Plastic Free ABC’s Challenge: A Beginner’s Guide to Eliminating Plastic
Time always seems to move in turbo speed during the summer months. As the days scurry along, we are now entering the final week of Plastic Free July! Not to fear, though. Although this month of environmental encouragement is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean that you are alone in your journey to continue reducing plastic waste.
However, I understand more than anyone that sometimes staring at these laundry lists of lifestyle changes can seem daunting and unattainable. Sometimes we don’t have the time or energy to sort through dozens of pieces of advice searching for plastic-free swaps that suit our own lifestyle. Plus, although these indices can be extremely helpful as a reference, they aren’t necessarily personalized to you and your daily routine.
The suggestions may be based off of what the “average American” or “average citizen” might be consuming, but they aren’t necessarily tactical or tailored to the specific needs you may have as an individual or household. Not everyone consumes the same amounts of the same products, so one strategy that works swimmingly for you may have little to no impact on plastic reduction for the next person over.
This is why often zero waste activists like myself will encourage “waste audits,” which allows you to track the things that you specifically throw away to see where most of your plastic comes from in the first place. That way, you can find impactful alternatives accordingly.
Rather than having you sort through your waste bin, however, I wanted to take this opportunity to create a challenge for you to close out this month in a fun and fulfilling way: by using your ABC’s.
My challenge for you is to take 10 to 20 (to 30 depending on how thorough you are) minutes to name a plastic or plastic-packaged product that you consistently use corresponding with each letter of the alphabet. For example, for the letter ‘A’ you might choose ‘apple juice.’
Ideally, the products that you select for each letter should be those with a high turnover rate — in other words those products you use most often. Then, once you have identified a plastic product associated with each letter of the alphabet (example below), you can commit to doing one of the following for each item:
· Stop purchasing it, and thereby slowly phase it out once the product becomes unusable
· Properly dispose of the item to immediately get it out of your home, either through a municipal recycling program, supplemental recycling program (TerraCycle), or donation
· Commit to keeping this product in use for as long as possible, through repair, maintenance or repurposing if necessary
Over time, as you change your consumption habits around these 26 items, you can completely eliminate your plastic intake surrounding them! Then, once you have mastered these items, you can go through the cycle again! This might feel a bit overwhelming, but if you take it one item at a time you’ll find that some of these swaps are very simple (and might even save you some money)! Eventually, these swaps will become second-nature and you will be well on your way to a plastic-free life!
Once you have formulated your lists, feel free to share them in the comments below or on social media — to keep you accountable and inspire others to follow in your footsteps! For some assistance in getting started, here is a list I curated based on my family’s household:
Amazon Products → Purchase products locally
Bandages → Bamboo bandages
Contacts & contact solution → 1 month contacts/larger solution containers
Dog toys → Repurpose old stuffed animals
Easter eggs → Papier mache/felt/eco eggs
Floss → Water flosser/Compostable floss
Gum → Mint leaves
Hair clips → Wooden hair sticks/Scrunchies/Bobbie pins
Iced coffee → Bring reusable cup to coffeeshop
Jump rope → Eco Jump Rope/cotton rope
Keratin shampoo → Shampoo Bar
Ladle → Steel ladle/wooden spoon
Milk jugs → Make your own plant-based milk/use glass containers to refill
Nylon clothing → Cotton/linen/hemp clothing
Plant pots → Return plastic bins to nursery and replant
Quick-drying matte lipstick → Lush lip balm
Red solo cups → Aluminum Solo Cups
Spice containers → Buy spices in bulk
Toothpaste tubes → Toothpaste tablets
Umbrella (clear) → Keep umbrella in use/buy secondhand
Vacuum cleaner → Keep vacuum in use/buy secondhand
Wall art hanging strips → Thumb tacks/Sticky tack
X-tra Virgin Olive Oil → Refill glass container at your local bulk store
Yo-yos → Wooden yo-yos
Zip ties → Reusable zip ties
Over the next several weeks, I will work with my family members to phase out these products using one of the three strategies I mentioned above. My hope is for all of you to complete this exercise and do the same!
Once you’ve done so, please share this challenge and comment below some of your favorite swaps that have come out of this! I can’t wait to hear some of your awakenings and results! Until then!