Adventures in Going Plastic Free


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Here are some observations from an MHH365 team member who tried going plastic-free last July….

Last year, I tried to do the “plastic free” July.  I’d read about this challenge and was curious to see if we could do it. I didn’t really know there was a whole organization behind this and only checked in to the website at the end so I did not get all the great tips. 

I’m sure those would have been helpful. Because this… Was. Not. Easy.

I took it on with a mix of know-it-all bravado and curiosity. I thought we were already doing pretty well. We recycled, avoided plastic, used glass storage containers, etc. We’d already given up water bottles and paper coffee cups ages ago, used cloth diapers, chose natural fibers, etc. In other words, we were a little smug and clueless.

I was incredibly wrong.

What a wild and paradigm-shifting experience the July challenge was!  It wasn’t that it was hard—in fact most of it was quite easy. But eliminating all plastic turned out to be extremely difficult. This was an eye-opener on how much plastic is built into civilization’s very flesh and bones (now literally) and how plastic is part of  a convenience addiction.

I started by examining what was in our trash so I could identify obvious culprits. For example, there were a surprising number of black plastic take-out containers in our trash. Covid turned us all into take-out warriors with extra trash on trash day.  And honestly even the paper take-out boxes are probably coated with plastic. Could take out containers be eliminated if we brought our own containers? None of our usual places would use our stuff based on board of health regulations. None offered any nonplastic options. Add to that, black plastic is not recyclable (and may contain toxic metals).

The only truly plastic-free move would be for us to, okay, give up the convenience of take-out.

I sadly decided to tell our favorite Thai place that we would not be ordering take out during plastic-free July. The owner suggested that instead of take out, we eat in. I’d become so habituated to cautionary Covid behaviors and wearing pajamas all day it never occurred to me that we could eat in a restaurant. Eating in restaurants instead of take out makes much more sense, trashwise. Plus, they let you use your own containers for leftovers. 

Plastic garbage

Back to the trash. (It did not occur to me, until I’d gone through it all, that the bag itself was plastic. I’ll get to that later.) Like many people, we bought produce in net bags for, ahem, convenience. Net bags are made from plastic. If you want to avoid plastic, you have to select 6 onions, for example, instead of buying a bag. Supermarket shopping takes a lot more time when you are trying to go plastic free. It’s actually easier to avoid supermarkets because they only contribute to the convenience addiction.

Farm stands and farmer’s markets are less convenient and sometimes more expensive, but the rewards are so delicious and you can end up with less waste.

Shopping at farm stands means buying less plastic than you do at supermarkets—even without trying.

I managed to avoid supermarkets for most of July. Now, almost a year later, I do less supermarket shopping overall and I’m less like to shop in a convenience coma the way I used to.  Food waste, like plastic, is a problem to be avoided. (See this link).


There was a fair amount of plastic wrapping in our trash, too. More than I expected. Cheese was one of the culprits (along with some veggies). Americans seem weird to the rest of the world because we wrap cheese in plastic. So I started going to a cheese store where they wrap cheese in paper. Easy change to make, except for sliced cheese. But you can buy sliced cheese at the deli. They will put it in butcher’s paper if you ask, and it’s better for cheese.

Next up…cleaning stuff.

Long ago I’d switched to “eco-friendly” cleaners and a hand steamer. For laundry and dishwashing, I used pods from what I thought was a “green” company. A closer look revealed I’d been fooled. The clear coating of the pod is made from plastic in the form of PVA.  Even worse, some laundry sheets also have PVAs. That came as a shock as I thought I was doing the right thing. Instead, I’d been greenwashed. So I searched for plastic-free pod products and ended up with Blueland lavender laundry sheets (now the laundry sheet of choice) and 7th Generation dishwasher powder, which works really well for us.

Plastic-free July makes you realize that greenwashing is incredibly pervasive. Take the wooden hair brush. I needed a new hairbrush as I had left mine at an AirBnB. I found a nice wooden hairbrush with boar bristles through a major online retailer. It had a Climate Friendly label. Surprise! Half the bristles were plastic. Lesson learned—don’t get sucked in by greenwashing. And yeah, I left a review.

Then there are the things that simply might not exist without plastic. I needed some pens, I thought, to sign things. So when I looked for pens, I made an discovery. It is extremely hard to buy a pen that does not contain any plastic. Too hard for me. I’m sure there are options out there but 30 minutes of searching only yielded greenwashed pens or pens made of recycled plastic. So I splurged on some nice pencils instead. This one will take some work. Pens are super complicated. In the meantime, pencils are pretty eco-friendly, it turns out. 

Sunscreen and lip balm. Sunscreen was tough—it’s hard to find any skin products not packaged in plastic. I ended up going with Thrive, a small business in California. Yes, it is expensive. But it works well, smells great, is not polluting, and doesn’t sting.  It doesn’t give me hives either so I am more likely to use it.

As for lip balm, I discovered  Kobees. Kobees is a Black-owned skin care  business, and Kobe himself is an inspiration! All the skin care products are totally plastic-free including the packaging, and they are fantastic, simple and super effective. The take-away?

Small businesses can get themselves out of the plastic supply chain easier than large businesses because they are still evolving.

After my July experience, I can’t walk into a drug store now without freaking out a little, and seeing everything in the drug store as future plastic landfill. Avoiding a drug store is nearly impossible. Drug stores are part of the convenience addiction that characterizes modern life. You can start by avoiding the chains. 

Pharmacy shelves

Cars. Cars, it turns out, are full of plastic. I like to replace my cabin filter in spring. After some googling, I discovered that you can re-use a cabin filter, if it isn’t a HEPA filter, and that even if you can’t reuse your filter you can recycle parts of it. Cars are going to need extra work to de-plastic. Maybe the solution is no car?

Clothing. Avoiding polyester which is plastic is extremely difficult.

Pretty much all underwear or gym wear or swim wear is a plastic problem.

 Mixing cotton with spandex or elastane (both derived from fossil fuel products) does not make sense to me. I decided that the best I could do around clothing was to buy less clothing and avoid as much plastic as possible, and pressure the retailers I buy from. Plastic in clothing makes it much harder to recycle.

I’ve come to believe now that plastic in clothing, and the overwhelming textile waste problem in general, is a problem for industry and for legislation, and not a problem that can be quickly addressed by consumer collective action (unless we all stopped buying  clothes for a month to protest). Government contributed to the textile waste problem by changing some of the rules around fabric content and labeling after pressure from lobbyists. It is time to start talking about things like Extended Producer Responsibility legislation (currently languishing). Maybe California will eventually show us how it’s done. Or we start a movement here. 

To sum up?

+ Buy less stuff. Use less stuff. Reuse more stuff.

+ Welcome some inconvenience into your life as a way to use less plastic. And watch for the more nefrarious uses of convenience.

+ Be wary of greenwashing.

+ Seek out small, simpler, local, community, businesses, not businesses that are part of large supply chains that involve plastic.

+ Avoid packaging.

+ Insist that government do some of the work.

Now back to that plastic trash bag. We were unwilling to use a paper bag for trash so eliminating the plastic trash bag, for us, would mean composting. That was doable, we decided. But composting would also require us to go vegetarian.

We did go vegetarian for the month so we could compost without fear of attracting bears and rodents. Leaky trash problem? Eliminated. Plastic bag use? Dragon slain. More veggies? Yes please. 

Still, I kept thinking. The only way to eliminate the plastic bag, I concluded, was to not have trash at all. That’s the next hill to think about climbing.

Plastic-free July is like rehab for our convenience addiction. It might not all stick at first, but at least you will understand what needs to be fixed.

Go Plastic Free this July with us. And follow us on Instagram and share your plastic- free adventure!

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