Plastic Free July: 3 Easy Ways to Avoid Plastic Every Day

plastic free picnic

July is one of the warmest months of the year, with people flocking to the beach and spending time playing outside. Going green this July doesn’t mean any of that has to change. Reducing plastic consumption within the flow of daily life doesn’t have to take much extra time or effort. Here are a few plastic-free tips for taking on summer in style.

Alternative Product Containers

Many sunscreens and lotions now come in plastic-free packaging. Look for sunscreen options that come in a tin as opposed to a plastic tube. Lotion can also be purchased in bulk and stored in a glass container or a reusable plastic one. Many moisturizers are also available in solid bar form and can be kept in a reusable storage tin.

Reusable Picnic Ware

Who doesn’t love a crisp cold salad or some BBQ on a hot summer’s day? In order to make your picnic or takeout meal plastic-free, bring along washable napkins and reusable silverware. If you are bringing food from home, consider using a reusable container and plates to keep your picnic zero waste.

Bring A Bottle

Over 50 billion bottles of water are consumed in America each year. Of those, 80% are not recycled and end up in a landfill. There are two simple solutions to help reverse this trend. First, use a reusable water bottle when you need water on the go. If you’re not in love with the taste of your tap water try using a water filter. Second, if you do grab a plastic water bottle in a pinch make sure to recycle it in your One Big Bin!

Want more plastic free ideas? Check out plasticfreejuly.org

The Bag Ban Returns to Reduce Plastic and Litter

reusable bag

On April 23, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order suspending SB 270 — California’s plastic bag ban — for 60 days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This order has not been renewed, so retailers are once again required to distribute only compostable or certified reusable bags and charge a minimum of 10 cents per bag. Let’s break down why the plastic bag ban is important and how you can avoid paying unnecessary fees next time you checkout.

According to a report by CalRecycle, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency, “Six months after SB 270 went into effect there was an 85 percent reduction in the number of plastic bags and a 61 percent reduction in the number of paper bags provided to customers.” This is a really big deal considering Californians were using close to 1 billion single-use plastic bags per year prior to the implementation of the ban. In addition to reducing plastic use, the ban has had a significant impact on the amount of litter across the state. Prior to the ban, coastal clean-ups by the Ocean Conservancy found that plastic bags made up 8-10 percent of marine litter. After the ban, that number dropped to less than 4 percent. This reduction in plastic use and litter is something Californians can truly be proud of.

But what about those reusable plastic bag fees? Yes, they are annoying but that’s the point. The fee is designed to incentivize shoppers to reduce plastic use. Every time you bring your own bag — whether it’s a fancy tote or a 10-cent bag from a prior checkout — you are both helping curb plastic use and saving yourself a little money. It’s a win-win.

It should be noted that as of June 28, 2020, stores can still restrict the use of personal bags and require customers to purchase store-provided bags instead. To ensure you can use your own bags, call ahead to find a store that is allowing personal bags.

Have any single-use plastic bags hanging around? You can recycle them at a store drop-off location — but call ahead because some locations are accepting bags during the pandemic. Alternatively, plastic bags can be reused to line a small bathroom trash can or even pick up pet waste.

California Just Recycled Its 5 Millionth Mattress

Since its inception in 2016, Bye Bye Mattress has recycled five million mattresses in California. That’s enough mattresses to stretch from California to Hawaii and back again if laid end-to-end! To celebrate this monumental achievement, here’s an infographic showcasing some of the amazing strides this program has made.

Have a mattress or box spring that you want to get rid of? If your mattress is in a usable condition, you can sell it or give it away to a neighbor. If it’s in unusable condition, you can take it to a nearby mattress recycling drop-off location. Map of California mattress recycling locations.

The Environmental Footprint of a Cup of Coffee

coffee cup

An average of 400 million cups of coffee are consumed in America every day – more than any other country. The environmental impact of our caffeine consumption depends on a variety of factors, some of which may surprise you.

Country of Origin

The vast majority of coffee is grown overseas, so buying locally-grown coffee is next to impossible in the U.S. The good news is the distance that coffee beans travel is considered a minimal factor when assessing the overall environmental footprint of a cup of coffee. Certain countries, however, may use better agricultural practices, and coffee labeled as Fair Trade comes with a set of ethical guidelines that includes protecting the environment.

Packaging

Take a walk down the coffee aisle at your grocery store and you will see many varieties of packaging. There are steel cans, plastic containers, flexible foil pouches and coffee capsules (a.k.a. coffee pods) – and don’t forget about the bulk section. Is one better than the other? Well, steel cans and plastic containers can be recycled, while coffee capsules and flexible foil bags can not, which gives them a larger packaging footprint. However, the best option is to skip the package altogether and utilize a reusable container to buy coffee in bulk. You may even find you can pay less for your favorite coffee by purchasing it in bulk. That’s a win-win!

Reusable vs. Single-Use Cups

What about the debate over reusable cups versus single-use (“disposable”) cups? Studies have found that reusable cups almost always have a lower environmental impact, especially when washed using an energy-efficient dishwasher or in cold water.

Milk

The biggest factor when determining the environmental footprint of your coffee: the milk. Espresso shots have a much smaller footprint than a beverage that contains milk or cream, such as a latte. This is due to the energy and water used in production of milk (both dairy and non-dairy), the additional packaging, and the energy used to heat the milk up at the brewing stage.

Take-Away Tips:

  1. Look for and support coffee that has a Fair Trade label.
  2. Enjoy your drink in a reusable mug.
  3. Turn off “keep warm” functions on drip coffee machines.
  4. Make only as much as you need – say no to food waste!
  5. Toss the coffee grounds in your home compost or garbage.

Ask the Experts: How Can I Dispose of Charcoal?

grill
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Q: How Can I Dispose of Charcoal? Can it be Reused or Repurposed?

A: We all know what summer means: It’s time to get grilling! How is it that food cooked over fire always tastes better? If you’re grilling with charcoal, make sure you follow these instructions to dispose of leftover coals and ashes safely.

How to Dispose of Charcoal

Allow ashes to cool for 48 hours, or pour water onto them and stir thoroughly to speed up the process. After the ashes have fully cooled, wrap them in aluminum foil or place them in a small metal container, such as a coffee can. Then dispose of them in an outdoor trash bin. Do not place ashes or coals near anything that could catch fire.

Fires are commonly started because coals are not fully cooled before being thrown into the garbage. When hot coals are tossed out, the garbage bin can catch fire and in some cases even cause damage to the residence.

How to Reuse Charcoal

Want to put used charcoal to good use before tossing it? You can grill with charcoal more than once! Simply follow these steps:

  1. Once coals have cooled (see above), rake through used charcoal to dislodge extra ash.
  2. Empty loose ash from the grill.
  3. Add half the amount of new charcoal you would normally use to start the grill.
  4. Light the charcoal. Wait 5-10 minutes before adding food to the grill.

How to Repurpose Charcoal

If you have some unused charcoal lying around and you don’t know when you’ll ever use it, try giving it away on Facebook, Nextdoor or Craigslist.

If your charcoal is additive-free, you can repurpose the coals to prevent tools in your toolbox from rusting. You can also use it in your fridge or a smelly pair of gym shoes to eliminate odor. These ideas and more are explained in this neat article.

Skip the Disposable Foam Coolers this Summer

foam cooler

Warm weather means days by the water, at the park, and in the woods. Wherever you recreate, you need to keep your snacks and beverages cool and fresh. The convenient choice is a foam cooler: they’re inexpensive and available at most grocery stores. However — like many convenient choices — foam coolers are not great for the planet.

The Popularity of Disposable Foam Coolers

In the 1950s, foam became a favorite for keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. People started using foam coolers because of convenience and affordability. Foam coolers also don’t grow mold or bacteria. To top it off, they’re disposable so you throw them in the trash when you’re done! Perfect solution, right? Unfortunately they have a major drawback — lots of non-recyclable waste after just a few uses.

The Ugly, Indisposable Truth

Disposable is a funny word. By some estimates it takes up to 500 years or more for foam to biodegrade. One common estimate is that styrofoam can take up 30 percent of the space in some landfills. It’s also estimated that at least 20 percent of foam ends up as litter. The breakdown process is ugly, too. Foam breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that can choke wildlife. As the sun heats it up, it emits toxic chemicals like methane.

Other Cool-er Options

Invest in a reusable cooler!

  • Basic foam cooler with hard plastic exterior and interior: an inexpensive option
  • Metal or durable plastic cooler: have it forever
  • Soft cooler: wear it over your shoulder
  • Backpack cooler: free up your hands and carry it farther

When you know which type you’d like to purchase, check to see if you can buy used on Craigslist or at a thrift store. If buying new, look for quality durable products that will last. Many coolers have lifetime guarantees.

If you need a disposable cooler, there are biodegradable pulp-based coolers for one-time use. They’re convenient and sustainable.

What if I Already Have a Foam Cooler?

Use any foam cooler you do have until you can’t anymore. Then dispose of it in the Trash.

Go Green in Every Room: Reducing Plastic in Your Bathroom

bar soap

One great, easy way to reduce your impact on the planet is to reduce your plastic consumption at home. This doesn’t mean big changes are in order. Slightly altering the products you purchase can help prevent unnecessary use of plastics throughout your home. Today, we’ll start with the bathroom.

Ditch the Bottles: Buy in Bulk

Many grocery or natural food stores now offer body products such as moisturizer, soap or shampoo in bulk, the same way you can buy granola or dried foods. Purchase a bottle or container once — or even use one you already have — then wash and refill it when it’s time to get more product. As a bonus, buying products in bulk is usually less expensive than buying them by the bottle!

Consider Using Solid Bar Products

Bar soap and shampoo are increasing in popularity and work just as well as their bottled counterparts to keep your body and hair clean, moisturized and smelling fresh. Many bar soaps are wrapped in simple paper or a small plastic film — you may even be able to find some without any packaging at all. Scientific American also reports that bar soap requires fewer resources to manufacture than liquid soap.

Choose Recycled or Renewable Packaging

Most plastic waste generated in the bathroom comes from packaging of body products, medicine, toilet tissue and other items. To reduce this waste, many eco-conscious companies are using recycled or renewable materials in their packaging. Keep an eye out for products that are replacing plastic with more eco-friendly materials like paper or bamboo.

The Bottom Line

Before you purchase your next bathroom product, see if you can find it in bulk or bar form. If not, check the label to see if you can find it in recycled or renewable packaging. Staying aware and informed on the packaging of your products can help you save money and be a responsible consumer!

Celebrate Learn About Composting Day

compost

Do you wish there was an easy way to turn your food scraps into something more sustainable rather than throwing them away? Composting is a fantastic way to save food scraps, yard waste and other organics from going to the landfill while reducing your carbon footprint. The practice of composting helps to:

  • Reduce methane emissions from landfills.
  • Reduce the need for harsh chemicals and pesticides.
  • Create healthy soil for growing food and flowers.

Learn About Composting Day on Friday, May 29th is the perfect opportunity to get your hands a little dirty and find out if composting is right for you. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • Make Your Own Compost – Start by checking out our composting page which has all the resources you need to get started with home composting today. Looking for more information on composting? YouTube has tons of videos on more types of composting than you can imagine.
  • Talk with Farmers Market Vendors – Get curious about the food you’re eating and ask what practices farms are using on their crops. Many farmers love to talk about the hard work they put into creating delicious and nutritious produce.

Not interested in home composting? You can still make a difference by keeping organics out of the garbage. See everything that can be put in your green waste bin.

Takeout Containers Go Into Your One Big Bin

takeout box

Ordering takeout from time to time during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great way to eat your favorite food while supporting local restaurants. You will, however, end up with a few containers that need to be disposed of properly. Here’s a simple guide on how to dispose of each type of takeout container.

Need to dispose of plastic bags, plastic utensils or other items not listed above? Check out our handy Recycling Guide.

Put In Garbage
Put In Recycling
Put in Green Waste Bin

Avoid Food Waste, Save Money

banana

With the COVID-19 pandemic closing many of the places we are accustomed to getting our meals, home cooking is having an unexpected moment. More home cooking means more opportunities to reduce food waste — and save money at the same time. According to the USDA, the average American wastes 238 pounds of food per year — 21 percent of the food we buy — costing $1,800 per year. That’s a lot of cheddar! The good news is that most food waste is avoidable.

Check out our food waste page for a variety of tips on how you can eliminate food waste in your household and save money.