We’re heading into the last stretch of the Plastic Free July challenge! Did you sign up for the challenge? How did you do? Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re trying to be plastic free or leave a comment even if you’re not. Did you even know about the Plastic Free July challenge? I only found out right before July started so it took a minute for me to really get going with it.
I follow a lot of people on social media who are seemingly very good at being zero waste so plastic free is probably something they’re already doing. I love following these people because it really inspires me and keeps the fire burning for trying to be a better person who is actively trying to create a cleaner future for my child and our planet. It’s a BIG job! It feels like a giant responsibility once your eyes are open to the devastation plastic is doing to the environment. The thing is that the people I follow make it seem so effortless, but often it’s not effortless to be plastic free
I wanted to talk about the some of the challenges I faced over the weekend when I was out doing some shopping. A few years ago my husband brought home some really great spices from a place that’s a good distance from our neighborhood. It’s really inconvenient for us to get to it, parking is difficult and aside from this store there’s not much reason for us to go to that neighborhood so I had never been to the store. We ran out of some of the spices so I thought this is a great opportunity to check it out and refill the bottles we have. I grabbed my spice jars and headed out thinking it would be an easy breezy experience.
I drove around a bit trying to find parking and finally found a spot about 5 blocks from the store, I don’t mind walking and it was a non-metered space so it was great. I got to walk past this bike store that sells very beautiful, but very pricey Dutch bikes so it was fun to check them out as I walked by. I finally got to the spice store, stepped inside and instantly realized that I grabbed the wrong bag from my car and didn’t have the jars that I needed! Since I was resolved to shop plastic-free I walked out the door and back to my car, grabbed the correct bag and walked back to the store.
The store was hopping and there were many employees around, some helping customers and some filling spice jars. One of them approached and asked if I needed help. I pulled out my jars and asked if he could fill them up. “I can’t refill your jars, but I can give you a replacement bags.” He handed me plastic bags filled with the spices I was looking for then walked away.
Honestly, I’m pretty shy and I really hate being confrontational, it’s pretty painful for me. I actually thanked the guy, but then I started feeling agitated. I couldn’t believe that I was in a store filled with jars of spices and I couldn’t get my jar refilled. I was stunned.
I went up to the counter, but before I paid I asked another employee about getting my jars filled. “You really can’t just refill these jars?” I asked. “Nope, it’s a code violation. Our equipment can’t touch outside containers.” “I see, I’m just trying to reduce my plastic use.” “I understand, but we can’t do it.” They were busy and that was about all I could muster from my shyness. I headed back to my car with the plastic-encased spices feeling pretty bummed. Should I have refused? Maybe, but again I was just caught so off-guard that I wasn’t processing stuff as fast as I should have been. Why can other stores sell bulk, but this place can’t? (Pop quiz! how many times did I walk past the Dutch bike store?)
My next stop was Whole Foods. Again, I had a similar experience. I forgot my bags in the car! By now I was feeling lazy and since all I really wanted from the bulk bin was Chamomile tea I thought I’d just buy a mason jar (cause I can always use another jar in my life) and fill it up.
I picked up the jar and walked over to the scale to tare it. Apparently, they recently replaced their scales with new ugly contraptions that server very little purpose. I could not figure out how to tare it or do anything useful with the scale. Finally, I found an employee and asked for help. He explained to me that all I could do is get the weight and he sounded just as dismayed as I felt. Again I was dumbfounded. The scale didn’t even read ounces or grams, it only gave fractions of pounds. Total nonsense when you’re buying an ounce or two of Chamomile tea. I was feeling very beaten down.
In the end, I managed to get what I needed without accumulating any more single-use plastic. But, boy was it a trying day! It really felt like a monumental effort and it’s totally understandable that most people aren’t willing to go through the obstacle course of going plastic-free when shopping. I do want to say that I’ve made efforts in the past that went much smoother. For a while, I brought my own containers to Whole Foods and though it did elicit curiosity, it really wasn’t that difficult. Why did I stop? I think mostly because my husband started shopping more!
Many people scoff at the idea that it’s the individual’s responsibility to reduce plastic use. Ultimately, it’s true that companies need to be more active, but I’m willing to do what I can to make a dent or a ripple in the efforts to reduce plastic from the environment. People need to speak up and ask questions or the scale won’t be tipped, companies don’t know if you don’t tell them. We need to ask, “why is this a policy?”, “isn’t there another way?” Of course, you can also refuse to buy from the company.
More and more places are popping up around the world so I know that things can change. If there wasn’t some effort involved, it wouldn’t be called the Plastic Free July challenge! I’m not going to stop once July is over.