July 16, 2018

Halfway through #PlasticFreeJuly

We're halfway through Plastic Free July and I just wanted to drop a little note about my experience so far. I just spent the last 10 days in the States and I'm shocked at how tough it's been to avoid single use plastic in certain places and situations.

Luckily, I had stocked up on some basics before July, such as my handy To-Go utensils set, reusable straw, stainless steel water bottle, solid bar shampoo and reusable cup. I felt like I was pretty prepared to take on this challenge while travelling, and yet I failed miserably a number of times.

Access to Sustainable Alternatives

I was planning on buying a few items once we landed in New York, but I was pretty shocked to find that it was close to impossible to buy a bamboo toothbrush, a reusable coffee cup and solid shampoo/conditioner bars at major supermarkets and pharmacies in the city. I was naive in thinking that I could just pop in to a Whole Foods or a Target and stock up on some supplies in preparation for our travels! For example, we had to buy tooth brushes made out of recycled plastic as opposed to bamboo and I had to buy two reusable cups from Starbucks instead of Keep Cups (We have a Keep Cup at home in Barbados but decided against bringing it because it's glass, so we were planning on buying an alternative once we got to the States) Our first morning in the City, we went to a local coffee shop around the corner (without our own cups, as we hadn't bought any yet) and thought we might be able to buy a branded cup from the shop. They didn't have reusable cups, but it prompted an interesting discussion with the owner who explained that all of their cups were biodegradable, as they were "all about that shit." So I sipped my coffee with my stainless steel straw, in a biodegradable cup (Pictured above).

Plastic Free Fail

I sound like a bit of a lunatic saying this, but it was actually pretty gross to see every other person in New York walking around with a plastic cup and a plastic straw. I just assumed that more people (millennials especially) would be more sustainable and consciously minded, but that's definitely not the case and the #PlasticFree movement still has a lonngggg way to go in the US. We still have a long way to go in Barbados as well, but the sheer volume of people and plastic in the City felt quite overwhelming and disheartening. 

I struggled to avoid straws when we were out, despite shouting "NO STRAW, PLEASE!" when ordering my drinks. Minutes after having a conversation with friends who live in the city, where everyone agreed that straws were unnecessary and some even said that they were on board with the movement, they ordered drinks with straws and stirrers. Like any addiction, it's going to take us a while to really break free from these habits that we have had our whole lives.

Sushi with Reusable Bamboo chopsticks
Eating Sushi with Reusable Bamboo Chopsticks
Our cup couldn't runneth over

Call me naive again, but I genuinely thought that more places would be on board with serving us our coffees and drinks in our own cups. Even after Starbucks announced that they were ditching straws, we were faced with some confused looks when we asked to use our reusable Starbucks cups for our orders at Starbucks (Perhaps Starbucks needs to offer some sort of "Sustainable Bias" training in the near future) We were refused service in our own cups at a number of places as well, which was surprising, especially since they were always clean when we asked.

On a more positive note, small wins include zero plastic dining at an amazing Vietnamese restaurant, where the owners were really thrown off by our request for no straw, no plastic cup and no chopsticks:

Owner: "So, no plastic cup?"
Me: "No thank you, we can just have our drink in one of your reusable cups since we are dining in."
Owner: "OK, but you want a straw? Two straws?"
Me: "No straws, thanks! We have our own."
Owner: "OK, but you want the food in a take away container? You say, NO plastic?"
(Bare in mind we were eating in, sitting at a table)
Me: "Nope, no thank you!"
Owner eventually brings our pho in a regular bowl, our smoothie in a reusable cup and two plastic straws, just in case we were joking. Luckily they were wrapped in paper, so we just returned them. 

Stainless steel straw with the most amazing jack fruit smoothie

It's not all doom and gloom of course, but I'm just sharing a few of these points while they're fresh in my mind, since we just got back from our trip. Plastic free travel was more challenging than I expected, but I'm reminded not to be too hard on myself or others, as we are all in this together and it's a long, complicated process. 
This quote by Eco with Em sums up the experience so far pretty well: 
"The thing about going #plasticfree is that it’s like the gateway drug of living an eco life. It opens your eyes to all the waste around you. And gives you ideas on how to reduce your impact. And save money. And your health. And All The Things." - @ecowithem

Are you participating in #PlasticFreeJuly in any way? I'm curious to hear other experiences with Plastic Free July, whether you're in a developing or developed region, as we all have our challenges and there's so much we can learn from each other.


  1. I have been slowly ditching plastic in whatever ways I can. So technically yes. So frustrating that those places didn't allow your own cups.

    1. Yes it is! Hopefully it will change sooner rather than later. What have been some of the more tricky changes you've been making?

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