Experiencing the Plastic Cap Challenge

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Ocean Conservancy receives a donation as a result of the Plastic Cap Challenge

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.

Source details:

Stores I shopped (and would like for you to contact if in your area):

Aldi

Costco

Giant

Walgreens

Wegmans

Whole Foods

Shoppers

Original source for the challenge: thedihedral.com

Photo source: Ocean Conservancy

🌎♻️ Thank you for reading and helping to reduce waste! 🌎♻️

The Travel About Trash

The last few months have been focused on eliminating waste in my life. I cannot believe how incredibly hard it is to reduce waste during travel if you don’t either plan ahead or basically change the way you think in general.

Two stateside trips in the month of August were eye-opening about how far we have come and how much further we desperately need to improve! I’ll tell you about the first trip now and the second in another post so you don’t have to spend your entire day reading!

My family agreed to meet me for a ridiculous and fun-filled family adventure in a rental zig-zagging across as much of New Mexico as we could possibly pack into a few short days. Unbeknownst to the good spirited travelers, I was on a quest to use all of the items I packed in my carry-on to avoid trash. This included: a metal silverware set in a tiny zipper case, metal straw, and reusable coffee mug with its cardboard sleeve. I also carried a backpack with a smaller daypack to avoid using plastic bags.
I set off for the airport and made it as far as TSA. It turns out I should not have packed a yogurt for breakfast. It was over the three ounce liquid rule so they dumped it into the trash. I was mystified that they allowed my metal silverware set through that contained a knife and set of chopsticks but would not allow a yogurt I planned to eat for breakfast. I found out later my knife was contraband but both airports let me bring it through  . . .
I made a mental note to tell everyone about this later and marched on to Dunkin Donuts where they filled the reusable cup I purchased from a major competitor. I sat on the airplane and sipped coffee from this mug, skipped breakfast because I was still pouting about the yogurt, and sadly watched all of the other passengers drink from the free airplane cups. The little plastic cups stuffed with paper napkins and miscellaneous trash fell into the flight attendant’s plastic trash bags again and again.
I arrived in Albuquerque and waited for the family to arrive. The very kind woman at the hotel did not understand why I wanted to use a water fountain when she had complimentary bottled water for me. I did not realize at the time but this is a very common conversation everywhere.
The family traveled like the Bernstein Bears by car, Dad as the driver with me as the navigator and Mom and sister in back. The sister tried repeatedly and mostly unsuccessfully to block the glaring summer sun with one of the seemingly million maps my parents collected throughout the trip. At one point Dad was driving at least 75 mph when they decided the sister should roll down the window and try to fold the map while he rolled up the window as fast as possible. That was truly the most entertaining thing that happened in the car.
I was hopeful we could use the maps on the phones and not create a need to recycle but phone service was spotty and Mom actually collects maps. She tried hard to maintain her neatness by using a trash bag in the car. My sister brought along a solar powered cell phone charger for the trip which was one of several environmentally positive things she did.
The reusable cup was a major success! We ate breakfast at a different hotel every morning; I used the same cup all day for coffee and water. The gas stations and fast food places allowed me to fill water for free wherever we went. Most of the time it went very smoothly. The bigger National Parks have water fountains so we made excellent use of those opportunities as  often as possible. Twice I ordered a drink and used my own cup; neither place charged me.
The utensils were a huge breakthrough habit! I used my utensils at breakfast every morning in lieu of the plasticware provided. I went back to the room and grabbed them when I forgot them. Depending on the location within the same chain of hotels, either styrofoam or paper plates were the only options for food service. The metal straw came in handy when we stopped at a restaurant with table service and washable dishes.
The reusable bag was an interesting dilemma. I didn’t bring a bag big enough for a blanket I purchased in Santa Fe and didn’t think to carry it without a bag. The reusable bag my sister brought was also too small. I ended up taking the plastic bag and filling it with all of the purchases. Mom used it as the trash bag in the car but ultimately it went into the trash when we left.
I celebrated the fact that I saved at least 15 cups, six sets of plastic utensils, and made choices that reduced the overall amount of trash I created. Other than the National Parks, I found no place to recycle items. This disappointing fact made me happy to have reduced my personal amount of trash. The trip left me to consider what more to do, especially since I’d be going on another trip a week later.