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Ask Eartha: How to have a plastic-free July

Rachel Zerowin
Ask Eartha
Eat outdoors at your favorite restaurant rather than getting your food to-go to reduce single-use plastic waste.
Stock photo

Dear Eartha,
I just learned it’s plastic-free July. Between COVID-19 guidelines and my takeout addiction, how can I reduce plastic use?   

Plastic-free July is a global movement inspiring people across the planet to ditch single-use plastics for the entire month. It’s a challenge to consider your daily habits and continue on a lifelong journey of reducing plastic waste.

That sounds bold. And our actions need to be. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items. No one is asking you to give up your favorite restaurant eats. But we can all make a few changes that support a healthy planet.

At the restaurant

The solution is simple: dine in! Actually, dine out. Whether on a walkable Main Street or on the patio of your favorite brewery, outdoor dining is the best way to take in a summer meal. I can feel it now, the sun shining on my face while I grab a bite and sip a cold local brew. Pretty fantastic, right? Also fantastic, you’ll eliminate the need for paper and plastic takeout containers, which are not recyclable locally.

For those of you who prefer dining in the comfort of your own home, skip the plastic utensils and paper napkins. If you’re not using cloth napkins at home, now’s the time to make the switch. Simply toss them in with towels or other laundry.

Also, consider your condiments when ordering takeout. Most of us have things like soy sauce and mustard in the kitchen. I realize that the sauce can sometimes make the meal, but when it comes to basics, forgo those individual condiment packets.

Make these requests when you place your order. And at pickup, double check your order to ensure you’re not taking plastic utensils or other things you already have at home.

Out and about

We’re all masking up in public. Choose a cloth face covering rather than disposable masks, which typically contain microplastics. Whether you’re a true do-it-yourselfer or someone who prefers the ease of a simple purchase, the internet offers all manner of options for making and buying cloth face coverings. Many businesses in the county are selling cloth face coverings made by locals, which is another way to support our community.

I don’t know about you, but I love my coffee. The inability to refill my mug at many local shops hit me hard. For that reason, I’ve started buying beans and making my coffee at home. If you want a cup on the go and can’t avoid those disposable coffee cups, be sure to toss empties in the trash; coffee cups are not recyclable.

Thankfully, many stores here in the county still allow you to bring your reusable bags, provided you bag your own groceries. I don’t mind bagging one bit. And as plastic waste continues to grow, the reusable grocery bag habit is an easy, basic practice to maintain.

In your home

Getting back to those cloth napkins: In my home, a large stash of them doubles as cleaning cloths. I use my napkins with an Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaner and skip the disposable wipes. Bulking up your stash of cloth wipes is as easy as cutting up old T-shirts or towels.

Plastic wrap and baggies can be a tempting way to store or transport food. Yet, if you just look around your kitchen, you’ll find many other options. Maybe you’ll reuse bread bags for picnic lunches or give away homemade cookies in old coffee cans. Maybe you’ll try beeswax covers or invest in ovenware with lids. Once you get creative with supplies, it’s easy to skip the single-use plastic wrap and baggies.

As you embark on your journey of reduced plastic use, keep in mind that this race isn’t won in a month. It’s about building lasting habits that you can share with friends and neighbors. For more ideas on reducing plastic in your life, visit HighCountryConservation.org/blog.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at info@highcountryconservation.org.


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