Hard to believe it’s already been a whole year, but it’s that time again: Plastic Free July. Whether you’re a zero waste superstar or someone just getting started on your waste-reduction journey, I hope you’ll find ways to participate this year.
Plastic Free July is a simple campaign which “aims to raise awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives by encouraging people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during July each year. It’s focus is on creating awareness of the issues surrounding plastic, particularly single-use, providing alternatives and solutions, and encouraging new habits.”
You’ve probably seen stories about recent wins like cities and corporations banning plastic straws, or losses like the islands of plastic literally choking our marine life to deal. All of these big issues stem from the very small items we almost never think of. But many small actions – whether positive or negative – build up over time and have a huge influence.
You should read: why zero waste is never zero
So don’t worry: Plastic Free July isn’t advocating for a total zero waste lifestyle. That being said, it does attempt to tackle arguably zero waste’s biggest issue: plastic.
Sounds awesome, right?
What's in this post
What is single-use plastic?
Just what it sounds like, single-use plastics are plastic things that you… use just one single time. Examples of single-use plastics include:
- plastic grocery and produce bags;
- hot or cold drink cups;
- plastic straws;
- plastic cutlery;
- water bottles.
The obvious issue is that while we use these items for just a few minutes, the materials they’re made of will be on our planet forever. Because plastic doesn’t go away, it just degrades into smaller and smaller pieces which find themselves in our water, in our soil, and into the things we eat. (Ew.)
Plus, from a money perspective, it’s ridiculous to constantly spend money on items that will immediately be thrown away. Whether you’re a household or a business, single-use plastics just don’t make sense financially!
The good news is that there are simple alternatives to the single-use items you use. Better yet, you probably already have those items in your house. Being kinder to the environment shouldn’t be a difficult or expensive experience – see the section at the end of this post on simple, cheap ways to make big changes in your life.
Read this: zero waste is more than a plastic bag!
How to participate in plastic free july
2020 update: you should go participate in Maranda’s epic #PlasticFreeJuly Instagram challenge! Check out her stories for info!
Participating in Plastic Free July means so many different things to many different people. Zero waste, waste reduction, and living sustainably means different things to different people.
Because remember – plastic is just the start of our environmental problems.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Do a trash audit. Think fast: what’s in your trash can right now? You probably can’t answer that question, can you? That’s kind of the point. We can’t fix a problem we can’t define.
- Flex your “no, thanks” muscle. Many people exploring zero waste forget that the easiest way to reduce waste is by refusing the things we don’t need. Try saying no to freebies, excess travel, too much food, and any of the million items we’re tempted to buy as we go through life.
- Commit to getting out in nature more often. I don’t like putting a number on it because one hour outside may seem like nothing at all or far too much depending on who you are! Whatever your baseline, get outside more!
- Set up your grocery shopping kit. Getting enough containers for your grocery shopping kit is half the battle. Think about your last few trips and think about the number of totes, produce bags, sealed containers, you’d need and set them aside. (And no, zero waste groceries aren’t necessarily more expensive!)
- Commit to zero food waste for a week. Get creative with your food and waste nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) for a whole week. Here are some tips on waste reduction through zero waste meal planning.
- Create a list of meals you can make 100% unpackaged. The kitchen can be a really tough place to reduce waste. Enjoy some easy wins with totally unpackaged meals. Bulk rice, bulk beans, and some sauteed, unpackaged vegatables totally counts!
- Find alternatives to plastic wrap. Plastic wrap is such a scourge and – unlike ziploc bags – rarely have a function something else can’t deal with. Consider beeswax wraps (vegan alternatives) or even just a plate stuck on top of a bowl. Keep it simple!
- Reduce your animal product consumption. While it’s not possible or practical for all of us to go vegan, science demands we reduce our animal product consumption. If you cut out animal products from your diet for one day, it’s the CO2 equivalent of driving 3 miles in your car! Try Meatless Mondays and eating less meat, regeneratively raised whenever possible. More reading about sustainability and plant-based diets.
- Start switching from coffee to tea more often. While like anything the real answer is “it depends”, tea tends to have a lower impact on the environment than coffee – particularly if you use milk in your coffee.
- Try regrowing store-bought vegetables. Another small but empowering experiment in the kitchen worth a try. Here’s a list of 25 foods you can re-grow from your scraps.
For the full list of resolutions, check out the post.
Want to make it official?
Joining the 2,000,000+ people participating in Plastic Free July is simple. All you have to do is pledge to do you best to refuse single-use plastics for the whole month of July (and beyond!). While you can just do it on your own, you can also join up for-real and get connected to the wider community.
- Sign up on the site to be counted in the official Plastic Free July numbers.
- Take a quiz to help you find out what types of plastics are your enemy (and what to avoid during July)
- Decide on specific actions you can take during Plastic Free July to reduce your waste.
- Spread the word! Share with friends, families, and complete strangers whenever possible!
- Share your success online to spread the message even more!
If you’re in Indiana, please tag any photos you share on social media with the hashtag #plasticfreeindiana!
If you’re a total zero waste newbie, you may just want to focus on reducing your single-use plastic usage during the month. If you’ve already been working on that for a while, now may be the perfect time to spread your zero waste knowledge by hosting a zero waste meetup or workshop in your community!
planning for plastic free july
Plastic Free July shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s really just about getting to know and practicing the 5 Rs of zero waste. If you’re not familiar, it’s a look at our consumption habits that goes deeper than the classic “reduce, reuse, recycle”.
The first – and most important – R is refuse. This is key to Plastic Free July success. Refuse what you don’t need. Think twice about that $5 coffee you want in the morning if you forgot your reusable mug!
Next is reduce (use less of what you do need), reuse (give each item multiple uses), rot (compost!), and then recycle.
You’ll see recycling is the last option – recycling is a pretty ineffective, energy-intensive process. It is not the great environmental savior we wish it were. Better to consume no packaging at all if possible.
Useful Plastic Free July resources
Lucky for you, I have plenty of resources already lined up to help you get ready for success during Plastic Free July. Check out these blog posts for ideas:
- Make your own zero waste kit
- How to start zero waste living, step-by-step
- Get inspired by these zero waste books
You should also search Facebook for local zero waste groups to join and get inspiration from. If you don’t have anything local, there are international Facebook groups that may not be as specific as local groups, but can still help you answer any burning questions you may have!
If you’re in Indiana, please join a nearby zero waste group. Both Zero Waste Indy and Zero Waste Lafayette are active on Facebook. These groups are a great way to ask questions and get support as you explore the plastic-free lifestyle. I also have a zero waste Indianapolis guide available so you can find plastic-free friendly places to shop.
Will you be participating in Plastic Free July? What do you think will be the biggest challenge – and how do you think you can plan for success? Good luck!