This summer my family and I embarked on a week-long plastic free challenge. Here's what we learned.

I completely missed out on plastic-free July, yet it inspired me. After studying sustainable nutrition and permaculture, I certainly realize I can make better choices for the environment. With this awareness, I simply can't go back to many of my wasteful ways and am striving to improve everyday so that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have a healthy future.

Why not then see if could go plastic free?

Plastic is extremely ubiquitous, therefore eliminating it completely overnight is pretty much impossible. I began to prepare for my plastic-free week a few months ahead of time by identifying the disposable plastic products that my family and I used most often. I also took stock of what household items we were running low on and replaced them with plastic-free purchases.

Once my family was on board with joining me, we came up with our rules:

#1: Use as little disposable plastic as possible.

#2: If there is a plastic-free alternative in our home, use that first.

#3: If we do use plastics we have to save them (for photo purposes and to recycle if possible).

Here's What we Learned:

We use a Lot of Plastic!

I knew this one already, but wow! I walked through a typical day and wrote down all of the times that we used plastic in our home. I identified that most of the plastic we use and dispose regularly of comes from two sources: self-care products and food packaging.

Luckily, Alternatives are Available

Once I identified the plastic products we regularly use, I assessed if a plastic-free alternative existed. Here are some swaps that were helpful to us:

  • Instead of plastic toothbrushes we use those made from bamboo.
  • We switched to shampoo bars instead of bottles of shampoo. To condition and clarify, we use an apple cider vinegar or kombucha vinegar rinse.
  • I made my own dry shampoo in a glass jar.
  • In lieu of bottled castile soap we used bars of soap.
  • We switched to cloth baby wipes in lieu of disposable ones. We already cloth diaper our babe most of the time.
I found that there are many, many more products I would like to try including biodegradable bandages and metal safety razors for shaving. When our current tubes of toothpaste are empty I plan to whip up my own.

Food Packaging
  • We shopped for food at the farmers market and brought our own bags.
  • We obviously avoided produce wrapped or stored in unnecessary plastic. My son was sad we couldn't purchase grapes or berries that week.
  • We purchased some foods from the bulk bin and used paper bags to keep them in.
  • We snacked on foods we made ourselves (egg muffins for example) instead of packaged food items.
We also started using beeswax wraps to store leftovers and paper grocery bags to line our trashcan instead of plastic garbage bags.

Related: Practical Ways your Family can Reduce Plastic Waste

We Had to Be Prepared:

We had a few gatherings and birthday parties to attend during our plastic-free week. This required having our own cups, plates, and utensils with us to avoid using plastic. I kept a backpack full of mason jars (and lids), plates, silverware, cloth napkins, and bamboo straws in the car. I also knew that I would be treating myself to coffee a few mornings before work, so I also carried an Eco Soul Life biodegradable coffee cup made out of bamboo (love it!). My advice would be to keep a similarly stocked bag in all of your vehicles. We forgot to switch the backpack between cars a few times resulting in extra plastic use at smoothie taste tasting and lunch out at a museum. Even so, by sharing utensils we kept our waste down to a minimum.

Our disposable plastic consumption for the week (minus a fork).​

Going Out to Eat is Really Difficult:

"We are not really doing so good on our challenge Mama." A reflection from my son as we both stared at our dinners, complete with plastic forks shoved into them upon arriving at our table. No matter how prepared I felt, eating at restaurants proved to be difficult.

An impromptu stop to a taco restaurant was quite problematic for us as they only used disposable goods, from drinks to condiment containers. We were able to avoid plastic cups and use mason jars to fill up our own water, and the hubby and I passed on the margarita special (with a little sadness). We told the cashier we were doing a plastic-free challenge requesting minimal plastic be used with our meal if possible. Even so, our food arrived with a few side dishes in plastic cups and the aforementioned plastic silverware.

On another trip out to eat plastic straws arrived in our drinks before we had the chance to refuse them.

My best advice here is to get to know your favorite restaurants plastic use patterns and immediately be assertive in your request not to receive them. You can also support restaurants who value using less plastic, if you can find them! While there is not a strong movement to go plastic free where I live, I found out about a Sustainable Food Truck Certification Program in a city nearby.

Related: This Small Business will Help Reduce your Family's Environmental Footprint!

It is Time Consuming:

Between making more food from scratch and washing and re-washing reusable items, I felt extremely drained the week of our challenge. I anticipated this, thus decided to keep the challenge going for only one week.

From here on out we plan to move through one plastic-free change at a time. Once we are comfortable with that change, we'll move on to the next. This is more realistic from a financial perspective too.

Our Experiment Educated Others:

My husband mentioned that he overheard our four-year son teaching his friend's parents about the dangers of plastic straws for aquatic life. My husband had to refuse plastic beverages on an almost daily basis while working outside in the heat. Although he did accept one (as pictured), he used the opportunity to share a few facts about the low percentage of plastic products that are actually making it to the recycling bin (it is estimated only 9% of plastic goods are recycled). While we can't say for certain these messages had an impact, just the fact that we accepted the challenge may have inspired others to make changes too.

Even though our challenge is over, the lessons we learned will always be with us. We each agree we are thinking twice before accepting and using plastic. It gets easier with practice and even small changes can make a difference!

Photo credit: SpelaG91/Shutterstock