September was a challenging month for me! The Dihedral posted a plastic cap challenge on their blog in August. Basically, the idea was to pay a $1 tax per plastic item purchased in the month of September in an attempt to reduce waste and eliminate the need to recycle. The. Whole. Month. I thought that was pretty awesome since I was knee-deep in my quest to reduce waste. Spoiler alert: I paid a lot of tax!
I started the challenge on 1 September while on vacation. I already had the cup, reusable bag, and utensils but didn’t take into account that I might need emergency eye drops or other things. I came home the next day thinking I’d be in good shape since I take reusable food containers to work on a regular basis and had no travel planned.
Guess what? The grocery shopping KILLED me! Why do we buy so much fruit and vegetables in plastic? I’m not even talking about the plastic bags on the side of the displays; I had reusable ones with me. No, no, I mean the peppers in plastic bags and mushrooms in styrofoam and plastic containers wrapped in plastic. I was up to a $40 tax the first week! Why is everything in paper boxes also wrapped in plastic? I don’t even buy the pre-cut fruit and veg because it’s expensive AND in more plastic!
How I attempted to save: I shopped every grocery store in my area over that month and attempted to save money in food and in plastic tax by purchasing the items not in plastic at each place. Each grocery store has good and bad habits. All of them encourage the use of reusable bags. Most places have a plastic bag collection bin and sell their own branded, reusable bags. All of them use plastic wrap and containers in the deli and produce departments. Some have options to pick vegetables with tongs and use bags but even those places wrapped a lot in plastic. I ended up buyIng in bulk at Costco and at least recycling almost all of those containers.
My friends with gardens let me have all the vegetables I wanted so I loaded reusable produce bags and even shared with another friend. Farmers Markets are the best solution I found for people with one exception: nightshift workers. How do you get to a place when it’s the middle of the night for you and the middle of the day for everyone else?
I took my own food containers and straw to restaurants and ate the leftovers at work. At one of the restaurants, my friend took home the little plastic cups they used to serve our sides so she could recycle them. I’m a regular at another place and they love when customers bring containers and refuse straws. The owner was so excited when she found paper straws!
A walk through the health and beauty department is kind of depressing now. I made all of my own body products and stored them in glass containers I had washed and saved. I tried to stuff homemade deodorant into an empty plastic deodorant tube but that wasn’t so amazing. I opted out of ordering drinks at places that wouldn’t let me use my own cup. I failed at that twice and felt guilty about it.
The result: I worked really hard and had to be extremely creative to cut out plastic! By 30 September, I was up to $150 in plastic tax. This was almost all grocery and medicine related! I wanted to take it very seriously to see how hard it would be to help influence others to make changes in daily routines. I walked to the store closest to me to save gas consumption and took my own bags and occasionally used the store next to my favorite restaurant.
I researched environmental charities and decided to donate the $150 to Ocean Conservancy in Washington DC. They are very serious about reducing the use of plastic and have many educational programs.
Next steps: I am reading and engaging with several groups from all over the world on social media that are on the same path. Each has an idea I hadn’t considered and also lists troubles they have. It’s like we are all in it together. I continue to use reusable items at work, home, and on travel. I’m learning about urban composting in an attempt to start mine.
I am still trying every day but not beating myself up if something happens where I don’t have an option. I recently drove to a friend’s house who lives in the middle of town. We walked to a restaurant to meet friends and then walked to our errands at the local stores. She does this all the time and it was very inspiring, plus we got a little exercise on a sunny day!
How we can all help: Please write your local stores corporate offices and ask them to find alternatives for wrapping food in plastic. What happened to old fashioned butcher paper and bulk stations?
Can’t get away from plastic associated with your medicine? Take your used human and animal prescriptions to participating Walgreens and drop them into the locked collection container, plastic bottles and all. Local police departments also have information for safe disposal.
A side note: Some of your friends will be irritated with this challenge should you choose to accept it. That is okay. Do this for you to see what you learn and let them decide if it is right for them by watching your example. You will be surprised at how incredibly helpful some of your friends are and what they already know and do!
Feel good about yourself: Celebrate each time you do something new – all of these things are small victories!
Finally, I’ve learned that we will not eliminate all plastic because some of it is necessary for medical procedures and also for humanitarian crises. However, we can eliminate wasteful plastic use in our everyday lives.
Stores I shopped (and would like for you to contact if in your area):
Original source for the challenge: thedihedral.com
Photo source: Ocean Conservancy
🌎♻️ Thank you for reading and helping to reduce waste! 🌎♻️