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July, 2019:

End of Plastic-Free July: What’s Next?

Hawksbill Turtle by Tchami from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve just about made to the end of Plastic-Free July: 31 days of avoiding single-use plastics. This isn’t really the end, but rather the beginning of being more conscientious about what and how I’m consuming.

Plastic comes from oil and natural gas. It doesn’t make sense that we take fossil fuels which take millions of years to create, and then use them to create products that we’re going to use for only a few minutes and then shortly thereafter, to a landfill where they’ll sit for thousands of years.

To be clear, I’m not against all plastic – just single-use plastics, the ones that are designed to be used once and thrown away – like shopping bags, product packaging, cups, and bottles.

Plastic-Free July: How’d It Go

I was not able to avoid all single-use plastics this month. My dog Rosie is, as always, exempt from my shenanigans, and there were a few times when I couldn’t find a plastic-free option for what I needed. I made my own toothpaste, but it didn’t agree with me, so I brought home my tube of regular toothpaste that was still at the office from when I did Invisalign. I have yet to find a soy-free vegan protein powder in a bulk food section, so I have to keep buying that in plastic tubs. I did, however, cut back on how frequently I have it to only the days I have a long bike ride or a long run. (I can reuse the tubs at the bulk bins in the future or donate them to Ecomended.)

The hardest thing to give up during Plastic-Free July was frozen foods, especially frozen veggies. One of my go-to meals has been canned beans, rice or quinoa, and frozen veggies – mixed and microwaved. I have not found a store that sells fresh peas, and frozen ones taste so much better than canned.

I heard good news this month about WinCo. It’s a grocery store with the most extensive and diverse bulk food bins in the Phoenix area, but you can’t bring your own jars. Thankfully, according to people who claim they’ve done it, you can bring your own bags. I haven’t had pasta all month because I can’t find a brand that doesn’t have some plastic in its packaging, but now I have a source. (They have bulk cold cereal too.)

Inspired by Plastic-Free July

Every time I don’t buy plastic, I feel like I’m saving a turtle. I feel happy every time I feel like I’m doing something to help the planet.

Doing Plastic-Free July inspired me to make little changes, like visit the refillery and look up recipes to make my own cleaning supplies. Last weekend, for the first time, I got Rosie’s chicken from the butcher counter wrapped in paper instead of the cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam. It’s the same meat, and the same price; it just took a few extra minutes to get it plastic-free. I’ll wait a few minutes to save a turtle. (I’m vegan. My dog is not.)

Speaking of Rosie, her Milkbones come in a box, with no inner plastic bag. Why can’t more human foods be packaged in a similar way, like crackers, pasta, and cereal? I shook many boxes this month, hoping to find a box with no internal plastic, but no luck.

What’s Next?

Yes, I plan to continue to avoid single-use plastics when I can. Our problems with climate change aren’t getting better, and we’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

I want to continue to try new things, and create little challenges for myself:

  • Create a trash bin liner from newspaper.
  • Find an ice cream shop that has good vegan ice cream or sorbet that comes in a vegan cone/waffle bowl.
  • Find a brand of 100% cotton yarn to use to make baby blankets instead of the acrylic stuff I usually use.
  • Find a dry cleaner that will let patrons bring a garment bag for their clothes so they don’t have to go in plastic (bonus if we can supply our own hangers). I also messaged Rareform, which reuses billboards to make bags, and told them that I hope they make garment bags in the future. I don’t currently have a garment bag.

I plan to keep asking questions. I will ask companies that only sell their products in plastic if they’ll take back plastic container and reuse it. I will tell companies whose products I don’t use anymore that I left them for their plastic-free competition.

I want to keep learning. I want to know what chemicals are banned in other countries because they haven’t been deemed to be safe. (In the U.S., a chemical is safe until proven otherwise.) 

Trying Plastic-Free Living on the Road

I’m attending a conference in a few weeks. I will call my hotel in advance and ask if the little plastic bottles of shampoo and lotion are refilled from an in-house refillery between guests. I want to use these amenities only if they’re not going to be thrown out if I do.

The conference I’m attending is excellent at accommodating attendees’ dietary needs. They regularly give me a special meal since I’m a low-soy vegan. This time around, I also ask for no plasticware (I bring my own metal travel spork), no single-use plastics (no single serving packages of chips or cookies), no food that’s cooked in plastic, and no foods that come in packaging that contains bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, or plastics #3 or #7. (We’ve only had these things as we use them today since the 1960s or 70s.)

When I sent in the dietary update, my contact asked the obvious question: “What do you eat?” There are still a lot of foods I can have like beans, rice, lentils, nuts, fruit, veggies, bread, pasta, oatmeal, etc. I’m a big fan of PBJs and burrito bowls. I told her to tell the caterers (who I’ve been told appreciate a challenge) to think what they’d give an 8-year-old and just double the portion.

If You Want to Learn More

If you want to learn more about plastic and how to reduce the amount of single-use plastics in your life, I recommend you start by watching the documentary, “Bag It.”

It features an everyday guy who started asking questions about plastic bags, which led to questions about single-use plastics in general. It came out in 2010, so some of the information may have changed, but from what I can tell, not much. I watched it several times during the last month.

Field Trip to the Refillery

Last weekend, as part of Plastic-Free July, I visited Ecomended – a shop in Tempe that sells zero-waste and eco-friendly items. I wanted to check out the refillery before going there to make my first purchase.

What’s a Refillery?

A refillery is a similar to the idea of bulk bins, except for household items like laundry detergent, dish soap, hand soap, toothpaste powder, and lotion. You can purchase an empty glass jar there or bring your own container. (They don’t care if you bring a plastic container.)

You take your container, tare it on the scale, fill it with the product you need, and pay for it. In the future, when my hand soap dispensers are almost empty, instead of buying a big plastic refill bottle of soap, I can take my near-empty dispensers to Ecomended and top my dispensers off with their hand soap. Since I can tare my containers, I’ll only be paying for the soap I buy.

They also have a soap in the refillery that you can use to clean your home and yourself. I want to try it!

Ecomended also has a box labeled “Please Reuse Box” where people can leave their clean empty jars and other containers that they won’t use again, for other patrons to take and use, so they don’t have to buy a jar if they didn’t bring a container.

Other Plastic-Free Products

Besides the refillery, Ecomended has an assortment of other planet-friendly products, including reusable diapers and menstrual pads, reusable sandwich bags, plastic-free adhesive bandages, all-metal razors and blades, plastic-free dental floss, and beeswax wraps. I was pleased to see that they carry products by Rareform, which makes bags from repurposed billboards (so each one is unique), and Tree Tribe, which makes vegan wallets and other products from teak.

I’m so happy that my friend, Liesl, told me about this shop. I’d much rather buy zero-waste and plastic-free goods locally than online.

Ecomended is located at 115 East Baseline Road, Tempe, AZ 85283.

Recycling Plastic Prescription Bottles

We are just over halfway through Plastic-Free July! So far so good. I think the only thing I’ve bought that may have come in or with single-use plastic are two items I ordered online.

One area of my life where I can’t avoid single-use plastics are my prescriptions. I take four prescription medications every day. (Yay drugs!) I have to get refills on two of them every month, and for the other two, I can get a 90-day supply from the pharmacy.

These are my Prescriptions.

As part of my efforts to move towards a zero-waste lifestyle, I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, but the pharmacy won’t let you bring your own containers. I am in the process of switching my vitamins from plastic containers to glass (preferably with a metal lid) as I run out of each one and buy a replacement.

I decided to look for ways to keep my plastic bottles out of landfill and continue to be used as a bottle.

The Pharmacy Won’t Take Prescription Bottles Back

All my medications are tablets, clean simple tablets. You’d think it would be easy to bring my empty bottle back to the pharmacy so they can remove the label, clean it, and reuse it, right?

Wrong.

I called my pharmacy’s customer service line, and they said they don’t allow customers to return their bottles. But the rep said they have an agreement with the recycling services in some cities to get their bottles back after people recycle them.

A spark of hope! Did they have an agreement with my city?

No.

<Sigh> Back to the drawing board.

I Found a Charity that Recycles Prescriptions Bottles

After digging around on the internet for organizations that take empty prescription bottles, I found Matthew 25: Ministries. It appears to be a reputable charity.

Matthew 25: Ministries accepts prescription and over-the-counter pill bottles, and uses them to help distribute medical aid in developing countries. Many times, when medication is delivered as part of humanitarian aid to developing countries, it comes in a big package, and they don’t have containers in which to distribute the medication. Instead, people are given their pills wrapped in paper, which provides little to no protection from moisture or other elements, and sometimes they’re just put in the recipient’s hand. Our donated pills bottles can have a second life and help someone get the medication they need.

Donate your empty pill bottles Matthew 25: Ministries by sending them to 11060 Kenwood Road, Cincinnati, OH  45242. Be sure to check out their detailed instructions in advance. If you don’t follow them, your bottles will be shredded and recycled.

In preparation of sending my first donation to Matthew 25: Ministries, I keep a cardboard box from a previous Amazon delivery on a kitchen chair, where I toss my empty bottles as they are emptied. It looks like it’s full enough to ship now.

Bottles to be Cleaned and Shipped.

I’m pleased I found a charity that takes my prescription bottles and my other bottles for pills that I can only find in plastic, like ibuprofen, antacids, and Rosie’s supplement.

Rosie, my basset hound, is also on medication. (She’s old.) I called our vet, and they said they’d be happy to take back her empty prescription bottles. It feels good to find a way to use these unavoidable plastics to help others and the planet.  

Healthy Eating During Plastic-Free July

Plastic-Free Grocery Haul

I’m just over one week into Plastic-Free July. One thing I’ve noticed so far is that it’s forcing me to eat quite healthily. Most of the junk food I like isn’t available this month. Even in the last few weeks leading up to July, I cut way back on buying foods that come in plastic packaging.

What I’m Not Eating

It’s amazing how many foods I can’t have this month. When I glance around the grocery store, it seems like 90% is food I can’t eat because it comes in plastic. Most breads come in plastic bags. Cold cereal and crackers come in boxes, but within the box, there’s a plastic bag. I have yet to find a brand of pasta that does not have the plastic covered window in the box. If I want pasta, I should find a restaurant that makes their own and doesn’t use egg.

When I’m craving junk food, I can’t stop at the grocery store for a pint of vegan ice cream or a vegan cupcake. I can’t event treat myself to a single serving bag of Fritos at the office. There’s no candy, or even gum, because it all comes in or with plastic. (There are brands of plastic-free gum, but not by the checkout at the supermarket.) If I want ice cream, I can go to an ice cream parlor for sorbet or vegan ice cream and get it in a vegan cone, not a cup. If I want a cookie, there are a few places in town that will sell you a single vegan cookie, or I have to make my own.

I have notice that I have to be more mindful about planning my meals this month because I can’t have any pre-made frozen or shelf-sable meals. This means no gyoza, burritos, or vegan patties from the frozen section, and no mac ‘n’ cheese, Thai food, or Indian food that comes in microwaveable pouches or with plastic wrap, envelopes, or bags.

It also means I can use frozen vegetables, which used to be a staple in my diet. I used to have them at least once, if not twice a day. My freezer used to be filled with bags of fruits and veggies.

What I Am Eating

My rule for Plastic-Free July is that I’m allowed to eat anything that comes in plastic that was in the house when the month started. So, I can have protein powder, coffee, and the bit of frozen fruit and veggies that are in the house.

Most of my food these days comes from the produce section and the bulk bins. I picked up a lot of fresh fruits and veggies this past week, using my reusable mesh produce bags. From the bulk bins, I make sure I always have oatmeal, lentils, rice, and quinoa in the house – also using reusable containers. That’s also where I get raisins, sugar, pumpkin seeds, and corn nuts. My store also has bulk bins for bread, so I was able to pick up some bagels and wheat rolls last week.  

I have dry beans in the house, but it’s been so hot lately, I don’t want to heat the house cooking them. Instead, I stocked up on beans in cans that don’t have BPA in the lining. My go-to meal in a pinch is rice, beans, and a vegetable, topped with a little salt, pepper, and vegan butter. I can also go into the store aisles for canned tomatoes, olives, and pineapple; and peanut butter, jam, oil, pickles, vegetable broth base, and condiments in glass.

Make my own oat milk and vegan butter, so I don’t have to buy them in plastic containers. I recently discovered a recipe for chickpea salad sandwiches, which is delicious. I may try to make my own vegan patties this month since I can’t buy the frozen ones.

I also plan to visit the farmer’s market this month to see what’s grown locally that’s in season. That’s probably the only place I might find plastic-free berries this month. Maybe I’ll find a vendor who sells pasta without plastic packaging.

Plastic-Free July: The Rules

I am doing Plastic-Free July this year. The goal is to avoid using single-use plastics. This event was started in Western Australia in 2011. According to their website, they’ve had over 120 million participants in 177 countries take part to date.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dwysiu/8576080315
Every time I forego a plastic option, I feel like I’m saving a turtle.
“Turtle Canyon” by David W. Siu from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

These are the rules I’ve set for myself:

It’s ok to use the single-use plastics that I already own. (No, I did not stock up heading into this month.) You will still see me using lip balm, flossers, and cleaning supplies that come in plastic. I figured since I already purchased them, they’re destined to go to landfill whenever I get rid of them, so I might as well use them for their intended purpose so as not to be wasteful. I have a few plastic shopping bags under the sink, but I want to try some alternatives to plastic waste bin liners.

When I shop, I will use my reusable produce bags and tote bags, or not use a bag at all. (I love when stores give you a token for not taking a bag, and in turn, you put to the token in the bucket for a charity, where each token will be five cents that the store donates.)

No purchasing produce that comes in plastic – like cauliflower, salad greens, and baby carrots. Many stores sell grapes, and cherries in plastic bags. For those, I’ve been taking a little from multiple bags and putting them in my reusable bag. So far, no one’s looked at me strangely when I’ve done it. (They’re not pre-weighed out, so it doesn’t hurt anyone.) I’ll probably have to buy less produce per visit and go twice a week instead of just once to make sure nothing goes bad.

Check out the farmers market.

Don’t buy packaged foods that come in plastic. This includes all frozen foods, chips, crackers and cereal that have plastic bags in the box, peanut butter in plastic jars, vegan butter, and bread. Instead, I’ll buy things that come in paper, glass, and metal cans that don’t have a BPA liner.

Hit the bulk bins for staples like rice, oatmeal, lentils, and raisins. I re-use plastic bags and bring my own jars for bulk foods. Since I can’t have office snacks that come in plastic, I’ll also get vegan snacks from the bins. I was pleased and relieved to find bread loaves, rolls, and bagels that don’t come in plastic.

Buy vitamins in glass jars.

Drink water from the tap, not the bottled water service at the office. (The delivery person also brings La Croix in cans. I can have that if I want.) I have a reusable water bottle with me most of the time.

Always refuse plastic straws. I’ll carry my metal travel mug and foldable spork with me as needed.  

If no plastic-free option is available, then shift to lower-plastic option if possible. For example, my deodorant comes in a glass jar but has a plastic lid. It’s better than buying an all-plastic version. I buy sunscreen in a metal can with a plastic dispenser, which is better than an all-plastic tube.

Try to avoid using paper products if I know plastic is involved. I keep a hand towel in my desk at work to use a napkin and potholder for my lunch. This month, I’ll also take it with me to the bathroom since paper towels come in plastic.

As always, Rosie is exempt from my shenanigans. Though, I’m happy to report that I found a butcher shop that says they wrap all their meats from the display case in paper, so I can get her chicken sans plastic. (Yay!)

I’m six days into Plastic-Free July, and so far, so good. There have only been a few instances where something I wanted didn’t have a plastic-free alternative, and a handful of times I’ve had to walk back to my desk with wet hands because I forgot to bring my towel with me to the bathroom.