One week has passed since we decided to get on board with Plastic Free July. So far, adhering to the rules of no plastic has been relatively easy. We have both had a few slip-ups and oversights. Mainly straws. We really like going out for drinks, but straws have so subtly worked their way into our unconscious brain that I just reached for my straw that was kindly omitted from my drink and had a mental glitch when there was nothing there. It is estimated that Americans consume 500,000 straws every day that is more than one per person in the US every single day. I do not mean to rant about straws, just illustrate my first point: just how subtly plastic has made its way into every part of our life.
Another observation that is starting to be apparent is that committing to cutting out one-time use plastics does not equal a smaller consumptive footprint. I see this being true in two ways: First, I can bypass plastic consumption by channeling my waste streams to other single use materials like glass and aluminum. That means that I still get to drink beer for the month of July, but I am not really getting to the heart of the matter- to highlight and reduce our dependence on disposables- plastic or otherwise. Second, I think that it is possible to push the plastic upstream. Just consider a meal out. Say we order a pizza we cannot make at home because we cannot buy cheese without buying it in plastic. All we have done is pushed the plastic use onto somebody else. Likely somebody who is not participating in Plastic Free July. Again, this kind of outsourcing misses the point of opting out of systems that require the use of disposable packaging.
Reuse might be another loophole in this experiment. If the letter of the law reads that that only single use plastics are offenders, simply using a plastic bag a second time would technically get its name off the blacklist. However, buying a recycled plastic bag can also be problematic as it will need to be used at least 26 times in order to offset the single use bag it was meant to replace. Cottons bags are worse at 327 uses. We like cotton bags because they can carry a lot and be repaired, but I doubt any of our bags have been used enough times to offset the plastic they replace yet.
Finally, committing to no plastics for a month incentivizes displacing the consumption of disposables as they relate to staple goods. On June 30th we spent the last half hour of our date night grocery shopping for some “essentials” knowing that we would not be able to buy them during the month. We have already thrown away a lot of plastics that we bought in June but used in July, and when July is over we will likely re-stock many of these items.
On a more positive note, without plastic to seal things up you’re forced to shop hyper local. Finding ways across the language barrier to bypass things like plastic bags and straws has also been really fun and rewarding. Coming home from the market without plastic feels really good when a trip without such measures could easily result in up to a dozen plastic bags.
This week I found ways to continually refill my water bottle from locals along a 90 km circuit while biking the Samoeng Loop around Doi Suthep. In every case, asking a local for water led to a greater feeling of connectedness than if I had simply purchased another bottle of water and kept moving. For some reason, these personal exchanges are so much richer than their economic equivalent.
If the goal of Plastic Free July is to merely raise awareness about how much plastic we consume or help us better understand all the ways we interact with plastic on a daily basis, then mission accomplished. If the intention is to change behaviour, I think the experiment needs to include other disposables like glass and aluminum and would need be at least a year-long challenge. If we are really trying to get to the heart of subverting our disposable culture, we need to recognize that our economic system is too big and too complex to enjoy something like cheese without making it ourselves. Perhaps every time we contribute to a waste stream, regardless of material, it can serve as an indicator of unhealthy attachment to an economy that rarely includes environmental impact as part of the bottom line. It makes me dream about a simpler life where we make what we need or have a local, community-sized economy that can meet each other’s needs without coming at the expense of our global well-being.
The Oops tally so far:
3 straws, 1 mesh bag of garlic, 1 plastic cup
It’s been good for us to keep in mind that you can’t fail at plastic-free July, but the challenge has been a good one. How has the first week gone for anyone else participating?