Have you heard about Plastic Free July? It’s a decade-old movement to get people to reduce their use of single-use plastics. The hoped-for result: cleaner streets, lakes, rivers, and communities, with far fewer of those pesky discarded plastic objects that simply… never… decompose.
Originating from Australia – the land mass closest to the legendary Giant Plastic Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean – this idea is getting traction around the world. Millions of people in more than 190 countries have signed up to participate in Plastic Free July this year. (Check it out at plasticfreejuly.org)
Are you a plastic-free wannabe, like me? It’s a compelling concept: just “choose to refuse” single-use plastics like filmy grocery bags, soft drink straws, throwaway soap dispensers, and packaging on fruits and vegetables. Should be easy, right? Well… read on.
According to the Plastic Free folks, the first step is to notice how, where and when single-use plastic is in our lives. So, over the course of a week, I kept careful track, noting each offending item in a small (paper) notebook. What I realized was pretty depressing. I was personally handling a bare minimum of 10 one-time-use plastic items every single day. From the filmy grocery bags enveloping my oranges and snap peas, to the plastic bottle of water I bought to slake my thirst, to the electric toothbrush I discarded when the battery died, I was – and am – awash in plastic.
Plastic is lightweight, durable, moldable, and clean. It’s incredibly cheap to manufacture and it can be made to be tough as nails. It also takes forever to break down. That plastic fruit bag has an average use of about 10 minutes, according to Plastic Free Foundation. It will take more than 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. If it ends up in the ocean, it looks exactly like a jellyfish to a hungry sea turtle.
Given the ubiquity of single-use plastic, not to mention its sheer volume, it’s tempting just to shrug and move on to an easier campaign. World peace, anyone? But the folks at Plastic Free Foundation (plasticfree.org) have lots of ways to break the work of reducing plastic use into doable steps. Check out this 31-day calendar for ideas (and note that Plastic Free “July” could really be any stretch of 31 days!) Here are a few of their tips:
1. Start small: eliminate just one single-use plastic at a time. For example, just say no to the paper-wrapped plastic straws that come with fast food soft drinks. Who needs ‘em, really?
2. Once you’ve triumphed over straws, tackle the next target. How about plastic bags? Eliminating their use might seem nearly impossible; Americans use an average of 365 plastic bags a year. But people in Denmark use an average of four a year! If the Danes can do it, surely we can, too.
3. Ready to ramp up? How about giving up plastic bottles? Just about everyone has one of those reusable water bottles by now. Dust it off and fill it with tasty tap water and take it along with you to work or school. Forgot your water bottle at home and need to buy something to drink now? Go for recyclable glass or metal alternatives to the drinks sold at convenience stores.
Using fewer plastic items can be a fun process, but it can also seem endless. There’s just so much plastic out there! Consider, though, that the stuff was invented 100 years ago. It will take us a while to undo the damage we’ve done to our health and our environment through careless use of plastics. So let’s take it one day at a time…starting on a day this July.
Patricia Ohmans founded Frogtown Green, a volunteer-powered initiative to build green beauty in the Frogtown neighborhood. We plant trees, cultivate gardens and work toward a healthier environment. If you’d like to know more, our website is frogtowngreen.com. or you can contact us directly at 651-757-5970.
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