I Tried to Reduce Plastic Use for One Week and Came Up Short

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans, and that figure could increase by ten-fold over the next 10 years, according to a new study published in the journal Science. We are now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. Since plastic does not decompose and is not biodegradable, it harms our oceans and the sea life that depends on the environment.

Recently, celebrities like Sophia Bush and Connie Britton have taken the #30DayNoThrowAway challenge: a month of eliminating single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled, such as plastic bags, straws, soda and water bottles, coffee stirrers and most food packaging.

Now, companies like McDonalds and Starbucks are stepping up to do their part. Starbucks is hopping on the environmentally-friendly train by pledging to phase out plastic straws by 2020. Starbucks, a multi-billion dollar company with almost 30,000 stores worldwide, said that more than half of its beverage sales come from cold drinks, which typically come with a plastic straw. With this new initiative, customers can expect recyclable “strawless lids” or paper straws. Starbucks also sells reusable plastic cups that coffee-drinkers can bring into stores with the extra enticer of a discounted purchase.

I decided to embark on a small personal journey and challenge to help the environment by reducing my single-use plastic as much as possible for a week. I like to think that in general I don’t use an excessive amount of single-use plastic: I drink my morning coffee out of my thermos, I have a reusable water bottle at work that I refill and I can’t actually recall the last time I bought a water or a soda out of vending machine.

Lessons learned:

  • Habit. Straws are a natural habit that I didn’t realize I was so accustomed to. I couldn’t count the number of times I went to a restaurant and automatically pulled off the paper on a straw and plopped into it into my drink. After years and years of rote movement, it was hard to break the cycle.
  • Convenience. The convenience went both ways — on one hand, if I was sitting in a restaurant, it wasn’t particularly difficult to not pick up the straw and to take a sip from the cup (if I remembered not to use the straw). However, there was one downside that I noted right off — I’m a big fan of mobile apps and ordering ahead. I order my coffee from Starbucks, my smoothies, my lunches occasionally, from my phone. However, ordering ahead was impossible when you are using a reusable cup! Instead, you had to wait until you arrived on-site and stand in line. This meant I had to be more intentional with my time since the convenience of ordering ahead was no longer there. While altogether, not too terrible a price to pay for the safety of the environment, it was something to take into consideration.
  • Unnoticed waste. Microwave meals. Frozen dinners. Ketchup containers. The list of single-use plastics that I didn’t even think about was endless. During work, I popped a Fit Bowl into the microwave and realized that in one sitting, I’d used a plastic container, torn off a plastic cover and was using a plastic spoon. Plastic is everywhere and reusable options are not the most popular right now. It’ll take a serious shift in thinking and mindset to move to a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
  • The Rules. Unfortunately, not all restaurants are fond of the reusable cup. I was told straight-out no, I could not use my own cup. There was a confusion about what to charge me, as my cup qualified somewhere between a medium and a large — a manager had to be called. Additionally, the reusable cup may have looked like I was trying to sneak in alcohol!

Overall, the week made me spend a lot more time thinking about my every movement. Trying to save the environment by reducing my single-use plastic as much as possible for a week, and only using plastic for professional uses (such as from Simply Plastics) is no easy feat and this week showed me how far I — and we as citizens of the world — need to go to make a change. Hopefully, more companies and organizations will follow in Starbucks’ shoes and make a commitment to shift operations and save the world.

Have you tried the no-plastic challenge? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting @litdarling!

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