What We Learned From Plastic Free July
July 31st was the last day of #PlasticFreeJuly, a grassroots initiative that asked us to challenge ourselves to reduce plastic waste in our daily lives. Plastic is everywhere, even places you wouldn’t suspect. Because it has found itself into so many aspects of our lives, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge to use less of it. More than 2 million people around the world committed to the Plastic Free July challenge, and among them were several members of the tentree team.
Plastic has been a part of everyday life since it was invented in 1907, but its use has been increasing dramatically in recent decades. During the last 10 years alone, we have produced more plastic than during the previous hundred years. Half of that plastic is used only once and then thrown away. Only about five percent of the world’s plastic is recovered through recycling, meaning that 95% ends up in the landfill or worse, in the natural environment. When plastic is exposed to the ecosystem, it can have devastating effects on plant and animal life.
Our concern for the environment doesn’t begin and end with planting trees. Our primary mission as a brand is to be the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet. All of us on the team have been deeply concerned about the issue of plastic pollution, particularly as it reaches catastrophic levels in our oceans. When Plastic Free July came around this year, we challenged ourselves and each other to reduce or, if possible, eliminate it entirely. Everyone accepted the challenge in different ways, but a couple themes started to materialize pretty consistently.
Going plastic-free is all about planning ahead
When asked about her experiences with Plastic Free July, Katie Pearce, our Sustainability and Social Compliance Manager was forthright about the sheer difficulty of reducing plastic use. “I think I failed this challenge in epic fashion, but I want to try and be positive about it,” she said after the month was up. But even though she fell short of some of her goals, she and her partner Troy made progress. “I think we’re doing well with eliminating take out cups, lids, straws, and bottles. We even sneak our own drinks into the movies!” Scandalous! For her, going plastic free took a lot of planning ahead and careful shopping. “I now always leave the house with a reusable straw or two, along with a container for take-out, a mug for drinks, and reusable grocery bags. Even when I travel!”
Rethinking the non-essentials
For Laurie Armet, tentree’s Graphic Designer, the grocery store was the front line of her mission to avoid plastics. “It really surprised me to see how much food was in plastic.” Looking at everything presented on the shelves, plastic seemed like it was everywhere. “Frozen fruit, cereal, tofu, juice, even lettuce was wrapped in plastic! It was all over regular household items too - toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry detergent. I started cutting non-essential things from my grocery list and avoided bottled drinks.” Perhaps the biggest change for Laurie was in her thinking. “I was less spontaneous about grabbing a slurpee, Starbucks, or a popsicle on the go. A couple times I found myself accepting a plastic bag when purchasing last-minute groceries, but I felt guilty about it. Now when I need something, my first thought is ‘how does this come prepared and where can I get it without any plastic?’” Laurie plans to continue the challenge to see just how close she can come to being fully plastic free.
Food without plastic is all around us
For many of us, avoiding plastic required us to think inside of our personal spaces, like our homes and offices. But for Rebbeca Marroquin and Iva Jericevic, their quest to avoid plastic took them outside. The two of them became the office berry-pickers. “I used to buy blackberries from the market but since they come in a plastic container, I decided to stop,” said Rebbeca, tentree’s Customer Experience Coordinator. “I started scouting blueberry bushes near my house and found a few. So now I pick them and store them in a non-plastic storage container.” Iva found a number of unharvested berry bushes around the city. “There are so many berry bushes growing around Vancouver and it’s amazing how much food goes to waste because people aren’t eating them!” Iva took her berry picking seriously. By the end of July, she had foraged a total of four kilograms of berries.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for our team is that, in order to effectively avoid plastic, you have to be actively conscious of your plastic consumption on a daily basis and make active changes in your lifestyle to reduce your reliance on it! Think of it as a food allergy or a dietary preference. You wouldn’t want something that might harm you, but how about something that harms the environment? The next time you purchase to make a purchase, ask: how is it packaged? Does it involve plastic? If so, no thanks!
Earlier in July, the idea of being plastitarian was put to the test. As a group, we all went to a baseball game to get outside and enjoy some non-working time together. The stadium served beverages in plastic cups only. If you wanted to purchase beer, for example, they’d open the can and pour it into a plastic cup. When asked, we weren’t allowed to simply take the can due to liability issues. It was enough to stop many of us from enjoying any beverages while there. There could be a good reason for why plastic cups had to be used, but it shows how deeply ingrained single-use plastics are in our society. Sometimes plastic is the only choice.
Ready to start reducing your plastic use but don’t know where to begin? Check out our blog: 8 ways to reduce your reliance on plastic.