My Emotional Journey Through Plastic Free July

Aug 05

Do Plastic Free July to save sea creatures and help restore marine environments? Yes, yes, YES! Right up my alley. I’d do anything to help that sea turtle get that straw out of her nose. And I already used a water bottle and avoided straws so, no sweat, right?

Turns out, it’s more complicated than that. And emotional. Really, really emotional. This July marked the beginning of me understanding my relationship with single-use plastic (SUP) and my contributions to plastic pollution.

Week 1 – Challenge accepted! 👍💪😉

I started off the month energized and ready to cut SUP from my life, and I spent that first week in a halo of awareness excitement. I evaluated my daily routine based on plastic interaction, mapping out where I consumed the most SUP.

The kitchen and the bathroom were my single biggest sources of SUP. I use refillable soap containers, and yet my bathroom is still full of it: shampoo, conditioner, creams, balms, lotions, make-up, medications and hair product packaging. SUP shows up in my kitchen in bags of dry goods, condiment containers, ziplock bags, garbage bags and plastic wrap.

To meet the Plastic Free July challenge, I told myself that I needed to commit to not buying anymore SUP throughout the month. That actually worked pretty well and gave me the opportunity to try new products.  Confession, my hair suffered through shampoo rationing, and I resorted to a mix of liquid body soap and leave-in until my bar shampoo and conditioner arrived.

On the plus side, I used up the lingering products from the kitchen and bathroom, instead of buying new ones. A major insight here: I should be doing this all the time and I’m going to try to be better. What about you? Do you buy things, get bored halfway through and not finish them?

Week 2 – The long way down. 🙂🤔😱

After a bright-eyed week, my awareness of SUP deepened, and before I realized, I was up to my neck in plastic anxiety.

So much of what we consume is made from SUP. That’s billions of people using a fork, a straw or cup just one time and it being on the Earth for decades. After thirty-some years on this planet, I’ve consumed so much SUP that it will outlast me by centuries.

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These thoughts grew louder and more difficult each day. So I got angry. I felt mad that I didn’t have a choice. That my only options were products made from SUP. It wasn’t a good place to be, and I’m not going to lie, I wallowed and let in the hopelessness.

How do you solve a problem that’s so big? Where do you even start?

Week 3 – The flip side of SUP. 🚌 

So what was I doing this for anyway? Would one woman’s avoidance of SUP for one month really make all that much difference? If we’re talking weight and size, probably not, but if this one person connected with other people around the world doing the same thing, then yes, it would make a difference.

Riding the bus home on July 18, I saw a woman sporting a collection of reusable shopping bags. They were connected to her messenger bag that she carried every day on her way through the city. She was ready to shop for what she needed and avoid wasting precious resources on SUP in the process.

I realized that she was like me, and between the two of us, we’d avoid five or six instances of SUP each time we went to the store. That too, just like the straws and cups in the ocean, will add up. And there are millions of people making the choice to avoid SUP on a daily basis. Plastic Free July reported 3.4 million participants world wide. We have a long way to go, but there is so much hope in that.

Week 4 – Community is everything.  👨‍🌾👩🏽‍🔬👨🏿‍⚖️👨🏾‍🎤👩🏽‍🚀👨🏼‍🍳

Now that I knew I wasn’t alone, I began to wonder who else was here too? Why did they care about giving up SUP and what we’re they doing about it?

People all over the world are evaluating their relationship with SUP. An artist in the Czech Republic uses SUP, specifically PET bottles, to create sculptures and other art in a movement dubbed “creative recycling”. A mix of pragmatism and imagination, the work created from used drink bottles ranges from lawn art to gallery pieces. I find it charming, funny, hopeful and most of all, human.

Business is waking up to the necessary and profitable practice of finding uses for recycled SUP. The textile industry is one of the furthest along, with apparel brands like Recover leading the way in transforming SUP into thread. Recover’s process takes 8 used water bottles and creates 1 new t-shirt. I love that kind of ingenuity and admire people who tackle a challenge like plastic pollution head-on and with brilliant results.

The answer to plastic pollution is going to be a global effort that requires input, effort and commitment from everyone. It’s going to take scientists, lawyers, doctors, celebrities, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We all have a role to play and even though avoiding a straw or toting to-go mug seems small, it’s huge.

I didn’t expect my Plastic Free Journey to be so emotional. But as a wise friend often reminds me, emotions are information. They arise to teach us about ourselves. During Plastic Free July, I had to take a look at my relationship to SUP and explore the guilt I feel about using it and the fear I feel about the growing problem of plastic pollution.

On the bright side, which is where I’m choosing to linger, I also feel excitement, hope and connectedness. Creating solutions for plastic pollution is going to be innovative—so let’s enjoy it, together.

A million thank yous to the the founders of Plastic Free July.

Jocelyn Eide Jocelyn is the founder of Klee.Life. She loves our planet, all the people on it and all the cool things they make.