We’re spending the week at my mom and dad’s house and even though I’m spending a lot of my time hiding out in my dad’s office trying to get my work done, I’m taking advantage of bare feet, and grass between my toes, and dips in the salt water (and the neighbors’ pool).
It’s no secret that I love summertime. But a side-effect of the glorious sunshine and wanting to be outside so much, is that summertime brings with it a lot of so-called disposables. In the city, garbage cans overflow with towers of iced coffee cups. At the beach, picnic goers fill tabletops with plastic cutlery and cups. In my own life, there are plastic sunscreen bottles and marshmallows for s’mores that come in plastic bags. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s summer, but I do think it’s an especially good time for paying attention to the amount of plastic waste that we create and to make an effort to do a bit better.
Inspiration abounds in the Plastic-Free July challenge. It was started in 2011 in Western Australia and has since grown into a full-fledged nonprofit aimed at reducing plastic waste. On their site they offer lots of really simple ways to get involved, including this handy checklist. We’ve already done a lot to incorporate what’s there into our everyday lives, but here are a few things I’m trying to be better about this month (and always):
Piping up: I’ve had a few accidental single-use plastic encounters lately, mostly caused by not being proactive enough about stopping the plastic from getting in my hands in the first place. This month, and going forward, I’m trying to be more vocal about my requests to go plastic-free. I think the best route to take is direct communication from the get-go. If I’m ordering a drink in a restaurant, especially anything frozen or on ice, I try to assume it’s going to be served with a straw and simply say, “No straw please” when I place my order. (This recently backfired when a server misheard me and presented my drink with a straw and a flourish that he had accommodated my request for a straw. Win some, lose some.) Same goes for kids cups at restaurants. In most establishments in the US, servers are trained to bring kids lidded plastic cups with straws from the start. I try to remember to simply say, “These guys don’t need kids cups—glasses are fine,” as soon as we’re seated. In sum? I’m asking for what I’d like clearly and tipping a bit extra for the kindness.
Coming prepared: I’m admittedly not someone who likes toting very much along with me, and I’d typically rather do without a straw than remember to pack one, but when approaching summertime dining out in particular—especially in the kind of summery establishments that serve casual fare on paper plates and with plastic utensils—I’m trying to remember to pack our family a few essentials, picnic-style. You can invest in special gear, or just remember to bring along a handful of forks, a few reusable straws, and a few cloth napkins. On my birthday, my family ate at a local seafood joint and we packed our own cups, utensils, napkins, and wine! It was so satisfying to know that when we left, we didn’t leave a collection of throwaway plastic behind.
Thinking small: Two years ago, the World Economic Forum put out a report stating that by the year 2050 there’d be more plastics in the ocean than fish. The problem with plastics is that they break down into increasingly microscopic pieces, but they don’t disappear. Cutting out single-use plastic is one huge step in the right direction, but thinking about other less visible sources of plastic pollution is another. In our family we strive to wear natural fibers, but summertime means bathing suits and rash guards and other things that are made from a combination of fabrics that are comfy to wear in water, but not necessarily the best for it. Fabrics like polyamide, polyester, lycra, and elastane are all made from plastics that break down as they’re worn and washed and end up in the sea. I’m trying to be more conscious of microplastics that end up in our water ways and I’m currently looking into options for better stemming that flow. I recently spotted the guppy friend in a story from Jess Carpenter. It’s a bag that captures microplastics and keeps them from getting emptied along with the rest of the dirty water draining from the washing machine. Other things that help? Generally, trying to be gentler with your clothes: Wash in cold water, avoid abrasive detergents, hand-wash when possible, decrease your spin cycle, and hang dry.
Encouraging friends: My efforts to curb our family’s plastic use are no secret in this space, but I can be a little bit more shy when approaching the subject with real-life friends. I worry about seeming judgmental or sanctimonious. But I also realize that getting your friends to get on board is one of the best ways to help along actual change. So, let’s lead by example. I’ve been called Mary Poppins on three separate occasions lately as I unpack our picnic basket filled with reusable supplies. (I’m taking it as a compliment.)
+ Don’t forget to stay strong with your Plastic-Free Iced Coffees. There’s still a whole lotta summer left!
+ We’ve been using the sweet drawstring bags that the kiddos’ swimsuits came in for toting takeout supplies with us! They’re the perfect size.
+ If you haven’t given them a try already, Plaine Products is encouraging folks to switch to reusable shampoo and conditioner (they also have body lotion, face wash) this week by offering a special discount. We’ve been using their shampoo and conditioner for months now and it’s been terrific. Use the code RMTLplasticfree to get 20% off through July 7, 2018!