Plastic Free July Roundup

It's no secret that we waste a lot of plastic. About 8.8 million tons of it enter our oceans annually, and that number is growing (Parker, 2018). Last month, our student assistants Dani and Michelle joined the 3.4 million people that participated in the Plastic Free July challenge, and here's what they experienced:

  • So, how did it go?

    Dani: Overall, not as bad as I thought it would. Doing it at the same time as Michelle helped me feel accountable for my actions, and at the end of the month I drastically reduced my plastic use. Even though I wasn't able to go completely plastic free, I'm proud of how close I got.

    Michelle: It was a challenge. It took a bit to get used to plastic-free grocery shopping. But like any other thing you practice, it became a habit. Looking back at the beginning of July, it's almost funny at how comfortable I am now compared to then. At first there is a lot of guess work and being unsure if you're doing it correctly. By the end, I was much more confident.

  • What was the most challenging part about being plastic free?

    Dani: Grocery shopping, hands down. I spent maybe an hour in Lucky's Market shaking boxes of chicken nuggets to see if I could tell which ones had plastic inside of them. I was mostly unsuccessful. On a positive note, this month helped me reevaluate the amount of meat I consume, and I was able to cut back on that by quite a lot because most meat is packaged in plastic.

    Michelle: Snack foods. I like my snack foods and turns out 90% of them contain some type of plastic packaging. Giving up my single serve yogurt was tough but also eye-opening considering I have one almost daily. Also, this month I moved out of my apartment which made for some interesting non-plastic packing methods that worked surprisingly well.

  • Besides helping the environment, what was rewarding about it?

    Dani: Getting other people involved was probably my favorite part, and not just in the Sustainability Initiatives office! I was able to convince my roommates, my parents, and even a few complete strangers to take on the challenge with me. Seeing them be successful in the challenge was very rewarding to me.

    Michelle: Coming into work and sharing my accomplishments with Danielle. It's rewarding committing to a more sustainable lifestyle and to share that experience with someone is encouraging. I think more people would be willing to take that step towards using less plastic if they had someone to support and encourage them. I'm going to get my roommates on board with practicing more sustainable habits.

  • Do you think you'll continue being plastic free, or was one month enough?

    Dani: Most likely not at the capacity that I was, but I will try to maintain a plastic reduced lifestyle. A lot of the changes that I made during July—like using a safety razor, my bamboo toothbrush, solid shampoos, and carrying reusable utensils with me—I'll probably keep up, but I won't continue to enforce a moratorium on things I know I can recycle later.

    Michelle: I think it was a push in the right direction. At first it really was a matter of having the "I only have this many more days" mindset however, by the end of the month, I was more interested in maintaining some of the new habits I had implemented because of the challenge. Realistically I don't think I'll be completely plastic free, but I'll continue to reduce my single-use plastic significantly.

  • Any advice for someone looking to try this challenge themselves?

    Dani: Don't feel like you have to spend a lot of money to be plastic free! Some things are an investment, but you don't need to take the plunge all at once. Do it at your own pace.

    Michelle: Do it with someone. Encourage a dependable friend or family member to take on the challenge. It is so much easier and more rewarding when you see change happening beyond yourself. Go shopping together at a bulk store or research and bounce ideas off each other. You'd be surprised how much fun it can be.

  • Final thoughts?

    Dani: Honestly, even if July was a struggle in some places, and I had to run to my car with armfuls of groceries multiple times because I kept forgetting my reusable bags, it was absolutely worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I encourage others to give it a shot, even if it's just for a week.

    Michelle: Overall, I had fun with it. Not only was it eye-opening but also very rewarding. The experience made me stop and be more aware of my everyday habits. I got better at remembering my reusable bags and I became more confident refusing straws, plastic bags, and other single-use plastic items.

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    Parker, Laura. “We Depend On Plastic. Now, We're Drowning in It.” National Geographic, 16 May 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-polluti....

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