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 City of Hope ⚜️

I mentioned in the last post that I took two trips in August and learned much about trash. Well, the trip to New Orleans was really something. I love the romance of the French Quarter: the architecture, music, art, and of course food. I’ve been there half a dozen times or so now and each time I find something new that I love about this place. This time though was different. Maybe I was different. The city that has been through so much and keeps going, the city of hope gives me hope.

A small group of us stayed over a holiday weekend at this wonderful little boutique hotel on a block between Bourbon And Royal. The hospitality at the hotel was like no other and we loved it! I found myself looking for ways to recycle and reduce trash consumption as I had all over New Mexico. My sister and one of my friends jumped right in with me.
We lucked out with breakfast served daily at the hotel on dishes with linen napkins. I had a place to fill my coffee cup but not a place for water. The hotel staff was quite confused that I didn’t want bottled water to pour into my cup or to just take the plastic bottles. They only set out fruit-infused water in a pitcher in the lobby later in the day but that was wonderful! The coffee shops let us use our cups and most of the restaurants served us on dishes. The problem was really the bars with plastic cups galore. So much trash and no place to recycle.
I came home and did a little research. It turns out New Orleans has a recycling program for residents but hotels, restaurants, and bars in the Quarter are responsible for trash and recycling through a private company. This makes much more sense after walking around and seeing the giant trash cans at several places. The bars serve in plastic cups or souvenir-style containers. It is cheaper and easy to just toss all of it. People seem to act a fool here like no other and the staff doesn’t have time to add on responsibilities.
A local bartender told me that people do things in New Orleans that they would never do in their own home or town including throwing trash on the ground and leaving disgusting messes for people to clean, all under the guise of being on vacation. After she said this, I started watching people as I walked down Bourbon and zigzagged the other streets. Bourbon seems to have the most bars, the youngest tourists, and the most trash and vomit on the streets.
One block over on Royal is full of art galleries, coffee, government buildings, and the police department. It is cleaner and more quiet except during parade time. Jackson Square all the way over to Cafe Du Monde and down to the Markets is full of life and shopping but not a lot of craziness. Restaurants tucked away along the side streets were in most cases quaint and cozy with no litter.
The crowds and trash are dependent upon the celebration du jour. The sanitation department rolls out early and hoses down the filth for the tourists to party again. Trash is stacked high with a stench from the night before that will rot as the sun comes up only as it can in the humid heat of Louisiana. They work hard to start each day fresh. I have thought about this a lot since I returned home.
New Orleans is a place that welcomes everyone and isn’t going to turn away tourism because of the revenue it generates. The local residents care about the city and clearly participate in the recycling program available; options to increase the size of the containers are even available.
Not all tourists are there to binge-drink and be a mess. Many are there to experience the culture and would gladly participate in recycling and waste reduction. The key is to make it simple and a way of life.
Tourists need a place to recycle along the main streets and around Jackson Square. Some may not even realize how much trash they’re reducing by sitting down at the wonderful restaurants. Companies save money every time a customer brings a mug from home and the result – one fewer drink cup ends up in the dump each time. We should celebrate small victories and appreciate the talented street artists and overall culture of such an historic place while sipping from our reusable cups.