Waste Watch: Plastic Free July in the Age of COVID-19

Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Three years ago more or less, I first became aware of and wrote about Plastic Free July in this post, Plastic Free July: What YOU Can Do to Reduce Plastics Waste.

Since that time, lots has happened – especially in the last several months- as we all are well aware.

Yet the plastic problem has if anything worsened, as we all try to dodge COVID-19 . Some seek to do so by shrink-wrapping anything we admit to our households- a trend I expect will only worsen. Markets or free for all selection of fruit and veg – as opposed to prepackaged, plastic-swathed alternatives – are a thing of the past, at least in much of the world. But that plastic waste has to go somewhere, and alas, much of it will end up in the world’s oceans.

And although I’ve written often and at length about the fallacy of chasing the recycling fairy alone for a comprehensive plastic solution, I concede recycling does not solve but does somewhat mitigate the plastic problem. But the COVID-10 pandemic has overwhelmed those miniscule remaining efforts, due to communities abandoning recycling as they, too, try most immediately to cope with COVID-19 (see Rubbish Is Piling Up and Recycling Has Stalled – Waste Systems Must Adapt).

So, to distract yourself from the COVID-19 obsession – and I admit I too, NEED this distraction. Indeed, any distraction! – think about committing to a plastic free July.

There are steps we all can take to leave a little less plastic behind.  These include, per the Plastic Free July website: eschewing  takeaway cups; finding plastic free alternatives to the wrapping of fruit and veg; carrying reusable non-plastic bags; refusing straws;  not grabbing those plastic water botttles; avoiding plastic at the bakery and butchery counters.

And perhaps most impprtantly, committing to reduce, reuse. and recycle. I admit. some of these recommendations appear ridiculous – if  not downright quaint – when many of us are still formally locked down  or if not, are ourselves limiting our encounters.  But remember: plastic lasts forever. And we all must hope, COVID-19 does  not.

Now I admit, there’s a bit of a problem in placing the onus on us for a plastic solution, as the Plastic Free July campaign admittedly does:

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities. Will you be part of Plastic Free July by choosing to refuse single-use plastics?

The real problem – again as I have written before – is not to produce the crap in the first instance. So imore importantly than reducing one’s personal use woold therefore seem to be to take some political action to pressure the powers that be not to allow the production of plastic in the first instance. Taking action againt the plastic pushers, and reducing production at the source – wold be a much better solution than these meager consumer efforts.

I can dream, Can’t I? Back to reality.

Nonetheless, once you have dealt with the low-hanging fruit I mention above, there are other steps you can take:. These include: avoiding balloons and using other decorations; buying food in bulk; buying less of it; changing shaving routines to skip disposable razors; using bar soaps rather than the liquid alternatives. avoiding plastics in dental care and other bathroom uses.

But I think these suggestions aren’t radical enough. I’ve trained myself to be aware of – and to avoid – most plastics. I just don’t buy them, or bring them home. That means things made of ‘permanent’ plastic – not the single-use kind. And I choose metal, wood , or paper alternatives. Or sometimes, nothing at all — particularly where excessive, unnecessary packaging is concerned. Now, sometimes alternatives asre admittedly not avalable. And a plastic version slips into my shopping bag. But as a consequence of a mindful choice – and often considerable internal debate,

I should mention that the suggestions in that earlier, now three-year old post, for creating a zero waste kit, are still viable. Or at least will be, once we emerge from our hibernation – enmasked I hope, – to engage once again with the world, Permit me to quote from that earlier post about what your personal zero waste kit should contain, to remind us what we should take from that earlier time once we can move forward again:

Her Zero Waste Kit includes:

  • a collapsible coffee cup;
  • a leakproof, stainless steel container with removable dividers;
  • three lightweight veggie bags and a cloth bread bag (all of which it into the stainless steel container;
  • cloth napkins;
  • bamboo chopsticks;
  • stainless steel straws;
  • a wooden spoon and a foldable spork;
  • combination placemat/cutlery holder, which holds all the cutlery and the cloth napkins;
  • a cotton canvas tote bag.

Jerri-Lynn here: What you may choose to put into your kit would, obviously, reflect your needs and preferences. I, for example, would certainly include a Swiss Army Knife or other similar tool in my kit, and I wouldn’t bother with the metal straws (I hate straws).

We can say no to plastic. Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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