How to Practice A Plastic Free July

Written By Sophia Prieto, Greener JC Intern


The summer months have arrived, and after over a year of being stuck at home, everyone is eager to regain some semblance of normality. From Fourth of July barbecues with family to day trips to the beach with friends, spending time outdoors is one way to go back to a pre-coronavirus routine. However, when returning to these summer activities that we have waited so long for, we should be conscious of the plastic footprint we often leave behind—think of all the discarded straws after cooling down with an iced drink, or the convenient water bottles from a store’s fridge on a hot 90-degree day. With all of this in mind, there is no better time than NOW to right some of the wrongs and commit to a summer of reduced plastic usage; and the ‘Plastic Free July’ challenge arrives in perfect fashion.

Although we should always be mindful of impact, we should especially reevaluate our plastic use now after the immense uptick of single-use plastics and the subsequent waste from them due to the pandemic. In fact, prior predictions of plastic waste will likely have to be adjusted due to the incessant use of plastic over the last year, according to an article published in the Chemical Engineering Journal. And The Minderoo Foundation, an Australian philanthropic organization, revealed in a 2021 report that single-use plastics are some of the most discarded, with more than 130 million metric tons thrown out in 2019; even worse, most had the inevitable conclusion of being “burned, buried in landfill, or discarded directly into the environment.”


What is ‘Plastic Free July?’

The goal of the ‘Plastic Free July’ challenge is overwhelmingly simple but incredibly impactful: eliminate plastic use throughout the month of July by making smart swaps at home, school, work, and in one’s community. The movement encourages participants to establish new and better habits that will not only last them for a lifetime but also reduce the amount of plastic waste they generate. While degrees of participation certainly vary, the challenge’s website states that “anyone can get involved.” It can be as easy as swapping out a plastic straw for a reusable one, or as involved as planning a mass beach or park cleanup, but the point is to take part in any way possible.


How to Practice Plastic Free July and Go Plastic Free All Summer

There are various ways to take the challenge and create habits that’ll last throughout this summer and beyond. Take your first stab at it this July 4th, a holiday that produces an immense amount of waste.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay


  • Hosting Get-Togethers 
    • When Serving: It’s easy to consider purchasing plastic plates or cutlery when inviting friends and family over. The fact that they’re single-use means they can be disposed of as soon as the party’s over, and no dishwashing assures a quicker clean-up—both of which make for a win-win situation.. Right? While it may admittedly be easier for us, single-use plastic products do no favors for the planet. Instead of grabbing that 100 count pack of plates, go no further than your own kitchen for your dining essentials. Although utilizing the plates, cups, and cutlery you already have means a little bit more effort will be needed when clearing the table, the action will certainly go a long way. 


  • When Decorating: Ditch the balloons. Since most are not biodegradable, balloons can end up polluting the oceans, shores, and waterways after disposal. This is an inherent danger to the wildlife that reside there, especially if they digest the debris. Here is a list of alternatives for decorations that can be reused, especially if they are kept in good shape following the event. 


  • When Preparing the Food: Although it may be tempting to assume that having a stunning and endless array of food at your barbecue would be best, it is best to modestly estimate the exact amount of food that you’re really going to need. Oftentimes leftovers from events are not always eaten, and the excess goes straight to the trash. So, the best and most simple way to prevent this is to not over-prepare for your event. However, if you still have a feeling that you might have cooked or bought too much, encourage your guests to bring their own reusables to stash leftovers in! Lastly, another way to utilize an event’s leftover food or ingredients is to save and or freeze them for an easy dish at a later date. 
summer picnic
Photo by @Thirdman. Courtesy of Pexels

  • Making Day Trips: If you want to reduce plastic use during day trips, planning ahead— if possible— will produce the best results. For the days that you can plan ahead, one tip is to make sure to pack your own snacks at home! This is to avoid waste from pre-wrapped snacks. Reusable lunch boxes, snack bags, and reusable water bottles will do the trick. 


Plastic Free Year-Round 

Being mindful and reducing the amount of plastic we use on a daily basis should be done year-round. But, if you’re new to sustainability, use the ‘Plastic Free July’ challenge as your springboard into other environmentally friendly practices, and keep at it! Start with small swaps, and gradually build from there. As author Katrina Mayer puts it, “The people who make the biggest difference are the ones who do the little things consistently.” 


Sophia Prieto
Author: Sophia Prieto