And just like that, Plastic Free July is over. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it a month without single-use plastic, not even close. I’m glad I participated in Plastic Free July, it’s made me realize just how much plastic and waste my poor meal planning results in. Here’s how the last 8 days of Plastic Free July went:

1: Tampon Drive

One of the most important commitments in my life is my involvement with a leadership board for the local YWCA. Every summer, we host a Tampon Drive in order to collect menstrual products for the residents of their shelter. It’s the one time each year I buy tampons and even if I went 100% plastic-free I would continue to buy tampons for this event. Using a Diva Cup is my personal choice, but tampons and pads are still the more commonly requested menstrual product at shelters. I would rather buy some tampons that will end up in the trash than have people feel forced into using a menstrual product they aren’t comfortable with or that doesn’t meet their lifestyle needs. One of the best parts about the event is that it is held at my favorite bar in Tacoma, The Red Hot, where you can get hot dogs with a vegetarian sausage. I’ve been trying to be better about my meat consumption, so I ordered my favorite hot dog vegetarian style and enjoyed an evening supporting my community.

38683825_10156673780579456_6588911841349468160_o.jpg
Just me and a giant pile of pads and tampons

2:  Avocado Co-Wash

I had a vacation planned at the end of the month and was out of conditioner. It’s a bit of a trek to the Marlene’s where I can get the bulk conditioner I like, so I decided to swing by Lush. My hair is thick, dry, and curly, so it needs a lot of help in the moisture department. Lush conditioners haven’t worked for me in the past, but I looked into the Avocado Co-Wash and thought that the mixture of avocado and apple cider vinegar would be what I needed. Unfortunately, while solid products are great for travel in some regards, you have to store them properly to maintain the integrity of the bar. I didn’t have a dish or tin large enough for the shampoo bar, so I just let it dry out of the shower on its paper wrapper. I didn’t get a chance to allow the bar dry fully at the end of the trip, so I transported it home damp in the paper wrapping. The result was a gummy mess that I wasn’t able to salvage. The product worked decently well, but I wish I had been able to buy a tin from Lush that would fit the shampoo or that I had purchased a smaller bar that would have fit tins I already have. The product itself worked decently well, but I still prefer my bulk conditioner.

3: Vacation

Every summer, my boyfriend’s family goes to an idyllic beach community on the Washington coast for a family reunion. I didn’t know what to expect with regards to plastic/trash on the trip, but I didn’t intend to make a big fuss since I was a guest and meeting some of his family members for the first time. Luckily, the house we were staying in had a dishwasher and plenty of dishes for 20+ family members, so we didn’t use disposable plates or cutlery. Most of the food was purchased from conventional stores in plastic, but at least the beer and liquor were packaged in glass or aluminum. The biggest source of plastic waste was a game of family Olympics, with yard games that used balloons and other plastic toys that had been purchased at the Dollar Tree for that specific use. I don’t think it is my place to call out my boyfriend’s family, but I think this is one area where setting an example with my habits could have a positive influence on the people around me.

4: Haircut

One thing I see floating around the internet is getting services (like haircuts, teeth cleanings, and check-ups) done in a zero waste manner. These services are necessary to some degree, but we can’t necessarily expect that we will be able to get what we want. I was in serious need of a haircut in July so I headed to my favorite salon in Tacoma. Luckily, they don’t use those annoying pieces of fabric around your neck (which I’ve only seen as a disposable). I love that the haircut comes with a scalp massage and shampoo, but of course they use conventional shampoo and conditioner so I contribute to plastic waste inadvertently. I do let my hair air dry so that at least cuts out minimal electrical use from a blow dryer. In the future, I could go to a salon that does dry cuts or go into the salon with my hair still wet from washing at home and ask them not to use any products in plastic. I don’t think my haircut was wasteful overall, but I included this because I should think more about second-hand waste I’m responsible for and how I can make these experiences less wasteful.

5: Plastic Purchases

In addition to my constant struggle with plastic-free food on the go, I made three purchases that involved some degree of plastic: a used book from Half-Priced Books (plastic price sticker), a foam roller, and underwear from Pact Apparel (plastic price tag connector used at Target).

I don’t go to Half-Priced Books often, but I was in the neighborhood so I went browsing (which is honestly the worst thing to do when trying to maintain a zero waste lifestyle). I found a book I’ve been wanting to read so I bought it, even though I know I should look first to borrowing from friends or the library. I’ve heard good things about the book though, so I’m hoping it’ll be one I can lend out to friends when I finish it.

The underwear from Pact Apparel was a great find and a wonderful example of how larger retailers are starting to embrace environmental brands. Pact clothing is Fair Trade and uses 100% organic cotton, so I feel less guilty about buying the product brand new. A two-pack was about $17, so not a steal like the 5 for $20 deals you can find at places like Target, but I can rest easy knowing my clothing was ethically made. Interested in Pact? Use this link and you can get 20% off your first purchase (this is available to everyone, Pact has no idea I’m writing this, but it will kick $20 my way to use on future orders).

The foam roller was another example of placing my personal health above zero waste. I sit at a desk all day, and my monitor setup takes a toll on my neck and back. I’ve been neglecting my yoga practice lately, which resulted in some serious and constant back pain the last weeks of July. I tried using a water bottle to roll out my back, but it just wasn’t cutting it. In a moment of desperation, I purchased a new foam roller rather than buying one second-hand because I wanted more immediate relief. The foam roller is doing the trick, and with proper care, I should have it for a long time.

I’m not going to lie; I’m pretty relieved that Plastic Free July is over. Even though I live zero waste and have made serious strides in reducing my use of plastic, I’m still nowhere near perfect. And even when we make our best efforts, there are times when plastic truly is unavoidable. But rather than focusing on the negative, I think it’s important that we give ourselves a little grace and allow ourselves to make mistakes. Zero waste is never truly zero, but when all of us make even little changes the results can be huge.