To eliminate plastic waste from your life, start small
WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – As soon as Mrs. Carolyn Armstrong started looking for plastic in her life, she realized it was absolutely everywhere. There are plastic water bottles and straws, of course, but also makeup, clothing, laundry detergent, wrappers and food wrappers.
“Everything we use is encased in plastic,” says Ms. Armstrong. “Sometimes I go to the grocery store and take pictures of the fruit hiding behind the plastic and email the store saying, ‘Please stop doing this!'”
The 52-year-old author first thought of eliminating plastic from her life when she was looking for a children’s book about ocean plastic pollution, and soon joined Go Green Winnetka, a local environmental activism group.
But this year, for the first time, she took her commitment one step further, pledging to go plastic free for an entire month.
She’s far from alone: For more than a decade, people around the world have made a similar pledge, officially known as Plastic Free July.
It’s hard to overstate the scale of the planet’s plastic problem. Each year, around 11 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in water bodies, according to the United Nations. Over the next two decades, that number is expected to triple. Faced with a crisis, the 175 member countries of the United Nations Environment Assembly agreed in March to draw up a treaty to limit the use of plastic by the end of 2024.
Businesses, not individuals, are the biggest plastic offenders. Specifically, 20 companies, which produce more than half of all single-use plastics, according to a 2021 analysis by the Australian non-profit Minderoo Foundation.
Oil giant ExxonMobil is the world’s biggest plastic polluter. But that hasn’t stopped millions of people like Ms Armstrong from trying to reduce their own plastic footprint, even if it’s just for a month.
“I never sought to start a global movement,” says Ms. Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, who founded Plastic Free July in her native Australia. “It started the last week of June 2011, when I visited a recycling facility for the first time… I was really overwhelmed just seeing what we throw away as a society.”
The next day at work, Ms Prince-Ruiz told her colleagues she was going to spend a month trying to cut single-use plastic and asked if anyone wanted to join. The beginning of July was coming, she said. Fast forward 11 years, and several million people in 190 countries have taken part in the campaign, according to research she commissioned.
To reduce plastic use – in July or any month – the best place to start is “to just look at what the plastics are in your life”, Ms Prince-Ruiz says. “Look in your trash cans, peek in your fridge, your pantry, your workplace trash can. Just pick one or two things to try and tackle because if you’re trying to do it all, it can be really overwhelming.”
Luckily, some of the easiest plastic items to drop are the ones you use every day. Opting for bulk fruits and vegetables over pre-packaged produce is one way to get rid of plastic, says Ms. Armstrong. There are other ways to limit packaging.
“Our house drinks a lot of orange juice,” says Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics. So she switched from plastic bottles to frozen orange concentrate and bought two reusable glass pitchers to serve them.