Contributing to Plastic Free July

by Mihika Mehra

To begin by answering the question I assume is flooding your minds, what is Plastic Free July?  Plastic Free July is a global movement initiated by the founder of the Plastic Free Foundation (PlasticFreeJuly.org), Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, in 2011. The foundation is a non-profit organization that works to achieve their envisioned dream of a world void of plastic waste. The movement provides resources for participants to reduce plastic waste that comes from single-use plastic in their everyday life. Each year, people who participate in the Plastic Free July challenge save an average of 825 million kilograms of plastic waste. This staggering amount of plastic saved not only proves the impact of the movement, but also that there is still much more work to be done. 

What is striking to me is that we’ve become so accustomed to using a material often only once or twice and then throwing it away, only for it to take years to actually decompose. But in those years that it takes for plastic to decompose, many detrimental consequences become evident. Plastic waste, also known as plastic pollution, is when objects made of plastic accumulate on Earth and affect wildlife, habitats, and humans. Plastic pollution affects land, waterways, and oceans. Organisms can become entangled in plastic materials, ingest plastic objects, or become exposed to the harmful chemicals used in the production of plastic.

How have we contributed to plastic waste? It’s actually really shocking. To begin with, plastic water bottles. In America, over 60 million plastic bottles are thrown away every day. Even out of the ones that are recyclable, 7 out of 10 get incinerated or dumped into landfills, where they can take up to 450 years to decompose. Plastic bags are another widely used asset that take up to 20 years to decompose in landfills; they’re not recyclable, just inexpensive and lightweight. Plastic straws are also commonly used, and take up to 200 years to decompose, which you may already know if you were familiar with 2019’s VSCO girls. But what can we do? How can one person like you or me make enough of a difference to change even some of these numbers? 

It’s hard to believe, but it is possible. As always, start small. Carry around your own reusable grocery bag. Switch to using bamboo toothbrushes, not plastic ones. Use the bar versions of haircare and skincare products instead of the ones packaged in plastic bottles. Invest in metal straws and reusable water bottles. Bring your own cup to coffee shops. Slowly stop purchasing zip locks and other single-use containers. And don’t just think of your actions as a contribution to the Plastic Free Foundation; think of them as a contribution to your own community, your own future, and to Earth, your home. Until we can live safely on Mars, at least.

I’ve provided you all with the facts that I think many of you were already familiar with. But I hope that I’ve given you a new perspective or at least a new way you can make a change that you didn’t know about before. I encourage you to think about the difference you’re making and let that motivate your actions. I encourage you all to take your own initiative and celebrate Plastic Free July not only for this month, but for every day that you can.

Thank you so much.