Plastic Free July 2018: Reflection & Next Steps

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As if challenging myself to a Summer of Enough wasn’t enough, I also volunteered to participate in Plastic Free July and the Summer 10×10 Challenge (recap coming soon). Ever since I went down this rabbit hole of minimalism, my eyes have been opened to slow-living, ethical fashion, and now the zero waste movements. With each passing movement I join, I find myself being more intentional with the things I consume and bring into my home.

If you don’t know what Plastic Free July is, it was a month-long challenge that started in Australia that challenged its participants to reduce their use of plastic. I chose to specifically reduce my single-waste plastic (i.e. coffee takeaway cups, plastic straws, plastic water bottles, etc.). For this coffee addict, this was going to be a challenge, but after seeing too many photos and videos of marine life affected by our plastic consumption, I was ready to take it on.

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Inspired by Whitney from The Tiny Canal Cottage, I created a plastic-free kit of my own. This kit lives in my car because if there’s one thing I learned from this challenge is that a little prep can go a long way. In my kit I have: my well-loved (and a little banged up) Swell water bottle; my 12 oz. KeepCup; silverware from my own kitchen; reusable stainless steel straws from Home & Harvest (via Amazon); and a cloth napkin from Fair Sea Supply Co–all held in this beautiful handmade basket that I was kindly gifted from Globe In.

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Starting out was not easy. I stumbled. A lot. I forgot my reusable cups but still got coffee anyway. I wrongly assumed that when you say “for here,” that coffee shops will serve it to you in a glass or a mug instead of a plastic cup (see photo above). I never realized how freely straws are just given to you, and how you have to ask for them not to be brought with your water. I then started seeing plastic everywhere: how many people were using single-use plastic cups; how much food, even fresh vegetables, is packaged with plastic (I quickly bought some reusable produce bags to add to my kit after realizing this); and how much plastic is in our everyday life–our cleaning supplies, our toiletries, etc. It’s no wonder our landfills and oceans are overflowing with plastic…we consume SO much of it!

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The start of this challenge was at the same time that I had to go to a 4-day training for work that required me to commute across LA, which meant about 2-3 hours a day in the car. I took this time to listen to podcasts. In those 4 days (about 12 hours in the car. LA traffic is no joke), I binged on 15 episodes of The Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press. In these episodes, my resolve for reducing plastic and my fashion consumption grew stronger. I learned about microplastics and how there’s more plastic in the ocean than the eye can see. I got to hear interviews on sustainability from brands like Veja, H&M, and Kowtow. If you haven’t listened to this podcast series, I highly recommend it. I’m now onto reading the book that started it all.

There’s that saying that if you do something for 21 days, it’ll become a habit, and I have to say after trying to reduce my plastic for the last month, it is becoming a habit for me to bring my reusables with me where I go. It feels strange now when I am using single-use plastic. I’m trying to be gentle with myself in the process for when I do forget my reusables (and when I’m not quick enough to tell the waiter or waitress to not bring me a straw), and celebrating the small victories for when I do remember. This challenge has also inspired us to cook more at home, and to make our own coffee in the mornings. We’ve saved money and have been spending even more quality time together.

So what now? Today is the last day of July, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to suddenly go back to my old ways. It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to suddenly go full zero-waste either and start collecting my trash in a mason jar. It is a slow process, and I’m enjoying every bit of it. I am going to continue try to reduce my plastic consumption in my everyday life, and I am going to continue to learn more. I am worried that once the school year starts, I’ll revert back to my old habits (the Starbucks mobile app is just too darn convenient), but only time will tell.

I have also learned that it is better to lead by example than to get preachy and critical of others. I was so passionate about the cause that I tried to force my new lifestyle on Brandon, and that wasn’t very kind or mindful of me, because he’s learning too. He’s on his own journey. We’ve been having meaningful conversations about minimalism and waste lately, and it has deepened our relationship. He teases me with all the bags I now carry with us to the market, but I know that he fully supports me and that eventually, he’ll come around.

Here’s to a less-plastic life!

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