Take-aways from Plastic Free July®

What have you learned or what habits have you changed in July with regards to plastic usage? If you have been following me on social media, or others who post on sustainability topics, you will have known about this month-long initiative started by the Plastic Free Foundation. If not, if this is the first time you’ve heard of it, that’s OK, too! The purpose of this is to get people thinking about all the overabundance of plastics and work towards reducing our own participation in that. A month of awareness gives us a time to share ideas, bring the topic to the forefront and encourage us to make changes towards being plastic-free.

Now, don’t be scared off by the idea of going totally plastic-free. We all know that isn’t going to happen. I, for one, can’t image going back to the days when glasses were actually made of glass. Plastics in cars have drastically reduced the weight of cars, which in turn reduces the amount of energy needed to get those cars moving. However, there is plenty of room for improvement on how plastics are made. Switching over to plastics that are plant based, bio-degradable and cause less harm during manufacturing is going to be a critical change for our world. And it is also no excuse to not try to reduce the ridiculous amount of plastic waste we all participate in creating.

The focus of the plastic free challenge is to reduce or eliminate single use plastics first and foremost. This is the area that contributes most dramatically to pollution, waste that does not break down anywhere close to the rate we are creating it, the plastics we are ingesting it at ever-increasing amounts and the forms of plastics that are harming wildlife (just google: plastics killing animals.) Visit the Plastic Free July® website for information, ideas and what you can do.

What I can share with you is where I am on that journey, both for my personal life and my business. Food shopping and take-out is the area where most plastic consumption happens. I never accept plastic bags at grocery (or other) stores and bring bags whenever possible. A huge way to make a difference is to avoid using those little plastic bags for produce at the grocery store. I keep and re-use plastic bags from bread, have purchased and use those mesh produce bags that you can buy at most grocery stores or just have a dedicated reusable bag that I place all my produce in as I shop. Usually, I do a combination of all three. But what I’ve been focusing on this year is choosing fruits and vegetables that don’t use plastics over ones that do. That means less berries in those plastic clam-shell containers, and more melons.

I shop the bulk section, which is a great way to reduce containers. I re-use my food containers—plastic and glass– from things like Talenti® gelato (my favorite!), peanut butter, kimchee and mayonnaise. If I don’t have enough containers, I opt for the paper bags, even if I have to transfer to a different container at home. Shopping bulk is also a lot cheaper, too! This July, the change I made was to rely on the bulk section more for snacks. This is mostly for my kids. When I look in my cupboards, the things that use plastic bags and containers the most are things like chips, crackers and various snacks. I have surprisingly not been met with resistance on this! And the side benefit is that I’m buying healthier snacks. They are perfectly willing to snack on dried fruit and nuts over crackers. I do buy snacks that are treats to get them into it, too. And I can control how much of those less-healthy snack I get. This includes things like hokey pokey popcorn, peanut butter cups and trail mixes that include chocolate candies. I also make snacks from scratch, but as a friend of mine pointed out, the solution to everything can’t be to make it yourself. That’s just not, well…sustainable.

Take-out is rare for us, but when I do, I pre-emptively say that I don’t need plastic forks and such, because I have found that if I don’t say anything, they just throw them in as a matter of course. When I pack lunches for the kids, I let them take flatware from home. But they are old enough that I don’t have to worry about them bringing it back home. We have plenty of containers in different sizes, and I buy parchment paper snack bags which have replaced those little zip-lock plastic sandwich bags.

The home front is a big one for single-use plastic reduction, and there are plenty of bloggers who have been posting their ideas and products to help with that. I could go on, but the above items were the biggest areas of change for me this year.

On the business front, the packaging for mailing is my single biggest issue. The outer mailer, from EcoEnclose, is a good solution. Someday I’d like to go completely plastic-free. In the meanwhile, this bag is 100% recycled and protects the garments in shipping. And they always are coming out with better solutions, so when I need more supplies, I feel I can improve current systems by growing with them.

But, the inner packaging is more of a dilemma. The first time I went into a production run, I learned that wrapping each garment individually in a poly-bag is normal procedure. The manufacturer, wisely, let me know ahead of time. I asked for them to skip that, but they gave me the bags anyway, since it was part of my built-in costs, and I accepted them, being new to the biz. After that, I no longer accepted the bags.

I conserve the bags as much as possible, by putting as many items as I can in each bag and use none for in-person sales. So, I still have that original stack.

I’d like to do away with the inner plastic altogether, but I’m concerned as the outer mailer is a good seal but not hermetic. I’d like to switch to either paper or compostable inner bags eventually. So my dilemma is two-fold. First, if I used only paper, would the items be adequately protected in shipment? And secondly, what do I do with the bags I already have? They already exist and I can’t return them. Recycling an unused stack would just be so wasteful. If I use them, the recipient might not have access to (or convenient access) plastic bag recycling. I’m leaning towards just using them up and have a better system in place before I run out. Another idea is donate them to a small business who needs them and does not have the cash for a better solution, but I don’t have anyone in mind. Email me or comment below if you have suggestions, you want them or to share your thoughts on what you would want as a customer.

If you order from me and are willing to take a chance with no poly-bag, please request no inner bag in your order notes, and send me information about the condition it arrives in. I will gladly replace any damaged items.

Anyone willing to try? Use code “nopoly” for 20% off all clothing (excludes gift cards). If you saw my post on Instagram about this, I’ve decided to extend this discount through August.

What plastic usages have you changed or are working on?

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