PFJ: what worked and what didn’t

Necessities: reusable straw, travel mug, cloth bag, reusable bottle

Plastic Free July is a wonderful time of year!  I love this awareness campaign and how much momentum it gains every year with more folks joining in the challenge to see how much plastic and other waste they can avoid.  I think I have been joining in the PFJ challenge for three years, and I am trying to improve year after year.  This year, however, was a bit of a challenge, but still not a fail.

There are always two options with Plastic Free July:

  1. Avoid the 4 main culprits: plastic bags, to-go cups, straws, and plastic bottles.
  2. Avoid all sources of plastics.

I have been winning at #1 for a while.  Any shopping trip I always make sure to have my cloth bags on hand, or if I am out with a friend I take a bag for those “just in case” purchases that sometimes arise.  If I am ever at a cafe, typically I am meeting a friend and we have our beverages in the cafe’s mugs or glassware; if I am on the road and think I will need/want a java fix, I always remember my to-go cup.  If I am at a restaurant or other food business, I always ask for, “No straw, please.”  In any beverage.  I have learned you need to assume you will ALWAYS receive a straw unless specified otherwise by you.  Plastic bottles?  Nay!  I always remember my reusable bottle.

This year I really wanted to try my skills at avoiding all plastics.  Overall, if compared to most other “consumers”, I do very well with this.  However, this year I got tripped up by several factors.

What tripped me up this July:

Moving.  We have been living in the same rental place for many years, and this year it was time to make a big adult move and move into our first home.  Unforseeably, my father also managed to sell his home at the same time, so not only were we sorting through, packing up, and moving our own place, but my dad also asked us to come get all of our stuff that he has been housing at his for… thirty years?  That included old toys, books, and crap we accumulated as wasteful teenagers.

I was overwhelmed with the stuff we had to sort through.  Despite donation, giveaway, compost, and recycle piles, the trash pile still continued to grow, including many bits of plastic that were non-recyclable (damn you, non-recyclables!).  I felt defeated!

Gifts.  I recently wrote a post about accepting gifts after ending my teaching year with generous gifts and battling between gratitude and guilt.  Then we had a baby celebration.  It was beautiful because so many of my most cherished women attended and it was just a positive, cheerful environment.  We had agreed that gifts would include everyone’s favourite childhood book, as well as a donation towards a chariot for the baby.  I love my friends.  But they did not follow the rules!  Again, we received many generous gifts, that also came with plastic waste, leading to another battle of gratitude vs. guilt.

A major win was the delicious food everyone brought in mostly reusable packaging.  And the dessert.  My sister made three cakes.  Omg, they were so good.  And the decoration was simply flowers out of my father’s garden:



What continues to challenge me overall:

There are certain items I have not been able to find in bulk or make myself.  A big one is cheese.  I have read blog posts about ZW cheese, but have not been able to find a solution for myself.  I have not braved making it myself.  There is a cheese shop in the next town over, however, they sell specialty cheese, which are always more expensive; this is a balance I have to find because though my main goal is zero-waste, I also strive for sustainability, and spending $10 on a small piece of cheese does not seem sustainable to my wallet considering how much we love cheese.  So… packaged it is, unfortunately, as there are no cheese delis close by that have accepted my containers *sad face*.

Though I seem to be using less and less, cosmetics still trip me up.  I have been able to make my own blush using tiny amounts of cocoa powder.  I have been able to make my own lip balm, which has lasted me longer than ANY tube of ANYTHING I have ever bought.  I still use mascara though, which comes in non-recyclable packaging, and I have not attempted to make this myself.

Having read many posts about toothpaste, I have been keen to make my own, but have not tried.  Some recipes include special ingredients that I would have to purchase online, which would give me more packaging, as I am unable to find many of these locally.  Toothpaste tubes are annoying.  Here I am brushing my tusks with my bamboo toothbrush and using a plastic toothpaste tube.  Blah.

Let’s face it.  My cat may be cute, but she is not exactly zero-waste.  Her food, though made in Canada, does not come in biodegradable or recyclable packaging, and the only bulk pet food I can find locally are small snacks.  Yes, I could purchase canned food, which is a lot easier to recycle than plastic, however, mentioning sustainability above, the cost does not match what I need.  Also, there’s her own damn waste!  I have been able to find biodegradable litter, but this too is sold in a plastic bag.  Then there is the fact that many cats carry Toxoplasmosis in their waste, which makes me hesitant to bury it outside, which leaves me to toss it in the trash (typically in some kind of plastic bag that my husband has thrown away because daaaaaaaamn, cat waste stinks).

Damn, she cute.

It wasn’t all challenges though!  Here are some successes:

What I tried new this PFJ to curb my plastic waste:

  • making my own yogurt
  • eating less cheese
  • making my own condiments: ketchup, mayonnaise
  • frequenting the farmers’ market every week and stocking up on local fruit to fill the freezer, veggies sans packaging or twist-ties, and bread in paper bags; the vendors have been wonderful letting me use my own produce bags/containers
  • making dishwasher tabs
  • obtaining our baby items second hand instead of buying new and packaged, such as crib, car seat, etc.

And you?  How did you fare with Plastic Free July this year?  Did you meet your goals?  Try something new?  Keep getting tripped up by something?  Please share!

To top it all off, my friend and fellow blogger, Allie, presented me with this lovely reusable to-go cup to celebrate our PFJ efforts!  Thanks, Allie!




  1. I feel you on the cheese front! I’ve managed to visit a couple of fancy cheese shops this July that use only paper packaging and/or will put their cheese in my own container, but as you say it’s so much more expensive. I have found myself eating less cheese because it’s more strongly flavoured, and that helps to balance out the cost, but it’s certainly too pricey to cook with.

    And congratulations on the big move 🙂


    • Thanks! Yeah, definitely too pricy when I’m thinking of grating cheese for pizza we make at home, or our homemade mac and cheese (that takes a lot of cheese!) so we tend not to eat those meals as often…which sucks because they are delicious…


  2. We’ll be moving in about a month – I’m so not ready! We’re very minimal but I can still find things that are just so useless! I’ve been trying to find homes for 1-2 items every few days so I don’t get stuck at the end, but man I’m at a loss at how to do it all ZW!


  3. I think I have made a substantial difference in plastic use. I try to buy season and local produce and as much food as possible locally, take my own bags when shopping, have been making my own yogurt for a couple of years, what plastic bags I do get we reuse again. I don’t know that I ever will be zero waste but I do the best I can and it one stet at a time. Thanks for sharing on failures and accomplishments. The flowers are beautiful. Visiting from #WasteLessWednesday !.


  4. We can all do better! That’s a post that I wrote to help encourage us when we are feeling overwhelmed. There is always more we can do, but sometimes we just need to celebrate where we are rather than focusing on where we aren’t.

    And I totally get you on the gratitude versus guilt thing. It’s SO hard! In the grand scheme of things you are still making an impact. Thanks for sharing on the #WasteLessWednesday blog hop!


  5. Each step we take is both a step in the right direction and inspiration for others to take similar steps – I am hoping to make dishwasher tablets once I can gather all the ingredients together so thank you for the prompt!
    ##ZerowasteHeroes and #WasteLessWednesday


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