Have You Heard About Plastic Free July?
Before you reach for that plastic straw…
Plastic Free July: An Interview with Erin Fay
As I write this blog post, I’m snacking on cucumber slices (which I brought to the office in a plastic ziplock baggie) with ranch dressing (one carefully measured serving in a small plastic cup). Every time I reach into my ziplock baggie, I am increasingly more uncomfortable with the fact that my snack is enclosed in plastic.
As many of you know, Erin Fay is a champion of all things eco-minded. Erin is all about minimal consumption/minimal waste, and has made many personal choices to both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.” In July, Erin challenged herself to have a “Plastic Free July,” and through daily Facebook posts, helped us mere mortals learn some important reasons to minimize our use of plastics.
ME: So what inspired you to do Plastic Free July?
ERIN: I’ve always been super conscious about generating less waste and reducing plastic consumption. I saw a blog about Plastic Free July, and thought it was a great way to push my efforts to the next level. Plastic Free July started with a small group of people in Australia and is spreading world-wide. The goal is to raise awareness about the amount of plastic in our lives, specifically single-use plastic. There’s all kinds of great information on their website, plasticfreejuly.org.
What was your goal with your daily Facebook posts?
Education and awareness. #1 message: reducing waste can save you money because you don’t buy all that “stuff” in the first place! And less consumption means less production. Plastic bag production is really bad for the environment. And plastic does not degrade well, so dropping your used plastic bags into a collection bin is not as effective as simply not using the bags to begin with.
With my Facebook posts, people started to realize it’s easier than they think to make small changes. A lot of things that I’ve always done (such as not purchasing artificial air fresheners, etc.) were light bulb moments for some people.
What do you consider your biggest achievement during Plastic Free July?
My bathroom is now almost completely zero waste and plastic-free. The bathroom is one of the hardest places to make plastic-free (think of all the bottles of stuff people collect in bathrooms). We use reusable cotton pads, bar soap, and bamboo toothbrushes. I’m not a makeup person so I don’t have the little containers associated with cosmetics. I make sure any “trash” we generate can be terra-cycled, so I know this waste can be turned into something else instead of going in a landfill.
What were some of your biggest challenges during Plastic Free July?
Grocery shopping and eating out. Keeping the kitchen plastic-free is really difficult. Grocery store food has a lot of packaging, and eating out means needing a takeout container. In order to have the least amount of waste, I make multiple stops for groceries, and I’m trying to get to more farmer’s markets. However, not knowing what produce will be available at the farmer’s markets from week to week is challenging for meal planning.
Plastic is everywhere, and going plastic-free is pretty scary to a lot of people. Do you have any tips?
Yes! Start small to “re-train” yourself to think differently about consumables. The easiest thing you can do is REFUSE – refuse disposable silverware, cups, straws, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, etc. Once you change some of your habits and just become more aware, it will get easier to make other changes. Here are suggestions for a phased approach:
BEGINNER: You’re just beginning this plastic-free effort. You can get started by replacing these top 4 single-use plastics with eco-conscious alternatives:
- plastic bags (use reusable bags, even for produce)
- plastic water bottles (use glass or stainless steel reusable water container)
- coffee cups (use stainless steel travel mug)
- straws (stop using, or purchase your own stainless steel or bamboo straws)
#1 game changer: Reduce consumption. Think before you buy or take.
STEP UP: So you’ve succeeded in building some new habits. Ready for a bigger challenge? Let’s look inside your home, where kitchens and baths are the biggest culprits.
- phase out paper towels (purchase kitchen towels that can be laundered)
- phase out easy freezer meals (these have a lot of packaging – sometimes more packaging than food!)
- minimize toiletries (do you really use everything you currently have?)
#1 game changer: Take your own container to a restaurant for your leftovers – you won’t even have to ask and wait for a box!
HIGH LEVEL: Are you ready to make life-changing choices to sustain your predominantly waste-free lifestyle?
- Avoid frequenting places that won’t use your own packaging for food/drink.
- Make/grow your own foods: condiments, jams/jellies, canning veggies.
- Consider what your eco-friendly items are made of, and try to use only timeless and sustainable materials such as glass and bamboo.
- Check out Lauren Singer’s zero-waste blog. She can fit 4 years of waste into a Mason jar and it’s eye-opening.
#1 game changer: Make your own cleaning products. Baking soda and vinegar is all you need (it really works, people). And you can add essential oil if the smell of vinegar bothers you.
So… I can do better. Tomorrow, my snack will come to work in a reusable fabric ziptop pouch, and maybe I don’t need that ranch dressing after all. Oh, one thing I am proud of: the cucumbers are garden-grown.