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! 🌎♻️

Are you Ready to Help Change the World with me?

Are you a person who reads about a problem and tries to think of a way you can help make it better? Some topics seem pretty daunting because they are a global epidemic – waste, climate change, the loss of bees and endangered species, and human trafficking are a few hot button items. Do you lay awake at night thinking about these issues like some of my friends or do you throw up your hands and hope someone comes up with a solution? Are you in the middle? It is okay if you haven’t even thought about things like this because you are learning about it now.

Since I was little I have been what some might call a do-gooder. I come by this honestly because my mother is a lifelong volunteer for so many things. She took us to community events, collected money from us for food donations and Christmas presents for children in need for as long as I can remember. We were relatively poor and relied heavily on family in serious times of need but we always seemed to have time for volunteer work.
As we got older, we earned more money and were able to spread the wealth better. My dad and sister like to make sure the kids in their community have school supplies and fishing gear for the annual tournament. I like to volunteer for Veterans charities in the DC area and donate money to several types of non-profits. We all do what Mom, aka the family Chief of Staff, tells us to when she chooses a place for her annual donations.

It never occurred to me not to do things like this because it was something we always did. I received an award from a company where I created a recycling program in the early 2000’s and then a leadership award for being community and people oriented in my company in 2016. That was the same year my mother turned 70. I flew home for her surprise party and met several people who told stories about how nice my family is and how we always do things to help the neighbors and community. I was stunned to realize that not everyone thinks to do things to help others, especially strangers, but it also has never occurred to me to judge people for not being like us.

The flood of 1993 in Missouri sticks out in my mind as a time we helped our community. We lived in a neighborhood on a hill, just above the floodplain. Roads to our home were closed and the National Guard patrolled my friends neighborhoods and kept them out of danger. It was so bad the President arrived by helicopter on the high school football field to survey the damage. We had to help sandbag the subdivision that backed to the river. The Mississippi and Meramec Rivers spilled over the banks and broke levees like never before. One way in and one way out became the norm for a while. We watched the water rise close to spilling over the bridge on that last route into town.

Have you ever sandbagged an area to try to keep the water out of someone’s home? This is a legitimate daunting task because it is really hard work and it may or may not help. We stood in long lines and passed the bags down the way. People shoveled sand into bags and tied them, others passed them down the line, and the end of the line was the group strategically stacking them. I was a kid, basically oblivious, and struggling with this type of physical labor. I can remember people laughing at my facial expressions through the heavy lifting. In the end, the neighborhood we helped persevered through the worst of it. Others were not so lucky and I saw people’s homes and lives destroyed. These people were poor but didn’t let that stop them from moving forward.

I learned so many things from experiences like this and want to share with you, my journey through these lessons because I believe each person can make a difference in this world. Even if the difference is only for one person, it is something big. The flood taught me that you can ask for help in time of need and sometimes people will come to your aid and it will work out. Sometimes no matter what you do, the hardship will still come but it’s what you do to overcome it that makes the difference. We cannot wait for someone else to make a law or rule or to do something for us. We must get in there and do it ourselves.

If you’re not ready to jump in with both feet to save the world that is okay. However, I hope you are interested enough in how you can make tiny changes in your life to impact others in a positive way. If you are ready, let’s climb together, one step at a time.

I look forward to sharing information about recycling, reducing waste at home and work, being a conscientious traveler, energy consumption topics, and using small batch homemade goods. In addition to these articles, I’ll share information about the hot button items I mentioned above along with some great organizations who jumped into the fight for us and are already making a huge difference.