Another Look at Plastic-Free July: Traveling

Plastic-Free July is a concept that started a few years ago in Australia. (You can read my previous Plastic-Free post here)

I knew I’d be traveling this summer, so before I even started Plastic-Free July, I thought about my two main challenges: produce and coffee.

I already use canvas shopping bags for toting purchases from the farmers’ market and the grocery store, so it’s no trouble to keep one in my suitcase; I usually do that anyway. But I often end up using the plastic produce bags at the stores. I decided to take some old ones along for reuse, and that worked, most of the time.

When I got home, I went shopping and found these cotton produce bags.

Cotton produce bags: plastic free AND washable.

Cotton produce bags: plastic free AND washable.

I can use and reuse these. Of course the best option would be to plant a garden, but I don’t have the space, the light, or the dirt for more than the three pepper plants and little spot of herbs that I already have.

As for coffee: here’s the shameful result of 2 weeks of forgetting to keep my travel cup with me.

Accumulated coffee lids and cardboard sleeves: I'm guilty during Plastic-Free July.

A guilty admission: there were a couple more lids that were not recyclable and I didn’t bring them home.

I have a sense of failure here, but at least I collected the lids and cardboard sleeves and brought them back to recycle, then spent the rest of the month drinking my coffee at home. At first I congratulated myself on thinking that it’s easy to find coffee beans in a paper, rather than plastic, container — then I noticed that my electric coffee pot is plastic with a glass carafe. Good grief. I’m going back to using my glass and metal cafe press, so I can feel a tiny bit virtuous.

I think the main lesson of plastic-free July is awareness. Now that I’m actively looking, I see plastic everywhere: jars of prepared foods, bottles of juice, cups of yogurt, plastic-wrapped cheeses, plastic-bagged carrots, plastic clamshells of mushrooms, berries, grapes, tomatoes. Plastic water bottles? No — too big a subject for this post. Not going there.

Now that I see all the plastic, I’m able to think of ways to work around some of it. Even small changes can add up. My home made yogurt tastes pretty good, and saves a few plastic cups per week. And I can’t resist using a photo of these amazing farmer’s market mushrooms one more time.  (Nope. I didn’t push the color. What you see is what you get.)

Plastic-free farmer's market mushrooms.

No clamshell plastic-free mushrooms.

And yes, it hasn’t escaped me that I popped the plastic SD card out of my plastic-bodied camera to load these photos.

Let’s take it one more step: could there be a downside to all this plastic besides the obvious load on the landfills and oceans for the percent that doesn’t get recycled? What about our bodies? What happens to us, with our constant exposure to BPA, pthalates, and possible endocrine disruptors? In other words — all this plastic? Here’s some food for thought…

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/opinion/eat-like-a-mennonite.html?_r=0

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/ant-study-deepens-concern-about-plastic-additives/

Plastic-free July is over now, and I admit that being completely plastic-free is beyond my reach. But it’s still possible to use plastic less. Will you join me in a “plastic less” year?

For more information on Plastic-Free July, visit:

http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/

Four Choices for Plastic-Free July

Oops. On my bleary 1st day home after a trip earlier this month, I stopped at the store and bought some yogurt – in a big plastic container. I was halfway home before I realized what I’d done. I joined up to participate in Plastic-Free July, so I shouldn’t have acquired that yogurt.

Then I thought – I’ve still got my Yogomatic (click here for the post about finding it) – I can use some of my yogurt as starter to make more. Oh good grief – the Yogomatic is plastic. Despite that, I finally tried it today. Now I have a quart of new yogurt.

Plastic-Free July is meant to help increase our awareness of unnecessary packaging, all that we buy and throw away and/or attempt to recycle. It’s helped me realized that if I’m mindful, there really are choices. Here are 4 relatively easy ones:

Bar soap: Looking around the house, I saw that every sink has a (plastic) container of liquid soap beside it.  I even had liquid shower soap.

soaps packaged in plastic

Here, everything but Lava is in a layer of plastic.

At the store, I checked out the soap aisle – but most of the bar soap, which used to be wrapped in paper, now has an extra outside layer of (guess what?) plastic.

Last month, looking for soap without the some of the controversial chemical ingredients, I’d come home with a bottle of Dr Bronner’s.  With a little searching I’ve found more choices: an equivalent bar in paper packaging, plus an unpackaged bar of Aloe Baby from Sevananda, a local health food store.

good better best packaging for soap: Dr Bronner's liquid, Dr Bronner's bar, Aloe Baby bar

Here are my good/better/best soapy finds.

Laundry soap: There’s a choice in laundry soap packaging too. Here’s my old plastic container and my new box:

laundry soap choices- paper or plastic?

Laundry soap: paper or plastic?

publix recycles prescription vials

Publix Pharmacy recycles pill containers.

Pill containers:  Another place where all I see is plastic. My recycling center takes them, but for those who don’t, I saw this good news at Publix Pharmacy.

Still, not using plastic at all would be better than recycling it, even if all of us recycled (which we don’t).

The pharmacy told me they can’t dispense medication any way but in plastic containers, so I’m going to cut back on packaging by using the mail order pharmacy to get 3 months worth at a time.

market mushrooms

No clam-shell packaging, and almost too pretty to eat.

Produce: Shop at your local farmer’s market. Our weekend market had these amazing plastic-free mushrooms.

It’s not realistic to think we can be plastic-free everywhere, but small choices aren’t difficult, and they can add up to make a big difference. Can you help?