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The concept of a “zero waste lifestyle” is a movement that acknowledges the amount of waste humans produce. The Zero Waste Movement encourages individuals and businesses to adopt methods that send less trash to the landfills. In order to achieve this, zero waste advocates encourage the four R’s (that’s right 4!)- refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. 

As part of the more general zero waste movement, Plastic Free July is a campaign that started in 2011 aimed specifically to reduce plastic waste. It encourages consumers to both examine the amount of plastic in their daily lives and to work towards lessening that amount. 

Since 1907, plastic has been mass-produced to create everything from parts of clothing to food wrappers and containers. When this material first came on the scene, businesses and consumers recognized the advantages of plastic right away. It is lightweight, cost-effective, easily moldable, and completely synthetic, meaning we didn’t have to stress environmental resources. It wasn’t long before everything was made of or packaged in plastic...

The issue with synthetic materials, like various forms of plastic, is how they decompose. They don’t- at least not in our lifetime. Depending on the specific build, plastic can take up to 500 years to break down, all the while leaching man-made compounds into precious environmental resources. In fact, these compounds (think BPA, PVC, etc.) can even leach into the food or drinks that they contain even before we purchase them. 

Even further, many plastic materials have a structure that allows them to absorb other toxins, eventually transporting them elsewhere. The best example of this can be seen in our oceans. Certain plastics pick up chemical pollutants either on land or in the ocean. As they drift with the current they leave a trail of contaminants that can easily enter our food systems when we consume seafood. 

It’s difficult to estimate how much plastic exists on the planet today, but because plastic has been in production for 110+ years, we can only imagine. Scientists are just now quantifying just how much plastic there is in some of the most concentrated oceanic “garbage patches,” and it’s a lot. Zero waste technology, such as mushroom cardboard and hemp plastics, would suggest an end to the plastic era

Unfortunately, as a society, we are attached to plastic like cling wrap. It seems to seep and mold into every crevice of the world. Did you know chewing gum is made from plastic? The zero waste movement sets out to break up with plastic, for good. 

While recycling is a good option, and something we should look to do when possible, it is simply not enough. Often the hustle and bustle of life prevents people from researching recycling guidelines. Generally only “1” and “2” plastics are recyclable (these numbers indicate the “ease of recycling” and go up to the number 7). Most household plastics, like food and product packaging, are often labeled in the 3-7 range and are non-recyclable in the U.S.

The best way to decrease your plastic footprint is to cease buying it. With how entwined plastic has become in our lives, this is easier said than done. Remember that you don’t have to adopt a zero waste lifestyle overnight. Follow these tips to start reducing plastic in your life!

First Plastic Free Tip: Get Use From What You Have

The principle here is to refuse- by using what we have, we can avoid buying more. This is no different when it comes to working towards a plastic free lifestyle. Things like pens, home decor, cell phone cases, and reading glasses are all items we often accumulate multiple of over time- try to find or fix these items before buying new.  Also, try upcycling as a way to keep non-recyclables out of the landfill. Empty and cleaned plastic containers of various sizes are great for organizing paper clips, hair accessories, screws or nails, and more!

Another sneaky place plastic sneaks into our lives is through clothing via synthetic fabrics. Personal stylist, like Hanna Lee Style, work with the wardrobe you have to refresh your looks without the need for shopping! To avoid sending a damaged polyester blouse or an oversized rayon tee to the dump, try sending it to a top online tailor instead. Online tailors are a convenient way to mend and alter clothes from the comfort of your home. This allows you to work towards not only a zero waste closet but also a zero waste lifestyle. 

Second Plastic Free Tip: Eat More Whole Foods

Eating less packaged and frozen foods can be difficult in a fast-paced world. But when we slow down, we can see the positive impact whole foods have on both the environment, ourselves, and our families. To truly aim for zero waste produce, remember to bring reusable produce bags. Farmer’s markets are sustainable places to get fresh produce, avoid plastic produce stickers, support local, and immerse yourself in a fun atmosphere.

Perhaps the most zero waste way to get your food is to grow it yourself. Starting a garden can seem a little tedious. Fortunately, there are great resources to help get you started and there are even services that offer garden-starting in your own backyard. If you’re in the Rockford, IL area- reach out to Agroecological Services for more information!


Third Plastic Free Tip: Invest in the Sustainable Option

Some of the easiest plastic-free swaps are the most popular ones. Single use plastics are completely outdated- it’s hard to find a store that doesn’t sell reusable straws, water bottles, and bags. These are easy places to start! Swapping shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles for bars can save three large pieces of plastic monthly from the landfill. It may not seem like much at first, but consistency adds up!

Many beauty and toiletry products are now offering more sustainable packaging. Opt for the product with plastic-free packaging and watch as businesses start to listen to you, the consumer.

With everything, the most important thing to remember is to do your best. A plastic free lifestyle is a healthy one for yourself and the environment and it can be achieved. Start by incorporating these three tips into your life and watch your progress grow! 

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