Plastic Free July – One Family’s Experience

If you are reading this I hope you realize by now that we have a serious issue with plastics in this world. The industry has inserted itself in every facet of our lives but there is a problem, it does not break down in the environment. At one time there was the adage of the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle. That is not good enough because we are addicted to single-use plastics and consumerism which results in an excess of plastic refuse that has become an environmental issue of epic proportions that we are just beginning to wrap our heads around. Instead try to refuse single-use plastics so there is reduced demand to produce it.

With the awareness of the plastic pollution problem you have most likely seen plastic islands in the ocean or divers wading through trash at once pristine reefs. There are calls to ban plastic bags, plastic straws, single-use water bottles… and I agree with all that because it is easy for someone who has already lived a life avoiding those things. Is it all or nothing if you are not already living this life? I try not to shame but encourage people to do better until being more mindful of resources consumed becomes a simple way of life instead of an arbitrary burden. Start small and do not feel shamed if you are starting to wrap your head around this issue.

Online there are calls to join in Plastic Free July and I encourage you to check it out. Last year my family and I joined in for all of July. It was comical at times and I thought I would share some thoughts to prepare you if you take the pledge to do this. First off, where this challenge originates is from the other side of the hemisphere so they are in winter while here in US we are getting into the full swing of summer. This means more time out of the house and disposable cutlery and cups when you are out and about.

July for our family means ice cream and a lot of time outside. Sadly, that means eating away from home and the single-use that goes with it.

Secondly my family did one of the most environmentally irresponsibly things to do in having children with regards to ecological footprint and a legacy of resources used. We did only have two kids for zero population growth (ZPG) so are working in those parameters. I say this starting out because it is sooooo easy to dump on anyone’s efforts. If you use a computer you hate children and mountains where resources are mined. If you hate plastic spoons then you hate ice cream and America. We are all doing the best that we can and if you are doing anything with a mind toward the resources you utilize then you are already more mindful than most consumers. Below is some resuables I brought to a party. This post actually resulted in a great convo with the zoo. So speak up.

Third, we are a consumer society. As much as we try we cannot get away from all plastics all together. Some people are much better at it than others and I highly recommend folks visit Beth Terry’s site, My Plastic Free Life,  because she has truly done it better than most and shares her knowledge. For safety equipment like car seats and helmets, plastics can save your life. In emergency situations like those working out of a fire camp or caught in hurricane response single-use plastics are going to be necessary for survival with resources your body needs as well as contributing to better hygiene in compromised situations. Plastics are not all bad but for convenience sake we have collectively lost our damn minds with relying on them too much.

Here are the basics our family rocks at:

  1. Reusable cloth shopping bags. If we are out without shopping bags then we loose carry items or put them in a cart to transport to the car or bike.
  2. Reusable drinking vessels. I go all-in-one with my glass mason jar, wool sleeve, and cuppow lid. I can go between water, coffee/tea, alcohol without retaining the flavor. If I need to seal like on a flight I use the canning lid. I have sworn by my cuppow for years now.
  3. Refuse the straws when you go out. We generally drink water at restaurants and have the kids bring water bottles so we do not need a plastic cup and a plastic straw.
  4. Bring a re-usable container – this is great for leftovers or if getting food to go. If a restaurant refuses to pack in your container get an order for there and pack it yourself off their reusable plates. Keep containers in the car just like your bag.
  5. Bring reusable utensils, they are easy to wipe off and clean then store back in your bag.


So there are the basics that we had down before we started the challenge last year and our experience went off the rails immediately. It was as if everything we did out and about was a challenge to our goal. We would go to our favorite ice cream stand for a scoop where we would have a napkin and the cooling system would be down so the flavors we would get would magically end up in a cup with a spoon when that had never happened before. The kids did a reading challenge through the library and received free Chipotle meals that suddenly came with overpackaged blueberries instead of the free-standing clementine. We would go to restaurants refusing their cups for the kids and they would arrive anyway despite water bottles being on the table. I had an event at an institution that celebrating plastic pollution awareness where I brought our own reusable stainless steel cups and utensils and would receive single-use items or they would be used in making my order then thrown away. It was damn right infuriating until I got over myself to find it comical.

These are consumer habits that are prevalent outside of just you as an individual. Have a sense of humor with yourself if you goof up on something. Take a breath and try to have a sense of humor when someone providing you something as a consumer loads you up on single-use waste. This pledge you are taking is a conversation starter, not a battle for perfection at this time for our planet. Refine and challenge your habits. Below is an example of me not keeping my cool about a business goofing up. Do not be me.

This is the shit that drives me absolutely bonkers!! I ordered everything for here to avoid wasting a cup. I specified a cup/mug/reusable vessel for here and feel a touch heartbroken when this was brought. She said she would put it in a mug if I wanted. That is not the point. This cup would then land in the trash, not even a recycling bin. ************ I get that most customers prefer disposable cups and maybe it has been a long shift or she is not feeling well. I do have compassion for wherever she is. What is so insulting though is that I was here a week ago and brought a mug from home and was teased a touch by the counter people because they have reusable mugs. ************ For anyone doing #plasticfreejuly @plasticfreejuly (which honestly I encourage you to do) be prepared for this stuff to happen with great frequency. It did for us as a family when we did the month last year even with re-usable bags, cups, sporks, and reusable containers that we took with us. Our culture is way too steeped in a single-use mentality. #withcompassion #sharedhumanity #environment

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Our biggest hurdles are plastic packaging at places like Costco for produce especially in the winter. Excessive food packaging. We are doing our best with better sourcing and growing. But as a family even we goof. We just try to do better next time. Good luck this month.

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