A ‘Plastic Free July’ On The Go

If you caught my most recent post, last month was Plastic Free July, which was created to raise awareness about the single use plastics in our lives in effort to reduce landfill waste & protect our oceans. Folks pledge to refuse these sorts of plastics making it a great starting point for those who aren’t already in the habit to choosing reusables and avoiding packaging. Since avoiding single use plastic as much as possible is already part of my everyday life, I wasn’t sure going into the month how I could make it more significant. I’d considered tightening things up by eliminating any of the plastic waste we do create for the month but knew we’d be traveling with family for two out of the four weeks so thought that in and of itself would be a challenge. I knew being on vacation my husband would want to eat the things he normally craves in the meat department that often comes in plastic and that if we were to buy food out of town I wouldn’t likely have many of the same options I have at home. I didn’t want to throw stress into my relaxation time by trying to go beyond our normal routine when its already more difficult to avoid garbage when traveling. There were wins and there were fails but at the end of the day we did what we could. Let’s take a look at the reality of our July on the go!

During the month of the July we did allll the things. We spent a weekend and a week at our family river cabin and a week down in South Carolina at the beach, then there were our typical weekend activities along with the traditional fourth of July fun.

Two days into July our little family of three went to an area state park for a hike and dip into their community pool. We brought our own water bottles and snacks as always but decided to stop for a late lunch on the way home. Without our asking the waiter brought the teenie one her own water in a ginormous styrofoam cup with a lid when he brought out ours. Usually we don’t ask for water for her because she will just drink from ours which avoids the water waste and the potential for this sort of thing happening.  This was the second time that weekend that this had happened (at different restaurants) and one of four occasions over the past month and a half. Each time I want to beat my head on the table because it makes me feel so defeated that such an unnecessary waste has been created without my asking.  Of course I don’t want to be rude to the waiters or waitresses since 1. they are people who are trying to do their job and 2. they have yet to deliver my meal so I don’t want them spitting in it but so desperately want to say “whyyyyyy?”  I should just start leaving notes at the bottom of our receipt when this occurs but I don’t know if it’ll make a difference because it’s probably the result of multiple parents requesting this sort of thing or past experience with kids knocking over their drinks (though its always worth a shot). Either way its become a very frequent occurrence that totally undoes an otherwise low waste meal out.  With restaurants we visit on a regular basis that I know use disposable cups for kids, I sometimes can catch them early to say “no kids cup, please” or “no drink for her we have our own” but with new restaurants I’ve been a whole lot less on my guard. Guess I’ll need to beef that up.

For the fourth I made a point of bringing my camping plates as well as silverware from home to the family picnic. By volunteering my stuff I was able to ensure there were reusables and put my mother in law’s mind at ease with not having to do a bunch of dishes afterwards. Some single use plates and table ware were still used but much less from having brought my stash along!

With both of our week long trips I made a point to bring many of the foods we eat that normally might come packaged such as oatmeal, beans & snacks. Our regular reusables came with us as well so that we could avoid single use plastic water bottles, shopping bags and to-go containers when out to eat.

At the river…

Often I’ll come to the river with most of my groceries for the week and while I did bring some dried goods and what we had in our fridge, it wasn’t enough to feed us for the entire week. Normally hubs and I sort out what we’re going to eat in advance and we all just eat at the same time but since it was just myself, teenie and my parents that whole week, I knew it would be easier to wait until we got there to go shopping together so we could coordinate meals. This gave me the chance to have a say in some of the products that were being purchased and try to avoid unnecessary packaging when possible.

It also gave us the chance to introduce my mom to the practice of using a cloth bag in lieu of a plastic produce bag!

Because the house is a shared space and because I didn’t come 100% prepared, there were a few things I purchased in plastic during our time at the river. I tried to choose the most sustainable options when possible such as local beers and pasta, cage free eggs, organic bananas, berries and milk. I used the opportunity during a mid-week grocery run to grab items on my dad’s shopping list in attempt to find better alternatives. Surprisingly the store we shopped at didn’t really have any powdered laundry detergents so I ended up a plastic bottle but was excited that they had rolls of toilet paper wrapped in paper.

As always I brought my tag along recycling can with me!!

At the beach…

Thinking ahead I brought along a sponge, dish soap, cleaning spray (vinegar + water), cloth rags, cloth napkins, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stuff that I knew the house wouldn’t have so someone would end up having to buy if we didn’t have it. I also brought coffee, some snacks, & beans – all purchased package free from the bulk section at home. While we didn’t use a lot of it because there was plenty of shared food that needed to be eaten first since it didn’t have the same shelf life, I was glad to have them just in case. Before leaving I made black bean burger patties (to offset the garbage from hamburger meat in plastic) and carrot hummus (for hummus and avocado sammies) then brought along whatever food and milk we had left in our fridge that would have gone bad before returning in a week.

As always shopping out of town made me super grateful for the options we have in Richmond. It can be very difficult to avoid packaging while away from home and while I knew this going in there was a moment where I couldn’t help but feel completely discouraged while at the store. I’m not sure why I let myself feel that way because I’d decided not to make/bring bread, bagels or buns on this trip due to time and space, and knew that there wouldn’t be a guarantee of a fresh baked option that could be carried out in my own bags. I knew my husband would be wanting meat and that if I didn’t bring it from home there wouldn’t be any guarantee of it being raised sustainably, locally. But we did what we could to make the best choices possible and I think we did a decent job with what we had to work with and honestly it’s not like we created any more waste than what we normally do since we can’t get meat products in containers where we live either. We splurged and bought a couple bags of tortilla chips but kept all our condiments in glass and chose cream cheese packaged in foil/paper. There were a lot of shared meals with family so indirectly we created plastic waste but for the things we brought to the table we did what we could. I even bought flour to make tortillas the first night! This meant having to buy a rolling pin since our house didn’t have one but I figured the plastic covering a new rolling pin that can be reused was better than the plastic bag covering pre-made tortillas. And now teenie has her own rolling pin!

I was very excited to see Kroger had an initiative to encourage people to bring their own bags and avoid plastic. Sure wish I could have experienced the same during our grocery trip to Lowes Foods on the first day. Unfortunately they were a complete disappointment as their “about us” section on their website touts this and that about being the real deal local yet I could barely find anything local in their store. Then although I brought my own bags (plenty to fill with the groceries we had) we still went home with unwanted plastic. I left my husband at the checkout to look for a rolling pin and heard him tell the bagger to just to pack the groceries in my bags. When I came back the cart was full of plastic bags!! The guy was just talking my husband’s ear off, putting two or three items into a plastic bag then slinging them in the cart even when hubs tried several times to remind him to just use the ones we brought. Even as I actively tried to unload the plastic bags and stick them back in his bagging station he kept filling more bags up! While the moment was quite comical having to literally fight off plastic bags, it goes to show you how much of a over usage problem we have. It definitely makes me all the more thankful for markets who are conscious about the waste they are creating. We managed to get out with only maybe two or three plastic bags. I’m not sure what happened to the other ones I was able to fend off but I’m hoping they didn’t get trashed.

We’d thought about bringing our growlers for beer but decided against it because we wanted the portability of cans. I did at least bring along our recycling can to encourage recycling from everyone in the house. We only had to make two trips the entire time because paper bags helped to serve as extra recycling collection.

Any empty food containers I tried my best to save and hold on to. Some were used for storing leftovers and the rest was put into a bag to be brought home to recycle since the area where we were staying didn’t appear to recycle those sorts of plastics.

I toted along our water bottles wherever we went. Even if that’s all that came with us during our walks on the beach. My stainless tumbler was super handy for enjoying a little vino poolside without having to drink it out of a large tumbler or carry an unprotected glass. Though my glass water bottle probably isn’t the most ideal poolside bottle, the silicone sleeve around it provides a good amount of protection. That being said I try to be extra careful with it on hard surfaces like concrete or bring along a stainless steel one instead.

Unfortunately some food was wasted as composting was not possible at either vacation spot. While scraps ended up in the trash we tried our best to make sure we ate any leftovers and tried to finish as much food as we could in the fridge. By not going out to eat but once the whole trip we were able to do that quite easily! Our stash of containers came in handy for saving leftovers at home, eating on the go and taking food with us the one time we ate out.

The month created more food packaging waste than we normally do from being on the go but I continued to flex my refusing muscles against the easy to avoid single use items like straws, cups, bags, cutlery and to-go containers. We didn’t buy any special travel bathroom products and the only clothing I purchased for our beach trip was a top from a local secondhand store for $4. Of course while we were there we took the opportunity to pick up trash whenever possible and even saved four beach chairs from going into the landfill (which have since been given to another local to use instead of having to buy chairs new for her upcoming beach travels)!!  All in all it wasn’t perfect but I’d say July was a success. 🙂

xo, Erica