It’s hard to change (or create) a habit if you don’t perceive it as personally beneficial. We’re smack in the middle of Plastic Free July, and I’m trying to figure out how to “Choose to Refuse” single-use plastics. I want to carry on beyond July, making the habit permanent.
Providing recyclable plastics isn’t a sufficient solution to our burgeoning load of synthetic polymers. As the Community Environmental Council (CEC) points out: “Labeling a product ‘recyclable’ does not guarantee that it will be recycled. … Of the estimated 35 million tons of plastic waste the U.S. generates each year, only 8.4% is recycled.”
The CEC, Channelkeeper, and partners around the globe have teamed up for the tenth year of Plastic Free July. The Plastic Free Foundation organized the first the challenge in 2011 to raise awareness of a growing plastic waste problem, dramatically reduce plastic use worldwide, improve recycling, and support behavior change.
Channelkeeper’s newsletter describes the month-long goal. Choose a challenge level and be social about it.
Level 1: Pick one disposable plastic item to avoid using for the month;
Level 2: Refuse the big 4: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups, and straws;
Level 3: Commit to avoid all single-use plastic.
Beyond that, Channelkeeper encourages participants to post their experiences on social media with the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly. You can share your favorite plastic reduction ideas there.
If you’re willing to rise to the challenge, you might appreciate some strategies for making it stick. Whole books are written on the topic of developing good habits. Some that work for me, aggregated by psychologist Christine Whelan:
» Start small. Choose one thing. The Plastic Free July (PFJ) challenge suits that nicely.
» Make it SMART. This acronym, unpacked, means Specific, Measurable, Rewards, Trackable. PFJ covers most of this too: you can choose one of the top four, all of them, or all single-use plastics.
» Ask why. Make sure it’s really what you want, not what you feel you should. Here’s where you may need to dig a little. Eschewing plastic may help you empty your messy plastic bag drawer or spare your overloaded trash. The activity can make you feel better about doing your part for the environment.
» Go public, or make a commitment strategy – Talk, post it, or write an article. Outing your commitment will keep you on track and reinforce its value to you.
» Get help from your community. Bring your own takeout containers to restaurants. This was difficult in the height of Covid, but is not a problem now. Cloth bags work great for groceries; using mesh bags for veggies is a lifesaver.
» Celebrate those steps to boost self-efficacy — don’t despair if you mess up.
» Stick with it, the longer the better. Make July just the beginning.
One way to consider your own part in reducing plastics is to reflect on the word itself. Plastic is not only a synthetic material made from polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon. An item or idea that is plastic can be easily shaped or molded. Think of synthetic plastics as temporary bandages to problems that need sustainable solutions.
To sustain ourselves on this planet in the long term, the output and waste of manufactured products and processes need to be the inputs for others products and processes. Our plastic minds can find better solutions for the future.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.