Hello and welcome to my plastic-free journey! Check back throughout July to see information I have, obstacles I encounter, and suggestions I provide to help you reduce the plastic in your life.
Plastic-Free July: It Doesn’t Stop Here
It was a really wonderful (and challenging) plastic-free month! Before Shay’s Way, it was easy for me to say “Oh well, I’ll remember next time.” Keeping the blog, though, made me very accountable for my plastic use and helped me remember to be prepared at all times. A few of the habits that I either created or reinforced this month include:
-Bringing my own grocery bags, produce bags, and containers to the grocery store
-Keeping extra containers and bags in my car just in case
-Making my own toothpaste
-Intensely using mason jars for snacks, soups, and drinks
-Ensuring I have a purse spoon or fork with me at all times
-Really asking myself if an item in plastic is necessary or if there is an alternative
-Regularly having conversations with employees at restaurants and stores about how I’m cutting back on my plastic use and ask for alternatives
I’m glad I took part in Plastic-Free July since reducing plastic use is more important now than ever. Did you know that in January of 2018, China stopped accepting plastic waste from other countries? This is a major problem since they have taken approximately 45% of the world’s recyclable plastic since 1992. Now, a lot of these collected materials are left sitting in storage or being sent to incinerators, landfills, or other countries.
Many countries who relied on China for processing their recyclable plastics don’t have the proper infrastructure available on their own soil. Some aren’t able to manage the large quantities of waste they receive and others can only process certain types of plastic. Additionally, the lack of a market for recycled plastic materials is problematic. Using virgin plastic is oftentimes cheaper than recycled material. This leaves little incentive for companies to invest in recycled plastic packaging and products. This is bad news for our ocean since approximately eight million metric tons of plastic enter it on an annual basis. To learn more about this issue, check out the following articles that I utilized as sources:
This information is certainly disheartening, but it also is a call to action for each and every one of us. We each can do our part on a daily basis to reduce our plastic dependence by instilling new habits and encouraging others to follow suit. Even though Plastic-Free July is over, we can continue to change our behavior by adopting one new trash-free habit a month! To help you on your journey, I’ve included a few famous bloggers who have taken their trash and plastic reduction to a new level and an infographic I created with plastic-free tips (feel free to share it!) These items can certainly help you learn the tricks of the trade!
I cannot tell you how wonderful this blog and plastic-free experience has been. The support from my friends, family, and community was overwhelming. Folks including my older brother, childhood friends (and even their moms), and my grandma all expressed how excited they were about my journey and told me about the plastic-free efforts they’re trying. I loved the conversations my posts on social media started each week. I also appreciated seeing Save Our Shores followers in person and hearing about their take on the Shay’s Way blog. Thank you, everyone, for following this journey and helping me be inspired throughout the process.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Edward Abbey. He said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” So, let me leave you with one final question: if you have the sentiment, what action are you going to take?
Thank you to everyone that followed my plastic free journey this month. A huge shout out to those who did their own plastic-free July and gave up some (or all) plastic items in their lives. I hope you each discovered new life habits that will continue beyond this month. I know I did! I’ll have a final blog post up later this week!
Photo by Plastic-Free July
My plastic-free pasta search has been very frustrating this month. I can only find it in plastic bags or cardboard boxes with a small plastic window to show the contents. I’m not sure why the pasta industry has deemed this as the ‘norm’ in regards to packaging!
My Not-So-Plastic-Free Personal Care
Personal care is probably the area where I have the most room to grow in regards to reducing plastic consumption. From shampoo and conditioner to sunscreen and face lotion, I’ve realized I’m overwhelmingly reliant on plastic. This month I’ve been using up the personal care products that I already own, but what about months to come? What can I do to stop being dependent on products in plastic bottles?
As I’ve mentioned before I believe in swapping out one item a month to prevent becoming overwhelmed and burdened financially. This month, I attempted to make my own toothpaste. I was nervous this would be a disaster since I’m pretty bad at following recipes but went ahead and gave it a shot!
Finding a Recipe
It was important for me to find a toothpaste recipe that has few ingredients, is truly good for the health of my mouth, and is affordable to create. I found a site entitled Ask the Dentist which seemed pretty reliable for information about healthy ingredients. My coworker, Nia, shared a simple recipe that includes the following ingredients:
-1.5-2tbsp of baking soda (Helps maintain proper pH in the mouth to encourage the right bacteria as well as protect enamel from decay.)
-4 tbsp of coconut oil (Can increase the microbiome in your gut.)
-1 tbsp of bentonite clay (Rich in minerals, is a natural polisher, and helps reduce acidity in the mouth.)
The original recipe includes essential oils for taste, but the Ask the Dentist site states:
“Since essential oils have antibacterial properties, they ideally should not be in the mouth. We want to nourish and feed the delicate balance of bacteria in our mouths, not kill it off! Doing so can set the stage for poor oral health, bad breath, and other imbalances.”
Because of this, I decided to leave it out. I already owned the rest of the ingredients except for bentonite clay. This I could only find in a sealed plastic tub at Whole Foods, but I discovered it was available in bulk for $1.16/oz at Staff of Life which is a local natural grocer in Santa Cruz.
So here is how I made it:
Step 1: I added room temperature coconut oil to the jar
Step 2: I stirred in the baking soda with a spoon
Step 3: I stirred in the bentonite clay **NOTE** Some sites say that using metal will “reduce the healing properties” of bentonite clay, but I couldn’t find any scientifically-based sites that confirmed this. If you are concerned about this possibility, then be sure to avoid metal in your toothpaste-making process
Step 4: I brushed my teeth with my bamboo toothbrush to give it a try!
Step 5: I sealed up my toothpaste in a mason jar with a lid and will keep it at room temperature.
I was worried I’d hate the the taste without the essential oils and the texture, but I actually didn’t mind it at all. It almost had a salty flavor and the feeling of it didn’t phase me. I’ll have to see how I feel about it after I’ve utilized it for a long period of time. I would certainly call this effort a success! I encourage you to give this recipe a try, and if it’s not right for you, keep researching and trying other mixtures! A big part of going plastic-free is finding the alternative that works best for you so the habit will stick.
My toothpaste endeavor feels like a small victory, but I still have work to do. After Plastic-Free July, I’ll strive to replace one personal care item a month to reduce my plastic dependence. Some replacement items on my list include:
-Plastic razor → metal razor
-Bottled shampoo → shampoo in bar form
-Tom’s deodorant → make my own
-Old-fashioned floss → floss made from bamboo fibers in a glass container
-Typical make up → make up in non-plastic containers (This is an area I don’t even know where to start. It will definitely take some research!)
-Glasses, contacts, contact case, contact solution → LASIK surgery (This is a BIG goal of mine by the time I’m 30ish since I’ve had bad vision since I was in 3rd grade.)
While my plastic-free month is going really well overall, it hasn’t been perfect. I’ve gotten a few pieces of plastic either by mistake or I couldn’t find an alternative including:
-Plastic bowl a server brought for Rosie. (It didn’t cross my mind to say “My dog and I are plastic-free this month.” I’m reusing it for her as much as I can!)
-Straw in my water. (The waitress included it so I could stir in the lemon better. I forgot to say “No straw please.”)
-Rosie’s flea meds. (Fleas are especially bad in Santa Cruz.)
-Fast food packaging. (I even gave back the plastic fork but still found plastic!)
Despite these items, I’ve been very happy with my plastic reduction!
Dining Out Without Plastic
The food service industry is incredibly single-use-plastic dependent. Having worked at seven coffee shops/restaurants over the last decade (including Starbucks and Verve) I have witnessed the incredible amount of trash that is produced for the convenience of dining out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that no one should dine out ever again. I still frequent coffee shops and restaurants even during my plastic-free month. What I am saying is that we each can instill new habits to reduce the trash we produce during a visit to a food establishment. Reducing plastic in this area can be daunting, but just try one habit at a time and see what can become a new regular task for you! Below are some new habits you can try out.
One Thing at a Time
Think about when you order an iced or hot drink to-go. When it’s iced, you get a straw, lid, and cup made of plastic. When it’s hot, you get a plastic lid, plastic-lined cup, and a cardboard sleeve. To start your transition, you can go without one piece of the package.
Skip the straw. Say no to the sleeve. Go topless.
Just make your request to the cashier when you order. Giving up one item at a time helps make the transition less overwhelming and allows you to make a small difference with each visit.
A lot of trash is created to package up food so it can be transported. You can oftentimes reduce your trash production by choosing to eat there instead of taking it to-go. Dining-in might require a little more time, but it also gives you the opportunity to relax and take it slow. Enjoy your latte in a ceramic mug. Eat your meal with metal silverware. Sip on your ice tea in a real glass. Food and drinks don’t taste as good in plastic anyway!
BYO___________ (Bring Your Own fill in the blank)
To reduce your plastic consumption while dining out (especially with fast food), bringing your own dishware, silverware, and glassware is incredibly beneficial. Coffee shops are getting more and more used to filling folks’ water bottles with iced coffee or tea and pouring lattes into tumblers. I whipped out my purse spoon while getting ice cream last week. I even bring my own plate when I order a sandwich to-go.
Get Your Regular Spots On Board
At every coffee shop I worked I had my regulars. I still remember one of my favorite customers, Scott, from a decade ago with his incredible order of a venti, quad shot, caramel, toffee nut, latte. Now that I’m on the other side of of the counter, I’d like to be remembered as “Shay: the little-trash-as-possible lady” or the “plastic-free girl.”
I’ve built this reputation here on the Santa Cruz Harbor. When I get tacos or burritos at Cafe El Palomar, I request for my food be wrapped in foil and no bag. At Java Junction, I take my own mug or glass and they know I don’t need a straw. I still repeat my little-trash-as-possible request with each visit just to help the employees out. I really appreciate how these establishments have accommodated my requests. It’s definitely made going plastic-free easier this month! I bet that you, also, can get the spots you frequent on board with your trash reduction efforts.
I’ll leave you with one final question: Next time you dine out, what new habit will you try?
I LOVE making crepes. The only problem is that I can’t use milk since it has plastic! This weekend I got creative and used a can of coconut milk I’ve had for a while. It actually made the crepes taste BETTER! Being plastic-free just requires a little bit of ingenuity!
A great way to reduce plastic use is switching from liquid soap to unpackaged bars. Last year I realized the bottles and pumps create a lot of plastic waste. Even if I refilled the dispensers in my home, I still had to purchase soap in large plastic bottles. You can find bars of soap without any packaging at most farmers markets and natural grocers. I now use it as face, hand, and body wash. I hope you, too, can make this simple switch!
Everyone, meet Rosie. Rosie is a dog and, therefore, is beloved by fleas and ticks. This means I had to buy her flea meds that use single-use plastic. I don’t love the packaging or the chemicals in it, but they are definitely effective. A sad truth is that the natural remedies to flea meds, in my experience, aren’t nearly as effective. I will be sure to continue focusing my plastic-free efforts in other areas of my life!
The Plastic-Free Diet: Tips for Grocery Shopping
Who would have thought that going plastic-free would redefine my diet this month? I knew adjustments would have to be made, but I didn’t realize that while planning a meal, I’d have to question, “Can I do it without plastic?” After a couple of trips to the store, I’ve got the process pretty much figured out! Below are a few tips for reducing the plastic on your grocery-buying endeavors.
1) BYOB&C (Bring Your Own Bags and Containers)
I already touched on this last week, so this is just a reminder! Bringing these items makes a plastic-free grocery trip much more of a possibility.
2) Pack in the Produce
Produce is probably the easiest thing to get without packaging (unless you go to Trader Joe’s. Even SQUASH is in plastic and styrofoam there!) Using a lot of fresh veggies and fruit can help you reduce your trash production. **NOTE** Produce tends to come with plastic stickers on them when bought at the store. I have decided to continue to buy produce despite the stickers since it makes the challenge much more realistic for me. Sometimes you have to pick your battles!
3) Skip the Produce Bags
When I buy most produce items, I drop them directly into my basket without a bag. This might seem like total mayhem, but it’s really not! I organize all of the similar foods together once I unload my food at the register. If you need a bag for each type of fruit and veggie (or for the smaller foods like cherries and mushrooms), you can get reusable produce bags or containers to take to the store with you. **NOTE** If you do end up with a plastic produce bag, PLEASE reuse it in some way!
4) Bulk Section is Your Friend
While I can’t buy many things that are in individual packaging, I can buy foods in the bulk aisle as long as I bring my own containers! Natural grocery stores tend to have a great options available in bulk. Be sure to peruse it next time you go to the store.
5) Plan Ahead
Having a game plan for what you need at the store will help you reduce your plastic use significantly. This allows me to check and see what ingredients I already have, pack the bags and containers I’ll need, decide which store will have the groceries I need, and discover plastic-free alternatives.
The Foods I Dearly Miss
Even with all of these efforts, there are still certain foods I’m simply having to do without this month. I haven’t found a non-plastic alternative to the following items:
Yogurt- This bums be out because I LOVE making my own parfaits.
Cheese- For some strange reason we put all cheese in plastic and not paper.
Pasta- They have pesky plastic windows!
Ice cream- The cartons are lined with plastic.
Almond milk- They have plastic caps.
Tortillas- I guess I’ll have to learn to make my own!
Like I said in my blog post last week, don’t get overwhelmed! I have been on this journey for over three years, and I still working on having a more eco-friendly lifestyle! All you need to do is choose one single-use plastic item per month and replace it with a reusable alternative. Always remember “the people who are able to make the biggest difference are the ones who do the little things consistently.”
I was worried I’d have to buy some bagged ice our Waves and Wildlife Photo Exhibit last week, but a local coffee shop and Johnny’s Harborside saved the day! I brought my coolers in and they gave me ice as a donation. Sometimes it just takes a little time, ingenuity, and the goodness of neighbors to avoid adding plastic to the landfill!
Fruits have been my unexpected hero during this plastic-free month. Not only are they incredibly delicious, but they come in their own natural packaging! I can find plenty of types of fruit that are free of plastic packaging and are easy to pack for the day. Definitely keep this food group in mind to help reduce your plastic use!
This first week has been a lot of work since plastic is EVERYWHERE! I have to be aware and on guard at all times to ensure I don’t accidentally buy, use, or accept new plastic items. Anytime I leave the house, I pack up my own meals, snacks, food containers, and drinking vessels since there might not be a non-plastic option handy. If I hadn’t already worked on reducing my plastic-use before this month, I would be completely overwhelmed right now.
I’ve been on a journey of reducing my waste production over the last three years. Initially, I was frozen by the idea of getting rid of all disposable items in my life and couldn’t figure out where to begin. I decided to tackle one waste item per month to make the process more digestible. This allowed me ample time to research replacement products and discover the ones that are best for my lifestyle. Additionally, only replacing a single item per month prevented the transition from becoming a financial strain.
To help you reduce the plastic in your life, I want to highlight five of my Everyday Essentials that are now my daily staples.
1) Water Bottle
I feel lost if I don’t have a reusable water bottle with me basically at all times. Not only does it force me to drink a healthy amount of liquids, but I save money and reduce my plastic waste production since I don’t have to buy water or use disposable cups. I am confident my years of using a reusable water bottle outweighs the fact that my Nalgene is made of plastic. When it’s time to retire this hardworking vessel, I will replace it with a light-weight aluminum option!
2) Reusable Bag
While I have several cloth bags at home, I forget them regularly and end up juggling my groceries in my arms on the way to the car. My solution? A compact, packable bag that clips onto my purse. Chico Bags and Bagito are two great brands to check out!
3) Mason Jar
Using mason jars has been a game changer for me. They’re great for taking to the grocery store when you’re buying bulk items. I use them to store foods and drinks such as soup, snacks, spices, smoothies, drinks, parfaits, and oatmeal. Since I usually ride my bike to work, sealing these items up in jars ensures it won’t leak during my commute. I cannot emphasize enough how essential this item has been to reduce my waste. I HIGHLY recommend them!
4) Purse Spoon
This is exactly what it sounds like- I really do keep a reusable spoon in my purse at all times. I was surprised at how many single-use utensils I used on a weekly basis and wanted to change it! I decided to go with “purse spoon” instead of a fork since it’s less pointy and can be used for solid and liquid foods. My boyfriend chooses to go with the “backpack fork”. I suppose you could go with a “satchel spork” too, huh?
5) Bamboo Toothbrush
An impactful switch you can make is going from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one. The handles can be degraded in both at-home compost piles and industrial composting facilities, but unfortunately, the bristles cannot. When it’s time to retire my toothbrush, I break off the head and put it in the trash. Then I break up the handle into smaller pieces and put it in my composting bin in the yard. **NOTE** It might take time to find the right bamboo toothbrush for you! Try a few until you find the best one for you. I really like the brands Brush with Bamboo and Green Panda.
If you want to start reducing your dependency on disposable plastics, I recommend the one-item-a-month process that I did. This can help you find viable non-plastic options that work in your life, and hopefully you’ll find your own set of Everyday Essentials!
Happy Fourth everyone ! I was accidentally patriotic on my grocery store trip earlier this week. To avoid single use plastics you can take your own containers. Just have them weighed and labeled when you first arrive. Great resource for getting unpackaged meat, deli, fruit, and bulk items! Be sure to try it out sometime!
Whew! Turns out avoiding single-use plastics takes a lot of planning and preparation. I pack my lunch, snacks, and water for the day so I don’t get stuck needing plastic cutlery, plates, or food packaged in it. (I also get SUPER hangry, so I wouldn’t survive the food search for long.) Later this week on the blog I’ll highlight my Everyday Essentials!
Kicking off my July-without-plastic right! I headed to the Live Oak Farmers Market with my reusable bags. It was a very successful trip, and the only item I wanted and couldn’t find without plastic was cheese.
Let’s Be Real…
“Being plastic-free is a breeze!” said no one ever (and if someone did, they’re probably lying.) Plastics have become a staple in our everyday 21st Century lives. From the shirt on your back, to the facewash you use, to the lining of your disposable coffee cup, this cheap and durable material can be found everywhere and seems inescapable.
As an environmentalist, I know our plastic-filled lives can be discouraging amongst all of the negative news we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. I’m constantly hearing about how there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, marine animals are dying from consuming our trash, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing dramatically. I sympathize with your frustrations and understand that escaping this environment-choking material can feel like an impossible feat. But the reality is that we each can play our part by reducing our plastic consumption on a daily basis.
While I already try to lessen my plastic use, I want to take my efforts to a new level. I have decided to take on the challenge of being plastic-free throughout the month of July. When I told my friends, family, and fellow environmentalists of my idea, they all reminded me of how tough and expensive this effort could potentially be. I want to make this journey as realistic and replicable as possible. Here are the rules of my challenge to make my goal more of a possibility:
-I aim to not purchase or add any new plastic products to the waste/recycling streams (single-use cutlery, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, etc.)
-I can utilize plastics that have been used previously or that I already own (second-hand store items, bike helmet, bottle of shampoo, empty bread bags, polyester-blend clothing in my closet, etc.)
-I will fess up if I accidentally buy or use new plastic materials by mistake, cannot afford the available alternative, or am unable to obtain a non-plastic option within a realistic time frame
**NOTE** The focus of my journey is to not add more plastic to my life this month and to find alternatives. I do not plan to get rid of and replace all of the plastics I already own. This would make the challenge too expensive, overwhelming, and unrealistic for me at the time being.
The purpose of this project isn’t to preach the “Environmental Word” to you or to guilt trip you for your plastic use. My goal is to not only reduce my own dependency on this material but also to make the journey a reality for others. Be sure to check back later next week for the first post of my challenge!
Shay is the Communications Coordinator for Save Our Shores. Having lived in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Colorado, and California, she’s seen how different communities across the country perceive environmentalism and the ways they struggle to incorporate it into their livelihoods. Her goal is to make environmental science more digestible and relatable for people and to help them thrive from integrating eco-friendly habits into their daily lives.