Go plastic free for a month, and help our planet

Microplastics play a role in all of our lives.

Want to do something about the scourge of plastics in the environment? Join a budding international movement to dramatically reduce plastics consumption in your own life.

In fact, you could start right now — yep, today — by joining “Plastic Free July,” a global movement of people pledging to refuse single-use plastics for the entire month.

The emerging science around the harm of plastics is not only sobering but staggering in its scope and breadth. Weekly, it seems, new studies come out about the impact of plastics on our personal health, wildlife, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

It’s a health crisis, a climate crisis, and a wildlife crisis.

The problem is this: Nearly all plastics are made not only from fossil carbons, such as oil and gas, but also from more than 16,000 chemicals, 3,200 of which are known to be “chemicals of concern.” Couple this with another sobering fact: Single-use plastic is both ubiquitous and increasing in volume dramatically.

The Plastic Waste Makers Index, compiled by the philanthropic Minderoo Foundation, found that the world generated 139 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2021, an increase of six million tons from 2019. Because of an overabundance of cheap natural gas, according to Oceana, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, plastic production is expected to triple by 2050.

Ramped-up production of single-use plastic is, in fact, the stated strategy of the fossil fuel industry, a business decision to combat falling fossil fuel consumption due to an increase in renewable energy use.

Want a sense of how all this plastic, which breaks down into zillions of microplastics, is affecting us? Watch a new, if dismaying, documentary called “We’re All Plastic People Now.” This groundbreaking film makes clear that microplastics are in every part of our bodies — from our brains to our wombs — and only getting worse.

It’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of an environmentally unconscious (some would say shameless) industry, limited government action and study after study about the harms of plastics in our environment.

This is where Plastic Free July comes in. A powerful movement is building, and it’s reaching the shores of Vashon Island.

Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation, an Australian organization premised on the belief that lots of small changes add up to a big difference. The challenge is simple in concept: For the next month, choose only products that come in something other than single-use plastic.

Of course, execution is a little more complicated, but here are some easy suggestions.

• Bring your own bags to the grocery store, including bags for produce. Or don’t put your produce in a bag at all! Just wash your veggies when you get home.

• Bring your own bottles for bulk items — both Thriftway and IGA will weigh them first so that you pay only for the contents.

• Bring your own cups to cafes and coffee shops and use your own water bottle for water.

• Decline straws, condiment packets and plastic utensils when getting take-out food. In fact, a new law in Washington state requires restaurants and other food service outlets to not hand customers such items unless requested.

• Buy fish, meat or cheese from the counter and request that they put the item only in paper. Most will honor that request.

The organization asks that you “take the challenge” to go plastic-free (or as close as you can get) for a month. If you sign up, they’ll send you tips, stories from other parts of the world and encouragement. Learn more at plasticfreejuly.org.

Plastic Free July is not the only effort underway on Vashon. Islanders Celia Congdon and Nancy O’Connor launched Choose Plastic Free, a campaign sponsored by Zero Waste Vashon in 2023, to encourage people to find alternatives to single-use plastic. They’ve done fantastic work highlighting the issue and encouraging individual action.

In another local move, Nadine Edelstein, another island leader on plastics waste reduction, and Congdon are working with the Vashon Chamber of Commerce to bring reusable metal cups to Strawberry Festival this year — 3,000 of them — so people can drink beverages without the use of plastic.

And we now have Refill Vashon, a small shop located in the Wallflower Building in town that sells a full complement of soaps, detergents, shampoos, toothpaste tabs and other refillable items, making a plastic-free life a tad easier. (Full disclosure: I work there a few days a month.)

Ultimately, we need legislation, litigation and other high-impact strategies to curb plastics production and force the fossil fuel industry to change its harmful behavior. But we can also do our part, starting today, to build awareness, strengthen commitment and create momentum.

Here’s how Archbishop Desmond Tutu put the collective power of individual action: “Do your little bit of good where you are. It is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Leslie Brown, a former editor of The Beachcomber, recently took a seven-week course on plastics reduction from Beyond Plastics.