How to Dive into Plastic-Free Living This Summer
By Sandra Ann Harris
Author Sandra Ann Harris shares tips for starting small during Plastic-Free July
When news about plastic pollution first started breaking into the headlines a decade ago, activists rallied citizens to jump into action by bringing their own bags to the grocery store and ditching single-use coffee cups. These small acts were ways to bridge newcomers to the plastic pollution movement into the plastic-free lifestyle.
Nowadays, the urgency for action is even greater with scientists warning that the pace of plastic pollution means that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Plus, the rate of plastic pollution dumped into our oceans is expected to increase from one garbage truck a minute to two garbage trucks unless dramatic action is taken.
“Join us in saying goodbye to plastic by taking daily action,” says author and mission-based entrepreneur Sandra Ann Harris who recently published Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living. “Taking action is a way to communicate our values and send a message to consumer products companies, policymakers, and environmentalists that you are taking a stand to protect our environment against needless plastic pollution.”
Plastic Free July is a month-long call to action and educational campaign focused on the perils of plastic threatening both human health and our environment. The petroleum-based material is hazardous to human health since it contains estrogen-mimicking chemicals as well as toxic to the planet since plastic is not biodegradable and only rarely recycled. Furthermore, its incineration is contributing to global warming.
“By taking matters into our own hands and making changes in our daily habits, we can be a part of the plastic pollution solution,” Harris says. “Individual action alone won’t cure this tidal wave of plastic, but it’s where the seeds are planted for policies that will drive innovations to replace plastic and hold plastic producers and polluters accountable for the burdens they are placing on the environment.”
Harris, who started her journey saying goodbye to plastic in 2008 when she started her company ECOlunchbox, wrote her book to invite people into the plastic-free lifestyle.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to tips and tricks for plastic-free living,” Harris explains. “I had to figure out solutions to reduce my family’s plastic footprint over the years, often MacGyvering solutions when none were available in the marketplace. The book is organized by rooms of the house, and it’s packed with easy action items for beginners and aficionados alike. No matter if you’re just getting started on your plastic-free journey or you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll definitely pick up some great solutions. Thankfully, it has gotten a lot easier over the last decade to select products that are biodegradable and eco-friendly.”
Here are a few tips to get you started saying goodbye to plastic in your daily life.
If you see something, pick it up. If you see a face mask fluttering by in a park, washed up in a gutter, or lost in a parking lot, you can safely help dispose of it so it doesn’t wash into our waterways and pollute our planet. Blue face masks and many other face coverings are made from plastic textiles like polyester. They don’t biodegrade. Don’t touch the waste with your bare hands to protect yourself from potential viral contamination. Instead have on hand a reusable garden glove, kitchen glove, trash picking stick, or something else to take it safely to the trash for disposal. Follow the same steps for any other trash you see lost in the environment! Plastic trash isn't just ugly, it's also dangerous to wildlife who commonly mistake garbage for food.
Reusables go a long way at mealtime. It’s time to reboot your lunch! For many of us, school and work have been happening at home, so we’ve fallen out of the habit of packing food to go. Remember to prevent plastic pollution in the first place by reducing or eliminating it from your daily routine. A perfect place to start is lunchtime. Pack reusable containers like our Seal Cup Trio and Splash Box which are designed to be easy to use and easy on the environment. Packing your own containers to school or work every day can prevent more than a thousand pieces of trash.
Avoid trashy takeout. When you purchase takeout, make sure you leave a note in the online ordering portal or with the telephone order taker specifying that you do not want any single-use extras packed with your meal. Say goodbye to making single-use plastic cutlery, single-serving ketchup and other condiment packets, and disposable napkins the new normal. Plus, ask restaurant managers to stop automatically including these single-use throw-aways with orders and only provide upon customer request. Recommend biodegradable birch or bamboo utensils in lieu of throw-away plastic cutlery.
When you get more than you bargained for with online shopping. When shopping online, choose companies with planet-centric shipping practices that carbon offset shipments by packing all orders plastic-free (kraft tape instead of plastic, recycled dunnage paper instead of peanuts and plastic pillows, recyclable cardboard boxes instead of trashy padded plastic envelopes). Plus, if you’re buying from Amazon, go to amazon.com main search bar and enter keywords “Amazon Customer Service,” select chat and request that you want your account flagged to receive plastic-free shipments. (Note: Requesting may or may not result in plastic-free shipments depending on your service area, but at least you’re sending a message to Amazon that you don’t want plastic waste in your shipments.) For other stores, add a customer note at checkout requesting a plastic-free, carbon offset shipment or send an email to the company.
Don’t make it complicated and share the knowledge. It doesn’t matter where you start your plastic-free journey, just start somewhere where you think you can be successful to get some momentum going. I think starting at home is the best idea since the pandemic has made it more challenging to refuse single-use plastic while shopping, dining, etc… If you need specific tips on how to get started, check out my book. I’ve been researching and living the plastic-free lifestyle since 2008, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are chapters with tips for every room in your house! Once you’ve adopted products and a lifestyle with less plastic, you can start to have a ripple effect and share what you’re up to friends, family, service providers, and political leaders. As individuals, we can’t solve this problem. We need the support of policies and products to kick the plastic habit and save our planet, but individuals can put pressure on their leaders and vote with their pocketbooks by supporting mission-based companies like ECOlunchbox that put plastic-free products to market.
Sandra Ann Harris is the author of “Say Goodbye To Plastic: A Survival Guide For Plastic-Free Living” published in October 2020 by Hatherleigh Press. Her passion is protecting the oceans by reducing people's dependence on plastics. Her company ECOlunchbox, which she founded in 2008, innovates and sells high-quality, plastic-free food container solutions. She has a diverse background in business consulting, product development, investigative journalism, and digital marketing strategy, along with her work in the non-profit sector for a humanitarian aid organization. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.