Declare Your Independence From Plastic

Last week my colleague Sara wrote a blog post introducing us to the idea of “Plastic Free July.” It inspired me to accept the challenge and declare my independence from single-use plastic this month. This includes plastic bags, straws, packaging and anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded.

It is tough. I’ve been at it only a few days and I’ve already struggled. For example, toilet paper is almost exclusively wrapped in plastic. I had to buy individual rolls wrapped in paper. My goal, however, is not to be perfect. I’ve made mistakes, and learned from them. My hope is to raise awareness about the amount of plastic we consume and how ingrained it is in our everyday lives. Ultimately, this will help us reduce waste and keep wildlife safe.

Note: the wildlife photo at the bottom of this post is graphic and may be disturbing to some.

How Does Plastic-Free Help Wildlife?

Otter Swimming with Plastic Bottle
Otter swimming with plastic water bottle . (Photo by Flickr Paul Williams)
It’s just a little bit of plastic, why does it matter? According to the EPA, the US generated 32 million tons of plastic waste in 2011 (only 8% was recycled). This garbage doesn’t all end up in a landfill. In fact, the largest landfill in the world is actually the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, where plastic outnumbers plankton. Trash cannot possibly be contained neatly in a pile. It washes away, blows away, and is dropped in transit.

When this waste escapes, it has devastating effects on wildlife. Floating plastics take decades to decompose and leak toxins into the water, poisoning marine life. Wildlife consume and choke on pieces of plastic and can also become entangled in these pieces of plastic waste. Sea creatures have been found with stomachs filled with plastic, impeding their digestive tract and threatening their lives. As I move through my plastic-free adventure, I’ll have the well-being of wildlife on my mind.

Surviving the 4th of July without Plastic

The 4th of July will pose a rather substantial obstacle for the plastic-free lifestyle. I’ve compiled ideas to eliminate plastic not just this holiday weekend, but for the entire month (or better yet, completely)!

  1. Buy local food. It typically isn’t wrapped in plastic, and supports local farmers.
  2. Avoid a sunburn. There are a few options here. (1) Wear clothes to protect your skin (hat, sunglasses, etc.). (2) Bring an umbrella to shade the sun. (3) Buy sunblock that comes in a jar or metal container.
  3. Eat with Reusables. Substitute cloth napkins for paper towels that are often wrapped in plastic. Use your actual tableware and silverware to further reduce waste. Have a “Bring Your Plate” party and invite guests to bring their own plate.
  4. Watch a group fireworks show. This means you don’t have to buy your own.
  5. Bring your reusable water bottle. If you’re hosting, eliminate plastic bottle waste by serving water in pitchers for guests.
  6. Make your own condiments. No more plastic bottles with ketchup and mustard, now you can use these recipes to make your own and reduce the waste.
  7. Avoid plastic trash bags. Throw trash in extra paper grocery bags. Another option is to line a garbage can with newspaper and wrap the trash up at the end to discard. Either way, avoid plastic trash bags.
  8. No straws! If you absolutely need them, get reusable straws.
  9. Find bug spray in a metal can.
  10. Clean up using homemade solutions. Try these mixtures for your own homemade cleaning solutions.
  11. Prepare for travel. Make sure to bring your own snacks, water bottle, and hygiene products. Plan ahead to avoid using plastic.

Accept the Challenge

If you decide to take on the challenge, we want to hear about it! Tag the National Wildlife Federation as you tell family and friends about the challenge or declare your own independence from plastic. Join the #plasticfreejuly conversation on Facebook and Twitter and share struggles, successes and lessons learned. Good luck!

Albatross at Midway Atoll Refuge
The unaltered stomach contents of an albatross at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge with plastic debris fed to chick by its parents. (Photo by USFWS)