lessons from plastic free july
We've long been fans of Plastic Free July at Bee's Wrap, and this year our team decided to embrace the challenge. For the last week of the month, we encouraged our team members to pledge to reduce single-use plastics. In total, thirteen Bee's Wrap employees jumped in. Our goals ranged in ambition and scope, from refusing plastic straws to buying more bulk groceries to carrying reusable water bottles, and more. What we shared was a common desire to pay more attention to the plastic in our daily lives, and look for places where we could improve.
What did we learn along the way? A lot.
Sometimes there's a cost to refusing plastic. But maybe it comes out in the wash?
At our local food co-op, Katie (press and communications) opted for a half-gallon of organic milk in a reusable glass container; this container can be redeemed for a deposit at the store, sent back to the creamery, and reused. But that half-gallon of milk is more expensive than the organic alternative in a plastic jug. Jess (marketing associate) ran into the same quandary when, craving a cool beverage, she chose kombucha in a glass jar over a flavored seltzer in plastic. Sometimes going plastic free simply costs more.
But we also realized that choosing to refuse single-use items made us more thoughtful about our consumption overall. It was easier to resist an impulse purchase at a gas station. Many of us packed our lunches more regularly, saving money (and waste) from take-out options. While we didn't do a rigorous accounting of the costs and savings associated with refusing single-use plastics, we had a hunch that it all balanced out in the end.
A little bit of preparation goes a long way.
Refusing single-use plastics does require some forethought, and keeping the right tools handy goes a long way toward making habit shifts. Katie was traveling last week; with an early morning flight ahead of her, she packed breakfast in a sandwich wrap and carried an empty reusable coffee cup through security. Jess carried bamboo utensils on an outing to the farmers' market, and was able to refuse the plastic fork offered for her lunch on the go. Abbey (office admin) is now on the hunt for the perfect stainless steel box so she can ask for leftovers at restaurants to be packed up in a reusable container.
Plastic really is everywhere.
Grocery shopping was perhaps the biggest challenge. We packed our reusable shopping bags. Jess shopped the bulk section, using glass jars to store her pantry staples. Even so, plastic was hard to avoid entirely. It was surrounding each block of cheese in the dairy section, each bundle of fresh herbs in the produce section, and hidden inside cereal boxes. John (sales and marketing) noted that plastic often cropped up in unexpected places — like the farmers' market, where he was surprised to realize how ubiquitous plastic bags could be.
Other businesses are making thoughtful choices about plastic.
Just as Plastic Free July made us notice how much plastic is out there to avoid, it also made us appreciate the businesses around us that are trying to curb our culture's plastic addiction. A local ice cream stand uses compostable dishes, cups, spoons, and napkins. A coffee shop incentivizes customers to bring their own mugs by discounting a cup of coffee. At one local grocery store, there's no need to choose "paper or plastic?" if you forget your reusable bags — they only stock paper, and keep cast off cardboard boxes on hand for grocery toting.
We have to speak up.
It can be hard to go against the grain and ask for special treatment. Sometimes it means chasing down a barista who reaches for a disposable cup before you offer up your reusable one, or asking the person behind the deli counter to wrap a sandwich in Bee's Wrap (as Sarah, our founder, did last week). We had conversations with our servers, the employees in our local grocery stores, and our friends and families. In the end, these were all conversations worth having.
We're not perfect. But we are trying to do better.
In taking note of the plastics in our daily lives, we also started noticing them in the world around us. Kat, one of our sales representatives, spent part of July on vacation at the beach — where she found balloons and straws and even a basketball washed up on shore during walks.
"I went down to the river last weekend and was so bummed to see so much trash: an empty chip bag, cigarette butts, soda caps, a dirty sandwich baggie, a lone plastic floatie," said Jess. "It's surprising to me that people can be so careless with such a beautiful place."
This is the kind of revelation that drives us. So, too, does the camaraderie of tackling this challenge together. Plastic Free July might be over, but we'll be choosing to reuse as much as we can — saying no to the plastic straw, carrying our reusable totes, and packing a sandwich in Bee's Wrap. We hope you'll join us.