Plastic pollution is a global issue that has caught the eyes of many. People from around the world have recognized this problem and have created movements in an attempt to raise awareness to ultimately end plastic pollution. Read on in this month’s sustainability newsletter to learn about Plastic Free July and how you can help reduce the amount of plastic pollution produced each year.
What is Plastic Free July?
Plastic Free July began in 2011 as a local initiative in Western Australia, and has grown into a global movement that engages millions of people annually in over 170 countries around the world. Every July this campaign challenges and encourages participants to avoid single-use plastics and reduce their overall plastic waste. Since 2017, Plastic Free July has become an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation Ltd.
This non-profit organization considers Plastic Free July as a key initiative in working towards their vision of a world without plastic waste. Since 2018, Plastic Free July has received awards for their work including the Infinity Award: Avoid Recover Protect – Community Waste Award and the Environmental Action Award, United Nations Association of Australia WA Division.
Plastic Free Ecochallenge
Above: Plastic Free July campaign, photo courtesy of plasticfreejuly.org
Although, Plastic Free July is celebrated globally a lot of their work is generally focused in Australia and the Eastern Hemisphere because of their location. Here in North America, the Coalition of North American Zoos and Aquariums puts on the Plastic Free Ecochallenge every July. The Plastic Free Ecochallenge is powered by the Ecochallenge platform, which is a sustainability organization that provides tools to help generations of sustainability leaders gain experiences that lead to environmental and social change.
The Plastic Free Ecochallenge is an annual 1 month event that has been adapted from Plastic Free July for the zoo and aquarium community. Because of their awareness of human impacts on the environment, these zoos and aquariums aim to use the Plastic Free Ecochallenge to make a difference for the species that are most impacted by plastic pollution through collective efforts. These impacted species include seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and terrestrial species along with many others. While the focus is on wildlife organizations, the Ecochallenge encourages anyone who is dedicated to reducing their plastic consumption to participate. The Plastic Free Ecochallenge allows participants to sign up on their website by creating or joining teams. This is to encourage participants to create beneficial habits for themselves, their community, and the planet. By signing up, you can earn points for completing chosen challenges and getting involved. To register, visit their website and click the “JOIN” button.
Plastics 101: The Basics
Before you can begin to reduce your consumption of plastic, it is important to know the differences between types and the most common forms that they take. Because of the widespread use and consumption of plastics, there are many different types of plastics that are circulated around the world. These plastics are coded numerically by their composition using 7 codes which indicate the composition of each type of plastic. Understanding these codes are essential to the proper disposal of that type of plastic as certain recycling centers will only accept specific numbers.
Type 1 plastic (PET or polyethylene terephthalate) is found most in water and beverage bottles. This type of plastic can be recycled and is used to make new bottles or spun into polyester fibers. Type 2 plastic (HDPE or high-density polyethylene) is used to make things like milk jugs, detergent bottles, oil bottles, and some plastic bags. This recyclable type of plastic is considered to be one of the safest forms of plastic and is very durable making it good for reusing. Type 3 plastic (PVC or polyvinyl chloride) is used to make food wraps, shower curtains, and toys among other things. It has versatile uses, but contains numerous toxins that leach out over time. Less than 1% of PVC is recycled because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to do so.
Above: Plastic codes along with examples of each kind, courtesy of learn.eartheasy.com
Type 4 plastic (LDPE or low-density polyethylene) is commonly found in shrink wraps, squeeze bottles, plastic food bags, and plastic grocery bags. LDPE plastics are reusable and can be recycled at specialized collection locations (like here on-campus at TREX bins). Type 5 plastic (PP or polypropylene) is a tough and lightweight plastic that is used for straws, packing tape, disposable diapers, yogurt containers, and disposable cutlery. PP is recyclable, however only about 3% of it is actually recycled so reuse is highly encouraged. Type 6 plastic (PS or polystyrene) has variable use and can be found in styrofoam cups, egg cartons, insulation, and CD/DVD cases. PS is a very fragile plastic that breaks up easily and is difficult to recycle. Lastly, type 7 plastic (other) include all other plastics including bisphenol A (BPA), polycarbonate (PC), and more. These plastics are difficult to recycle and are typically used to make items such as bottles, lids, and medical equipment.
As you can see, many of the plastic types can be recycled. However, when they are not disposed of properly, they often end up in places where they shouldn’t be. Throwing plastics in the trash can allow them to find their way into the ocean through different mechanisms of transportation. These plastics typically include, but are not limited to, bags, straws, cups, and bottles. Many of these items are produced and consumed for single use purposes. Annually, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic, half of which is single-use. Moreover, 8 million tons of that plastic is dumped into the ocean. These plastics typically contain toxic chemicals and can go on to remain present in the oceans for thousands of years and are detrimental to marine life.
 https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/plastics-by-the-numbers/ https://yesstraws.com/blogs/news/types-of-plastic-plastic-numbers-guide
How can I help?
Take the challenge to participate by going plastic free this July. Participating is easy! All you have to do is try to refuse single-use plastics. In July of 2019, an estimated 250 million people across the world participated in Plastic Free July. On average, participants tend to reduce their household waste and recycling by 23 kilograms per person per year, contribute to a total saving of 825 million kilograms of plastic waste annually, and 90% of people have made lifestyle or habitual changes.
Above: Plastic free alternatives to commonly used plastic items, image courtesy of filtrol.net
If you’re interested in participating but don’t know where to start, consider starting small. Begin by evaluating your habits and plastic usage. If you often find yourself using plastic straws invest in a reusable alternative made of glass, silicon, or steel. There are a variety of options available and are pretty easy to have on you at all times. You can also invest in reusable cups, bottles, and bags (grocery, produce, snack, etc.) instead of using their single-use counterparts. By investing in these reusable alternatives you will be able to avoid plastic and possibly even save a little money. Another action you can take is finding ways to reuse or upcycle your plastic waste, if possible.
Keeping yourself accountable is definitely something that can help you get through the Plastic Free July Challenge or Plastic Free Ecochallenge. Consider encouraging close friends and family to participate with you. This can help keep you on track to use less plastic and work on developing your advocacy and educational skills with teaching others how to be more sustainable. Other accountability options can include writing about your experiences and reflecting on what has been easy or difficult during the month. You can even vlog (video blog) them to watch later and physically see and hear how you were doing and what you were feeling. If you choose to take to social media to share your experiences you can use #PlasticFreeJuly, #PlasticFreeEcochallenge and #MyPlasticFreeJulyChallenge.
Here are some resources if you are interested in participating in and/or learning more about Plastic Free July:
Stay in Contact with Residence Life Sustainability
Facebook: Aggies Going Green