Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: My Plastic Free July Journey

I can’t believe July is over already! But, just because the month is over doesn’t mean my goals for the month have to end as well. This year was my first year participating in Plastic Free July, and I plan on implementing the new tips and tricks I learned to reduce my use of plastic all year long.

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Finn knows you can always find another use for a cardboard box.

About a year/a year and a half ago, I began to experience “The Attenborough Effect”. That means that I watched so many documentaries narrated by Sir David Attenborough that I felt an intense need to immediately reduce the amount of plastic I was using. I had already been using re-usable shopping bags at the grocery store (and other stores), but I knew I could do better. I began purchasing re-usable kitchen/food storage/etc alternatives (like beeswax wraps, reusable travel cutlery, and more) from a local store. I started buying makeup and skincare products that were more ethical (i.e. vegan and cruelty free makeup and a reusable makeup remover cloth). I even made the switch to reusable menstrual products and ethically produced underwear. But when I stumbled upon Plastic Free July on Instagram in the fall last year, I knew I could continue to do even better.

 

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Max approves of my use of beeswax wraps and reusable snack bags.

So, this year, I knew that Plastic Free July was something I wanted to take part in. Once I signed up, I received weekly newsletters with tips, tricks, and the stories of others who were participating. That’s it! Easy! All I had to do on my part was make a conscious effort to say “no” to plastic whenever I could. Some of the tips I received in the tips I read about in the newsletter were things I was already implementing in my day to day life, but I did also learn a few new things to cut down on my use of plastic even more! And, most importantly, the organizers were very aware that COVID-19 would present a few extra challenges this year. Although that did have an impact on my plastic use, I was able to work around most of the COVID related challenges.

 

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Finn making sure I use a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one.

REDUCE: As I child, I was taught the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” as if the three were interchangeable. As if, as long as you did one of those three things, then you were doing well. It turns out, as I learned fairly recently, that there is a correct order! The first step is to reduce. I’ve been able to reduce my use of waste and plastic by making the switch to reusable products and shopping local when I can. Many of my personal hygiene products¬† (like soap) I now buy from local stores instead of big chain stores. And those products are not only local, but they are made more ethically and with less packaging!¬† I’ve also been reducing the amount of packaged food items by making my own versions from scratch. Like many people in quarantine, I was stress baking/cooking. Before COVID, I had already been making my own bread and stock, among other things. But I really cranked up the dial on that one when I realized that I would be stuck inside much more often. When grocery shopping, if an item on my list comes in plastic packaging, often I can find an alternative version of the product with less plastic packaging or none at all.

 

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Minerva loves reusable shopping bags.

This year was a little challenging in terms of grocery shopping because, for a while, my grocery store banned reusable bags because of COVID. Depending on what I was buying, and whether I was using a cart of a basket that day, I would simply put items back in my cart after scanning, or cram all of my purchases into one plastic bag, so that I could take everything out into the parking lot and repack it into my reusable bags instead. Luckily, my grocery store has recently lifted the ban on reusable bags. It was also challenging because normally there is a farmer’s market in the parking lot across the street from me during the summer. It normally runs from June to October, but it was not there at all because of COVID. I found a farmer’s market website that was able to provide delivery, but they didn’t always have the kinds of products that I could normally get at my local farmer’s market. Thankfully, I learned online last night that my local farmer’s market will be back in business starting tomorrow!

 

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Max loves this laptop case made from recycled plastic bottles.

REUSE: The next step is to reuse whatever you can, rather than simply throwing it out. Mark and I have been hoarding any boxes that come into the house via deliveries and given them to some friends of ours who are moving. And any plastic bag that comes into the house gets reused as many times as possible. I wash out any ziplock bags that come my way and reuse them as many times as I can. Bigger plastic bags get reused for things like scooping kitty litter, and smaller plastic bags go in the freezer. Why the freezer? Because I save my food scraps. And scraps from cooking go into those bags and wait in the freezer until I have enough. Then I make my own chicken stock and vegetable stock. I’m sure that if I keep trying, I can find even more ways to reuse!

RECYCLE: Last but not least, recycle. If you can’t reduce or reuse something, into the recycling bin it goes!

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Supervisor Bubs makes sure we recycle properly in this household.

SOME LOCAL (Ottawa) AND CANADIAN STORES I RECOMMEND: 

These are my top 5 stores for buying ethical/sustainable/reusable products.

  • Maker House: Sells a wide variety of items from many local and Canadian makers. They have crafts, bath/body, kitchen products, and more!
  • Bee Savvy: Honey from a local apiary. They also make their own skincare products! Try the cinnamon infused honey – it’s divine.
  • Purple Urchin: Soap, bath bombs, face masks… They’ve got all sorts of skincare and hygiene products that are 99% and 100% natural ingredients.
  • Readi Set Go: This is my go-to for reusable food storage related stuff. Beeswax wraps, bamboo travel cutlery, reusable snack bags, (and cute lunch boxes too).
  • Aisle: Formerly Lunapads, this company produces many kinds of reusable menstrual products. They have products available for all body types, and for ALL people who menstruate. And, COVID bonus, they sell reusable cloth masks that have really fun patterns.

As I’m sure many of you have already seen online, I’m going to loosely quote a phrase that I’ve seen on many social media posts: we don’t need one person going 100% plastic free. What we need is for 100% of people to reduce their use of plastic.

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