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NST Takes on Plastic Free July

Reduce, reuse, recycle. These three words have been drilled into our heads since elementary school and continue to be at the forefront of conversations around the “plastics problem.” When juggling our busy daily routines, it can be hard to make choices that steer clear of the convenience single-use plastics can provide, but NST decided it was worth taking on the challenge.

First started in 2011 by the founder of the Plastic Free Foundation in Australia, Plastic Free July has since become a global campaign that inspires 100+ million people across 190 countries to participate and pledge to make changes – big and small – in the ways that they use plastic.

The team at NST took the pledge to take on Plastic Free July (to the best of our ability), documenting our wins and struggles along the way. After all, one of our values is to do our best, every time. Our goal was to use Plastic Free July as a launch pad for reducing our daily use of plastic, allowing us to pay close attention to how we can reduce plastic pollution through our daily routines, not just for 31 days, but far beyond the month of July.

Simple changes we made:

  • One of the first changes my colleague Vanessa and I made was the way we consumed our daily coffee. “The easiest thing I changed was utilizing re-usable cups for my coffee! I stopped ordering mobile pick-up and brought in my cup,” Vanessa said. “It made me think twice about buying coffee, which led to fewer purchases and higher satisfaction.”
  • Melissa, vice president at NST, also made the switch when it came to her coffee orders, adding, “When we started this challenge, I let the barista know I didn’t want any plastic, but we still wanted our regular coffee, so she made sure to make ours in paper cups and skipped the plastic tops. By the end of the month, we were used to it and the baristas didn’t even ask us about the plastic anymore, they just always made ours in paper with no tops.”
  • My personal goal was to try not to purchase any additional plastic items throughout the month, and instead repurposing some of the other materials I had at home when I could. Fellow NSTer Brogan agreed, saying, “I repurposed the plastic containers I received when ordering take out and found that to be helpful. Giving up plastic is not easy or convenient but establishing a new daily routine to reduce plastic use and prevent that level of inconvenience is only the first step.”

A few challenges we faced along the way:

  • Brogan found it was nearly impossible for her to opt-in for plastic-free alternatives when she was ordering food or coffee through a mobile app or on-the-go.
  • Melissa shared, “The biggest eye-opener was the amount of plastic we threw away daily. During the month of July, we avoided buying any new plastic, but I couldn’t believe how much single-use plastic we already had in the house! Pretty much everything in my fridge and pantry had a plastic wrapper or container. All my make-up, bathing products, and cleaners were all in single-use plastic. I sought out new replacements, but they were hard to find and typically a lot more expensive. It was frustrating.”

Plastic Free July Learnings:

  • Our team did find some amazing plastic-free alternatives right in our local communities. Melissa said, “We found some fun alternatives at Sprouts and Lazy Acres and tried a whole bunch of new things. The local juice bar I use for my green juices gave me all my juices in mason jars this month – after I explained the challenge – so that was very cool.”
  • What’s great about living and working in San Diego is there is no shortage of farmers’ markets to visit. Bringing your own bags, supporting local farms and exploring new businesses? It was the perfect excuse to frequent my local farmers’ market, without contributing plastic waste.

Plastic Free July month was eye-opening for all of us. It made us aware of how much plastic we use, the value of recycling (properly) and, most importantly, it made us want to do better. Vanessa said it best, “As much as I want this to be part of my daily life, it’s hard to adjust for my lifestyle at the moment. While I’m not ready to give up all my favorite things just yet, I will commit to being conscientious and avoiding single-use plastic whenever possible!”

Looking at the strict definition of living plastic-free, we definitely failed the challenge. But, when it comes to successfully redefining our perspective on plastic consumption, we’re considering this month a win. Here’s to more conscious eco-friendly decisions!

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