recipe index full of foods that Big Food manufactures and sells swathed in plastic: granola, crackers, pasta, bread, yogurt, pickles, natural soda. Make some of these yourself—or have someone in your family make them for you. As a bonus, these homemade versions taste fabulous and cost less money.

Make your own deodorant

I could not find deodorant that worked when we started out. I tried everything. I tried nothing. My daughter MK finally came to my rescue (and the rescue of those around me) and made me this recipe. I’ve been using it ever since. A tiny amount works for two days straight!

Shampoo with bars

We couldn’t find good shampoo bars when we first started. Today’s selection would have blown us away! Look for shampoo bars in health food stores, co-ops and online. You could also try the no-poo method but that will likely require an awkward transition period and I’m aiming for painless steps here.

Cut out the Top 4

Ubiquitous plastic bags, to-go coffee cups, bottled water and straws all have simple replacements. Go here for more on replacing the Top 4.

When you think you want to buy something, wait

If you still want it after a week or so, ask for it in your Buy Nothing Group. You might be delightfully surprised at what people will give you on there. (And you can unload all kinds of stuff too.)

Unless you have no food whatsoever, wait a day or two even before grocery shopping and shop the fridge and pantry first before buying more food. Use what you have to make a dish. You’ll reduce wasted food and the plastic packages that some of that food likely came in. (Go here for more on reducing uneaten, wasted food.)

Tell businesses to provide sustainable alternatives via the Remark app

The Remark app makes sending feedback to local businesses incredibly simple. Download the app, use it to find a company and choose several areas to rate—product packaging, bulk options, produce bags and so on. The app writes a constructively worded letter on your behalf that asks the store to make changes and emails it to the store (but without your name). Many stores have made changes after receiving these emails. In addition to asking for improvements, you can also let the business know what it’s doing right.

Sign petitions

They take only a few minutes and the two I picked out don’t ask for your home address. Sign this one telling Biden to stop approvals for new petrochemical and plastics plants (plastic is made of fossil fuels). Sign this one to tell Amazon to stop polluting the planet with its plastic packaging.

Treat yourself

Enjoy coffee or tea in a real cup at your favorite café that serves drinks in reusables, get an ice-cream cone (as opposed to ice cream in a cup with a plastic spoon) or order takeout at a restaurant that allows customers to bring their own containers.

And remember, reducing plastic pollution should be fun. Happy Plastic Free July!

In other news… My cookbook has been shortlisted for a Taste Canada award!

2 Replies to “13 Painless Ways to Participate in Plastic Free July”

  1. It was July 1, 2021 that I announced my plastic-free initiative. There are people in my life that still don’t get it, but I no longer care, except that my teenagers who complain it was my generation who caused Climate Change, but don’t embrace their inner Greta Thunberg. I even brought her book home from the library two nights ago and they didn’t even glance at it. However to be fair, yesterday was the last day of school, and they still had assignments they were working on due when I showed them the book. I will give them a few sleep-in until noon days and show them once again. I am pleased with my progress in terms of only 1/2 paper garbage bag taken to Recycling center in March 2022, and most of it was from Santa, you would think he knew better.

    A co-worker who wanted to get on board with no-plastic in their home, and I have given her site suggestions, including yours, has suggested I start a no-plastic club at work with BB lunches. I have been thinking of it, I was horrified when I attended a retirement party for a co-worker last week put on by “work”, and yes it was a sunny day, a rare event here now, however with plastic tablecloths, plastic wine cups, take-out in Styrofoam containers, plastic presents among gifts. All not necessary. My supervisor is not the easiest to accept worker’s opinions, and I remember standing in horror when I and another co-worker were asking her, while standing next to a pile of circa 1990 plastic toys, “What do we do with the toys that the Refugee program workers want to update their (circa 1970 plastic) toys with for their playgroups?” She said, “Well, there is a bin down below in the parking area”, we both knew that one was a huge metal container for garbage. There was barely any recycling going on at that office. I did my best to distribute left-overs to foster families, not all of it was luggable. I was pleased to see the Keurig coffee making machine did not make it to our new building/office. I hope it was properly recycled. I will continue on my journey of “it I don’t buy it, they won’t make it”.

    I can only afford the local Farmer’s Market at the end of their day when the rain has started pelting down and farmers are literally giving their produce away as they try to pack up everything before it all gets drenched. This is metro Vancouver, and the food costs here are thought the roof. I did find a Korean produce market where I can get my Clean 15 produce plastic free.

  2. *refugee program workers don’t want”

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