In early July we have Plastic Bag Free Day. But did you know that the entire month of July is devoted to avoiding single-use plastics?
Yep, it’s Plastic Free July!
According to the celebration’s official website, the goal of this month is “to raise awareness of the problems with single-use disposable plastic and challenges people to do something about it.”
The Earth Carers Waste Education team in Western Australia created Plastic Free July back in 2011. That first year 40 people in Perth, Western Australia took part. By 2016 the celebration was worldwide, with more than 1 million people pledging to give up single-use plastics for July.
Two of the biggest problems with plastic is it can harm wildlife and it lasts forever.
Yes, it really does. Now, that doesn’t mean products made from plastic last forever. The plastic bag rips, the plastic bottle cracks, the plastic fork breaks in half.
But unlike things like paper and cardboard, the plastic itself doesn’t break down. It just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually those pieces may become too small to see. But they’re not gone.
And even those tiny bits of microplastic are a problem. Especially when they get into water, and then into fish and other sea creatures. And from there into larger animals, including us.
But that only happens to plastic that gets exposed to sunlight. The stuff buried in landfills doesn’t even break apart that much. It will still be recognizable thousands of years from now.
Why is that so bad?
Because we’re treating the earth as a giant garbage dump! There’s only so many holes we can dig and fill with trash.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories.
When animals get tangled in plastic fishing line or nets, it can get so tight it cuts them. Sea turtles have lost one or more flippers from the damage.
Infected cuts may kill the animal. Or, it may get too tight for the animal to move. It may then starve to death or be killed by another animal.
Plastic bags floating in the ocean look like jellyfish to hungry turtles and fish. So they eat the bags. Of course, plastic has no nutrients, so at best the animal get weak from lack of real food.
But the bigger problem is the stuff often gets stuck in the animal’s stomach or intestines. Blockages like this can kill. In sea turtles it can also cause gasses to build up in the turtles’ bodies. Then they can’t dive, which means they can’t catch their food.
Sea turtle rescues everywhere keep finding sick and dying sea turtles with stomachs full of plastic. Sometimes the turtles survive after surgery. Often they don’t.
Yes, much of the plastic pollution in the world is probably from careless people. They abandon fishing line and nets. Leave plastic bags where they can fly away. Toss empty water bottles on the ground.
But much of it is also accidental.
And remember, it lasts forever!
Keeping this stuff out of the world in the first place is a much better answer than disposing of it “properly.”
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Yes, recycling plastics is a good thing. But only to a point.
For one thing, not all plastic is easily recyclable. Some recycling centers won’t even take certain kinds, like styrofoam.
And taking single-use plastics and turning them into other single-use plastic items isn’t really solving the problem. At some point, probably sooner than later, someone’s going to throw that plastic item into the trash. Or the plastic bag is going to blow away. Where will it end up? Stuck in a tree or clogging waterways, probably.
Plus, it takes energy to keep recycling these plastics.
No matter how you look at it, reusable products are infinitely better than single-use plastics.
Well, we’re not going quite that far. Yet.
Plastic Free July focuses on single-use plastics.
And yes, reusable plastics are better than single-use plastic. But only by a little.
Even reusable plastic items will wear out eventually. And then what do you do with them? Recycle or toss, just like the single-use items. And then you’re right back to the same problem with any plastic:
So even better is choosing items made from some material other than plastic. Look for paper, wood, metal, or cloth alternatives. Which is best depends on what you’ll be using it for.
Scroll down for ideas on celebrating this environmentally friendly month.
Avoid single-use plastics!
As much as possible, anyway.
If you’re not already using reusable shopping bags, start!
Now, you don’t have to stick with the boring, branded bags many stores sell. They’re cheap (often $1 or so) and easy, but kinda boring! And not always very strong.
If you’d rather carry something with a bit more style or strength, you’ll find a nearly endless array of options. Consider these:
Other ways to avoid plastic
Kitchens are a “treasure trove” of plastics! You probably have plastic storage containers, plastic wrap, and plastic bags. At the very least.
So use up what you’ve got. You might as well, since you’ve already got it! But don’t buy more. Look for alternatives instead.
Here are some easy ones:
Here’s a handy guide for how to store fruits & veggies (PDF) without plastic.
Also check out the Living Plastic Free section of the Plastic Free July website. It offers ideas for plastic-free cooking, cleaning, pets, gardening, and more.
Not sure where to start? Start with this handy “Challenge Choices” checklist with more action ideas. It also shows you what impact your choice will have on the environment (oceans, landfill and/or global warming).
As you get more used to living without single-use plastics, consider eliminating as much other plastic as possible. All those reusable plastic items will eventually end up in landfills, too. So before buying something plastic, see it you can get a similar item in a different material.
Obviously, it’s not always possible to avoid plastic. But check second-hand shops, Craigslist, and community swap sites to see if you can get used items that meet your needs.
Finally, check out the website My Plastic-Free Life. It offers a ton of information and resources to cut plastic out of your life.
So, how will you be reducing your plastic use this July? Will you continue to try to live plastic free for the rest of the year?
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