“It’s just one straw!” said 8 million people. Every year, 28 billion pounds of plastic end up polluting our oceans. A single plastic bag, which is used for an average of 12 minutes, can take 10-20 years to degrade into tiny toxic particles. A plastic six-pack ring, which holds our beverages for the 1 minute before we break it open, takes 400 years to break down. These single-use plastics are single-handedly killing our oceans.
Recently, states like California and even entire countries like Kenya have banned the use of plastic bags in large retail stores. Starbucks has also promised to stop using straws completely by 2020. We are starting to take big steps in pursuit of a greener planet, but we have to chip in as well in order to make the difference that we desperately need.
I honestly haven’t put much thought into what I am consuming or using and its effects. I have always recycled, however, with the excessive plastic we are finding in our oceans today, I decided that I need to step up my game. I am tired of excuse after excuse of why eliminating plastic is too expensive or too much hassle. That is why I took part in the 7-day plastic-free challenge and encourage other people to as well. Stop saying “one day”, and make it day one.
What I will allow during this challenge:
Food that I have purchased prior to the challenge (I don’t want anything to go to waste)
What is not allowed during this challenge:
No single-use plastics (straws, cups, utensils, bottles, bags)
Food with plastic packaging
I will be trying to avoid all single-use plastics at ALL COSTS. Hopefully, I will not have used any plastics by the end of the challenge!
Day 1: I started off the day feeling a bit confused on where and how to start saving plastic. I opened my refrigerator door and all I saw was plastic packagings: bagels, bread, yogurt. For breakfast, I had a bowl of Lucky Charms which I bought previous to the challenge. I poured in my carton of almond milk, which I thought was lined with wax, but after some research, I found out most cartons are lined with plastic (great, not off to an amazing start.). Many products that we think are plastic free or low in plastic actually are not. Just in my breakfast alone, I have already used a plastic bag and a plastic-lined carton. I’m starting to think this week is going to be harder than expected.
Day 2: I decided to go food shopping today in hopes to find some food that I can buy in bulk without plastic packaging. I used this Plastic Free Shopping Guide to get me started. Around 45% of waste in landfills is attributed to plastic packaging. By buying in bulk, you eliminate the need for packaging altogether. Luckily, there is a Dean’s Natural Food Market right next to where I work. I filled up my Tupperware containers from home with cashews, pistachios, oats, and dried mango scooped from the bulk food section. Dean’s also had a whole spice table filled with mini jars of spice, which you can take only the amount that you need to avoid waste. I kept my eye out for glass and cardboard/paper packaging because paper degrades faster than plastic and glass can be reused. I managed to find jarred peanut butter, eggs, oatmeal, juice, fruits, vegetables, and pasta without any plastic packaging. In total, I paid $49.54.
Day 3: I work at a retail jewelry and handbag store, Charming Charlie’s, which still uses plastic bags, even though some stores are starting to make the switch to paper or canvas bags. Today a customer came in shopping with her own bag and I nearly screamed in excitement. It makes my heart happy when I see others taking initiative and being more conscious about what they are leaving behind. The average person uses 350-500 plastic bags in a year. Imagine the effects of thousands of people using their own canvas bags? We would see a reduction of millions of plastic bags polluting our landfills and oceans! Every Monday we receive new shipments with new product and LOTS of plastic. It horrifies me how much plastic is needed to package a single piece of jewelry. No joke, for one pair of earrings they are wrapped in an outer plastic bag, followed by an inner layer of bubble wrap, inside yet another plastic bag. Is it all necessary? While we try to do our part in reducing our plastic use, it is important to make sure that our businesses are doing their part as well.
Day 4: It was 94 degrees today and I was extremely thirsty, so I brought my glass water bottle to get a smoothie from Dean’s. When I ordered the smoothie, I noticed that Dean’s sold their own smoothie mason jars with a reusable straw for $4.99. I decided to buy the jar because if you wash it and bring it back to buy another smoothie, you will get 25% off. Win-win if you ask me: saving plastics and saving money. Music to my ears. I have also been bringing my reusable plastic Brita water bottle to work every day to avoid using plastic bottles. I am a huge Brita fan; as long as you have access to a tap water source you can fill up the bottle anywhere and have clean, filtered water without touching a plastic bottle.
Day 5: So far so good. For dinner I made a nice marinara pasta dish from plastic-free packaging, only using the pasta paper box and the tomato tin can. For dessert, I was craving ice cream and went to the local ice cream shop in my town. To save plastic, I ordered my ice cream in a cone to avoid any waste instead of getting it in a plastic cup with a plastic spoon (double the trouble). When going out to eat, there are always ways to cut down on plastic. When ordering takeout, have them put the food in your own containers. When ordering drinks, ask for no straw. The little ways that you can avoid plastic can be the most effective when everyone chooses to make green decisions.
Day 6: Beach day! I spent the last two days of this challenge at Monmouth Beach, NJ. For lunch, my friends and I wanted to order sandwiches. Luckily the subs were wrapped in paper and I carried them to the beach in a cooler to avoid using a plastic bag. While eating our lunch, we did some people watching (one of my favorite beach activities). There is something about observing other people’s habits and interactions that makes a beach day entertaining. However, this beach trip I was particularly aware of other people’s plastic habits. To my right, there was a family of five all drinking from water bottles while eating out of plastic playa bowl containers with plastic spoons. To my left, there was a couple eating fruit out of their ziplock bags with plastic forks. Do people come to the beach to swim in the ocean or in plastic?
Day 7: Another gorgeous beach day spent by the water. Monmouth Beach is a fairly clean beach compared to more crowded beaches in New Jersey. I was pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t much litter lining the shore until I noticed small pieces of plastic scattered everywhere from high tide. I found everything from bottle caps to a toothbrush. My friends and I picked up as many pieces of plastic as we could before we left the beach.
If everyone put aside 2 minutes to clean up a few pieces of trash, we could drastically reduce the amount of pollution that ends up in our oceans. It felt great to take action and clean up the beach myself; a hopeful way to end this 7-day challenge!
When I first started this challenge, I thought that I would go seven days without plastic and then return to my normal way of living, but instead, I plan on continuing this challenge by doing my best to reduce my plastic use. Overall, this challenge opened my eyes to the amount of plastic that I actually use in my everyday life. I’ll admit that it was a bit harder than I had expected, but it was worth it to reduce my plastic footprint and to start making a difference. Stay tuned for the journey on the Savvy Sisters Media Instagram Story! I encourage everyone to take action to challenge themselves, give back to our planet, and start sacrificing plastic for a cleaner and more sustainable future.
Plastic suffocates our daily routines. Plastic may be so engraved into our lives, but that does not mean that we cannot solve our plastic pollution problem. We need new ideas for greener products and support from corporations, the biggest plastic culprits, in order to see change and to see change quickly.
To get active in legislation and push our government for stricter laws pertaining to plastic output go to Take Action Ocean Conservancy and sign the petition!
If you and your friends are interested in participating in a beach clean up near you, visit Oceanconservancy.com for more information.
Visit 5 Gyres to learn more about the effects of polystyrene and plastics and what you can do to reduce your use.