21 Days of Refusing Plastic
For the past year I have attempted to reduce the plastic that seems to consume our lives. I buy dried goods in the bulk section of stores; when deciding between 2 very similar products, I purchase the one with less plastic wrap; I bring my reusable water bottle everywhere I go. This year I have made a lot of changes but recently I felt myself becoming lazy. So to fuel my motivation and feel inspired again, I decided to participate in 21 days of refusing plastic.
Prior to starting my 21 days of refusing plastic, I felt unsure if I could do it. Unfortunately our world and society is not designed for this type of lifestyle.
Plastic is constantly surrounding us and ending up in our oceans, landfills, and animals. I wanted to do what I could to change this and hopefully encourage others to do the same.
Although it does take effort, it is not as difficult as you may think. I learned there are small decisions we can make every day that go a long way. These are actions like asking for “no straw please” at restaurants/bars, providing your own cups at coffee shops, and bringing your own Tupperware for leftover food. During my 21 days I realized these are actually very simple choices, but require some thoughtful preparation. I always tried to have a mason jar in my car for drinks or leftover food, had a reusable fork in my bag for lunch, and I got in the habit of ordering my beverage at restaurants without straws. Straws take a very long time to decompose (if ever) and are often unnecessary so this is an easy one for others to try!
Grocery and other types of shopping required a little more thought. Like I said, I have been trying to adapt this type of lifestyle for about a year, so I was already familiar that some stores had a great bulk section and also encourage customers to bring their own containers. I live in Gilroy, CA so our local grocery store has a great selection for the basics (flour, sugar, cereal, etc.) but I had to venture out of the area to purchase other items such as spices, snacks, bread, and toiletries. I went to New Seasons Market in San Jose a couple times and came with a plan. I brought my own sewn cloth bags (~12x14in, also available on Amazon) and many mason jars. Cloth bags are great replacements for produce bags, bread from a bakery, or to carry dried bulk goods such as oatmeal. I brought these with me every time I went to the store. I used my mason jars and small glass containers for things such as flour, spices, rice, and almond butter. When bringing your own glass containers, it’s important to weigh the container first to know the tare weight. While I was shopping I would create a list of items I was buying in bulk, their UPC code that’s entered at the register, and the tare weight. If I was friendly and had all of this information easily ready to give to the cashier, I didn’t have any problems. It’s important to understand that it’s clearly not the quickest way for the employees to do their job, so please be understanding and patient. Perhaps others in line around you will notice that this store promotes this type of shopping and they will bring in their own containers next time!
After running out of shampoo during my 2nd week of this 21 day challenge, I made a trip to Aptos and visited a very small and lovely natural foods store. They have extremely large bottles of lotions, shampoos, conditioners, body wash, olive oil, and so much more. It is called Aptos Natural Foods and I highly encourage you to make a trip! Once again, please remember to weigh your containers before and either write them on the empty bottles or have a clear list to refer back to when checking out. I learned that you may have to drive a bit further for your supplies than the simple solution of running to the nearest Target. But I came prepared, bought when I needed, and ended up with a beautiful day exploring Aptos and Santa Cruz. I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise.
It takes time. Sometimes I was so focused on trying to limit my plastic that I sometimes got angry at things that were out of my control. One day my sweet boyfriend went to the store and brought home packaged oatmeal chocolate chip cookie mix. Instead of being thankful that he wanted to bake cookies on our night in, I was upset that it was wrapped in plastic out of convenience and we have our own ingredients at home.
My advice for those who are interested in this lifestyle is to start small.
From the books and articles I’ve read, it can take years to obtain a “zero waste” lifestyle. Start by refusing single use plastics such as water bottles, coffee cups, to-go containers, straws, etc. Once you start bringing your own cups or making your own smoothies, you will gain a sense of awareness about how much single use plastic we use every day. Yes, it is depressing. Most of these plastics, even if they end up in the recycling bin, will probably not be recycled for their entirety. But that should inspire you to form these habits and encourage others to do the same. I think we can all agree that food and drinks taste much better when consumed from glass or wood containers instead of plastic ones. Also, it doesn’t hurt to ask! Often times I would be afraid to ask the employee behind the counter to place my bread in my own bag or my sandwich in my own tupperware. The worst thing they can say is no; however, 9/10 times they would be more than happy to. Remember that a smile and a “please and thank you” can go a long way.
Why should you consider a lifestyle that reduces the use of plastic?
It’s easier than you think.
The majority of plastic ends up in the landfill and one piece can take hundreds of years to disintegrate (thus raising the global temperature).
Recycling is good but it takes a lot of resources and is unable to use 100% of the material - it is much better to refuse, reduce, or reuse!
China has currently banned their import of waste and plastics minimizing the amount of plastic that is actually being recycled into something new.
You probably don’t need half the amount of plastic you are buying - saving money.
Plastics often contain chemicals that leach into our bodies like BPA, which can cause harm to our bodies or even cancer.
It reduces your garbage and recycling costs.
And although it may not seem like you consume a lot of plastics, multiply that by the 7.6 billion people living on our planet…
After my 21 days of refusing plastic, I felt as though I made an impact (at least in our household). I wasn’t ready to stop and there was no reason to. I ate better meals because they were planned, I got creative with items to purchase (and realized how versatile things are), and significantly reduced my waste. Of course there were times I slipped. I was craving my favorite type of cheese which comes wrapped in plastic. I bought multiple Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because it makes me happy. And I went to a party with only plastic utensils to eat with. These things will happen and that’s okay. We make countless decisions every day and I learned to take more time with some of these choices. It’s easier to purchase the packaged cookie mix than to bake your own; take notice and try your own recipe next time. By participating in these 21 days of refusing plastic, I gained an overall awareness of our consumption habits that I want to share with others. Start with the simple choices until they become habits and continue to build on them. Think through your purchases and make the extra effort - no act is too small.
Author: Molly Goldsmith | @mollygoldsmith | http://www.ahappytinylife.com/