What You Need to Know About Plastic-Free July!

What You Need to Know About Plastic-Free July

Everyone can play a role in ending single-use plastic! Most single-use plastics are only used for a matter of minutes- or even seconds- before being discarded. Plastic does *not* biodegrade, it breaks down into micro- and nano- plastics, which enter our oceans, waterways, atmosphere, soil, and eventually....us. 

Chemicals in plastic are harmful to animals, marine life, and humans- although we do not fully know how plastic affects the human body. Early studies show that microplastics can cause cellular stress, damage to the liver, immune system, digestive tract, lungs, and even brain.

Plastic pollution affects every single thing on the planet- and we can all take steps to reduce our own usage and pressure corporations and governments to ~*do better.*~

What Is Plastic-Free July? 

Plastic-free July is a one month challenge encouraging participants to refuse single-use plastics in our daily lives. And you know what? That's going to be really, really hard. 

Plastic-free July is a global challenge to showcase just *how much* single-use plastic exists in our daily lives- and hopefully- offers alternatives and solutions to single-use. 

Ubiquitous Plastics

We know single-use plastic is a part of our daily lives: as product packaging, straws, silverware, party cups, wrappers, water/soda bottles, plastic bags, cereal bags, bread bags, snack packaging...these items are meant to be used once and thrown away. 

And no, they cannot be recycled in a traditional recycling program. These small, odd-sized products can jam up the recycling sorting machines, causing them to break. 

But did you know, there's plastic hidden in even more of our daily (or near-daily) lives? Here are just a few items that contain plastics:

  • Cigarettes- the filters are plastic
  • Tea bags- Bags can contain plastics that help the bag keep its shape
  • Kitchen Sponges- Often made from plastic or contain plastic as a scouring surface
  • Coffee cups and takeaway containers- Those to-go items usually have some sort of plastic lining to keep the liquids in and prevent leaks
  • Chewing gum- This was a surprise to me too! Chewing gum can contain the same plastic compounds used to make plastic bags.
  • Stickers- The sticker and the adhesive are made of plastics.
  • Clothing- Polyester, microfiber, microfleece, fleece, nylon, etc. are all derived from petrochemicals (the same oil-based chemicals used to make plastics) and shed microplastics in every wash. 
  • Sea salt- Salt in and of itself isn't to blame- it's the high level of microplastics in the water. 
  • Disposable wipes- Usually made from a blend containing a plastic product that does not biodegrade. 
  • Laundry sheets- Yes, those "eco-friendly" laundry sheets may just be another form of greenwashing. Laundry sheets, pods, etc., contain PVA. The jury is still out on PVA...there's conflicting information on its biodegradability. PVA has been found in breast milk, meaning it *can* accumulate in human bodies. That said, PVA tends to be produced in low-income, rural, BIPOC communities, where toxic methane gas is created as a result of its production.

Why Can't We Just Recycle

Honestly? Because plastic wasn't made to be recycled. And as early as the 1970s, the oil and plastics industry knew that plastic recycling would not be practically or economically viable. The plastic and oil industries knowingly lied about the reality of recycling plastics. 

Despite our best efforts, only about 5% of plastic worldwide is recycled. 

Why? 

Because it's complicated, time-consuming, and expensive to sort and recycle plastics. Different products are made of different types of plastics made with different types of polymers. A milk carton, plastic bag, and the hard shell on a new toy are all different types of plastic that would have to be sorted and treated separately. There are thousands of types of plastic! 

Each time a plastic product is recycled, it degrades, meaning it is less useful, less sturdy, and more toxic

Many of the plastics we throw in our bins (with the best of intentions) winds up in landfills, in the ocean, or being burned in a landfill, releasing clouds of toxic smoke that includes heavy metals. 

The entire process is so cost-prohibitive, it's cheaper to simply make new plastics instead. 

What We Can Do Instead of Using Plastics

I get it. It kind of feels like a losing battle, facing off against Big Oil, Big Government, and an entire world where the powers that be seem to not care about plastic pollution. 

But all is not lost, I promise. With the help of caring, motivated people, our small changes can add up to big change. 

  1. Refuse single-use plastic when you can. This is simple and free. Choose to carry your own silverware when possible, bring your own to-go containers and coffee mugs. 
  2. Use what you have, then make plastic-free swaps. The most sustainable thing you can do is use what you have! Pick a few items to start with, like dish sponges, laundry soap, or shampoo, and choose a plastic-free alternative. (Of course, the From Here to Home Essentials store is a great place to start- and I deliver locally and ship nationwide!) Remember, corporations exist to make money. If there is a market for genuinely plastic-free items, the market will respond. Let's create that space. 
  3. Get creative! Find new ways to reuse things you already have. Can that empty tub of protein powder be used to store home-made laundry powder? Could that old sweater become a cleaning rag or Swiffer pad? 
  4. Find community. Join your local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group to swap your unwanted things. Grab a friend and hit the thrift stores or estate sales when you need new items. Like to raise your voice? Find fellow advocates and band together to create a campaign against plastics, host a park or waterways clean up, or take another action.
  5. Write to your favorite businesses and let them know how you feel about their product or packaging. 
  6. Write to your county/local, state, and federal government, letting them know you support legislation that bans or reduces single use plastics. 
  7. Follow the Treaty to End Plastic Pollution and encourage the United States to uphold the UN Resolution they agreed to.

Do your best when you can, from where you can. Perfection is absolutely not required. We can all take steps to reduce the amount of plastic in our world- and when we are acting together, we will do more.