the challenge to live plastic-free

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We live on a finite planet. Its days are numbered, not unlike our own.
That bit of knowledge is heavy. It can make us apathetic, complacent, and self-destructive. Sometimes, when we learn about (or simply remember) our own mortality or the world’s impermanence, it scares us, so we turn away. We hop back on the treadmill and don’t dare look too far ahead or too far behind. And sometimes that’s okay; it keeps us sane.

But sometimes, when we remember our mortality, it ignites passion. It’s why we seek greatness, why we work for posterity, and why we want to find an optimal way to live – to find the extremes of our health and our creativity. Not only to find a personal philosophy, but to enact it, to give it a pulse. We suddenly have the courage to face the sense of overwhelm – this is all so ephemeral! – and open up our senses, connecting to individual and collective purposes. We’re brave, going down into the basement to feed the Babadook.

Small acts like eating, I think, are the best defense against the terror invoked by largesse. And the thought that the Earth’s resources are limited? That’s HUGE. When there’s something impossibly large to accomplish, the best we can do is make a list and start with something small. We know that small acts (whether of accomplishment or of kindness) matter, because they can spark peace, joy, momentum.

The greenwashing of so much of our culture speaks to this truth. We want to do our part to slow down or even reverse some of the damage imposed on the soil and in the oceans… we’ve started to listen and show solidarity by appreciating the eco-friendly label, reaching for it when it’s there, when we can, when we have the money, the time, the patience. Our intentions are good. But we’re starting to learn that it isn’t enough. Tossing half our trash in the recycling bin, for example, is not making the difference we had hoped. Most of that stuff still ends up in the landfill.

Plastic, in particular, is a problem. It is: 1. made from oil, 2. not truly recyclable, and 3. the main component of the two biggest contributors of waste: plastic bags and plastic bottles. So plastic has been on my mind. Plastic is my new small act in the face of terror. And I’m certainly not the only one: thousands are participating in Plastic Free July (plasticfreejuly.org), and I want to join them. I came to the party a bit late, though, so I’m declaring my intention to live a plastic-free August. I thought it would help to let people know what I’m up to, and to start preparing myself for the challenge so that I’m not completely doomed to fail.

My vow: I’m going to make an earnest attempt to eliminate plastic from my life during the month of August. And it won’t be easy. Plastic is everywhere. So, for this to be a reasonable goal, I’ve decided to set up guidelines. I’ll focus my attention on the things over which I have the most immediate control, so I’ve outlined the boundaries below:

  • What counts: all items used in food/beverage shopping, preparation and storage; cleaning products; health and beauty products; all newly purchased items
  • What doesn’t count: laptop; cell phone; machine parts, such as those in my car and in appliances like a blender; Kindle; parts in furniture/decor I already own; my toothbrush (but when it wears out, I’ll probably switch to bamboo)
  • My arsenal going in: I already have plenty of reusable grocery bags that I’ve used for years, as well as reusable produce bags, and several mason jars. I’ve also had some experience making my own hygiene products, which I think will come in handy. In preparation for this challenge, I’ve donated most of my plastic food storage containers and purchased a few extra glass and stainless steel containers.
  •  *A note on social etiquette: I’ll judge these situations as they occur; maybe I’ll be in someone’s home and I’ll have to decide whether to eat or to politely decline.

The month is not going to be perfect. Change starts with awareness, so my ultimate goal is to pay attention to my experience. Here are the principles I’ll live by in August:

  1. If I “must” use single-use plastic – I imagine mistakes will happen, or laziness, frustration, or desperation will take over – I will save it rather than throwing it away to see how much I accumulate over the course of one month.
  2. If I use something that contains plastic but will be used again, I’ll snap a photo of it. I’ll ponder it. I’ll see how it can be reused and/or recycled.
  3. I will search for creative alternatives to plastic before spending money on something new. If I have to buy, secondhand will be my first choice. In other words, I’ll try not to fall into a consumer trap and buy plastic-free solutions just to maintain the level of convenience I’m used to.

A small selection of my resources/inspiration:

  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic? (Reel Thing)
  • No Impact Man (Eden Wurmfeld Films)
  • Trashisfortossers.com
  • 1millionwomen.com.au

So what do you think? Am I losing my mind? Would you be interested in reading updates about my progress throughout the month?