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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.

Preparing for Plastic-Free July

I’m preparing for Plastic-Free July, a month where I will be avoiding most single-use plastics.

It’s March.

I know.

It’s 4 months away. Why do you need that long to prepare? You already have the reusable water bottle and bring your own bags to the store. What more do you need?

There are still a lot of single-use plastics in my life. I want to find alternatives for them.

Like what?

Just walk through your day. (Note:This post contains affiliate links, each marked with an asterisk (*).)

I wash and moisturize my face in the morning.

Your soap and moisturizer come in plastic.

I put on my deodorant* that comes in a glass jar. And I brush my teeth with a bamboo toothbrush* and plastic-free toothpaste.

That’s good. By the way, that toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride in it. Ask your dentist to make sure that’s ok.

Some of my zero-waste and reusable products: water bottle, coffee mug, freshly-made almond milk, deodorant, safety razor, toothbrush, and produce bag.

Then I have breakfast – a vegan protein smoothie or a vegan patty on a toasted bagel. I get to have both on my long workout days.

The versions of all those products you’ve been buying come in plastic.

And I have my coffee with almond milk. We make our own almond milk now, and we store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

That’s because the carton has that plastic top on it, so we switched. By the way, we need to find a recipe for vegan butter since our brand comes in a plastic tub.

I use reusable containers to take my lunch to work. After work, my preferred snacks are crackers or a small bowl of cereal.

Cereal and crackers come in recyclable boxes, but they have plastic bags inside them. We’ll have to start making our own, find plastic-free brands, or switch to something else.

Oh geez. Frozen fruits and veggies are staples in our diet. They all come in plastic bags.

It’s going to be an adjustment. I don’t know if we can get berries that don’t come in a plastic container of some type. Perhaps at the farmers market.

Wait a minute. Can’t we use plastic bags as long as we put them in the recycling bin at the store?

The point of Plastic-Free July is to not use them to begin with.

Some of the plastic staples currently in my life: protein powder, contact solution, lip balm, moisturizer, and face soap.

We can still eat things from cans, right?

As long as they’re BPA-free. After seeing the documentary, Bag It, I never want that stuff near me again.

What about vitamins – and your prescriptions?! The pharmacy won’t let you BYO container for that.

That’s true, but we can at least switch to brands of vitamins that come in glass. I will continue to take my medications as prescribed.

Umm . . . what are you going to do about lip balm? You have like 5 of those going at a time.

I will find a plastic-free brand.

What about Rosie?

Rosie is exempt from plastic-free July, just like she’s exempt from my veganism. She’s 11 years old and blind. We’re not messing with her life. But I think it would be fun to try making our own dog treats for her.

What about her dog poop bags?

There may be some experimenting with alternatives like using newspaper or junk mail to pick up after her.

This is hard.

Now you see why we’re taking 4 months to prepare.

I’m looking forward to Plastic-Free July, but I have no delusions. I won’t have a 100% plastic-free life. I want to seek out and reward companies that don’t use plastic packaging and look for alternatives to products that I can’t get without plastic. This will be a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.  

Reducing the Waste I Create

I’ve watched the videos like I Tried To Make Zero Trash For 30 Days and We Tried To Make Zero Trash In Our Beauty Routines For A Week, and they inspired me to look at my habits and what I can do reduce the amount of trash and waste I create. Like many people, I recycle and I use a reusable water bottle, but I feel like I can do more, especially when it comes to the amount of plastic I use. These are some of the things I want to try to reduce my environmental impact:

Don’t Forget to Recycle by Blue Pylons from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bamboo Toothbrush: The next time I need a new toothbrush, instead of buying a plastic one, I want to try one make of biodegradable bamboo.

Zero-Waste Deodorant: Instead of buying a deodorant in a plastic twist-bottom tube, I want to try a natural deodorant that comes in a glass jar. I also wonder if something like this would be better for my sensitive skin.

Shampoo Bar: Yes, there is shampoo that comes in a bar. I’m curious to see how well this will work. It’s going to be a while before I try it because I have short hair and it wasn’t too long ago that I bought a new bottle of shampoo.

Seedling by Kevin Doncaster from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Regular Bar Soap: There was a time when we just had bars of soap next to the skin for washing our hands. I could go back to that. I wonder if I can find a bar of soap that has exfoliating properties that I could use instead of my apricot face wash.

Asking Companies to Consider Lower-Waste Options: There are certain products that I know I won’t want to give up – like my moisturizer. I can ask them to consider offering a version that comes in glass instead of plastic. At least then they’d know there’s an interest.

Reusable Produce Bags and Food Containers: Top of my list this year is to pick up some reusable produce bags so I don’t have to keep using plastic ones every time I go to the store.

I often shop in the bulk food section of Sprouts for seeds, dried fruit, grains, and lentils. They don’t advertise this, but you can bring your own reusable containers to use after they weigh it. I want to get some jars and try this.

Since my diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, I would love to compost the parts I don’t eat. I currently don’t for a few reasons: (1) I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong and create a smelly mess that will attract rodents and bugs and (2) if I use vermicompost (aka worms), I’m afraid I’ll kill them and have a smelly mess that will attract rodents and bugs. (The fear is real – I’ve killed a cactus.) My city collects landscape waste, but not food scraps for composting. If I want to try it, it appears Arizona Worm Farm sells a ready-to-use worm bin.

I’m excited to try new products as I need them and see what works.