Lessons Learned

Author: Tara Bono

It was a lot of fun taking this challenge over the last few weeks. I learned a bit about myself (including my level of willpower and ability to rationalize things to myself)  and a lot about our plastic-addicted consumer culture. I knew before that we were surrounded by plastic, but it’s not until you try to avoid it every minute, every day that you realize how prevalent it is!

Here are a few of my take-aways:

  • When you tell the guy at Dunkin Donuts that you want your iced latte in a paper cup, or the pizza guy that you want your your soda without a straw, you need to be super clear as to WHY. Otherwise they will put a plastic lid on it….
  • You only have to repeat yourself 3 to 4 times before the guy at the deli counter understands that you only want your cold cuts wrapped in paper with just the price sticker – no bag, thanks!
  • It might seem overwhelming to walk through the grocery store and realize all of the items you can’t buy, but I realized that you really CAN make a well-rounded dinner meal out of items in King Kullen without plastic. My favorite one: potato hash with peppers and asparagus (rubber bands are reusable, right?) with sliced deli ham and swiss cheese melted on top.
  • When you really need something that only comes in plastic, you can subtly hint to your boyfriend about it and your in-ability to buy it. When it shows up in your house, you can use it. It’s not breaking the rules if you didn’t buy it and you didn’t ask for it. Right?…
  • Toiletries – ugh. I learned (albeit, too late…) that there is such thing as a shampoo bar. I will have to invest in some of those. It’s also really hard to find soap in supermarkets. I came close to running out and even had to buy a bar of heavy-duty “volcanic” hand soap to get me through the last few days of the month. It was the only brand that didn’t come in a plastic wrapper, in a cardboard box. It’s soap! Why is it in plastic?! I could have tried a few more stores or the mall to find some, but I made it work.
  • I realized that going plastic-free meant going meat-less for the most part. Except for cold cuts, I didn’t buy any meat to cook for myself for the whole month as there are not many solutions for buying meat from the grocery store without plastic. I didn’t go completely vegetarian though – I was able to eat meat when I ate our at restaurants or at parties (where I didn’t buy or prepare the food.) I do suppose that a butcher shop may be a solution for getting around this in the future.

The most ironic thing to me is that this whole challenge stemmed from a group focused on eliminating single-use plastic bags from our lives and from our community (Long Beach NY) but this challenge was about everything BUT plastic bags. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that skipping the check-out bag was not only the easiest part of this challenge, but completely obvious and second-nature. It was everything else that was the hard part! I think we will have even less sympathy than we did before to those who challenge bag bills with the “but I need them!” remarks.

Overall, I learned that going plastic-free for a month is 100% do-able. However, I don’t think it would have been realistic to sustain this for much longer than really a month. So many things come only wrapped in plastic that there were a few times that I thought to myself – I can do without this for a few more days or I can’t wait until July is over so I can buy this again. I believe that changing consumer habits has to start somewhere – with single-use bags. Once people understand HOW and WHY we do this, then the market demand for other items without plastic packaging will follow.

Congrats to all the plastic-free July participants – you all did great. Thank you for sharing your anecdotes with us. I believe we all came away with this with some tips and tricks to reduce our plastic habits in the future. So while I may not be 100% plastic free in the future, I will certainly be much more plastic-free than I was before this challenge.

Plastic-Free July, AND beyond!

Author: Joanne Moore



My husband and I have made great strides in our ability to decrease plastic, which we will continue after this month is over. I feel so good when I say, “no bag, I am using this one.”

We went out for dinner to celebrate a friend’s 50 th wedding anniversary the other night, and as we walked to our car to go home, I saw a plastic bag kind of floating along the shoulder of Long Beach Rd, near the inlet by the landfill. I bent down to pick it up, and there was something heavy in it. Although it looked fairly clean, I felt a little weird, but with trepidation, I picked it up, inside there was a plastic water bottle, still sealed. I took it home, used the plastic bag for my trash, the water for my plants, and will recycle the plastic bottle. I can’t pick up every bag I see, but this was a score! Every little bit helps!

I’m making more organic yogurt tonight, it is so good and creamy. It feels so good not to have to keep buying yoghurt in a plastic container, and it’s less than half the price of the supermarket.

I have the cutest small lined cotton fabric bag with a zipper closure which my niece made me. I never knew what to use it for, but it is perfect to carry a spoon or small container. I just throw it in the wash if it gets soiled.


Author: Karen Miller


I have to say that there are some things for which I have found no solution –  cereal, blueberries, shampoo – or at least my shampoo.

For example, my experience with brussels sprouts was crushing when I thought “EUREKA! I HAVE FOUND THEM!” in an actual mesh bag. Unfortunately, when I got home, I realized the mesh was made of plastic. A humbling experience indeed.

But, on the other hand, I have had major successes. I went to my supermarket to get sliced cheese and brought the last bag I used to hold cheese to put it in. Although the counter man thought I was crazy, it worked fine, and I now have my muenster cheese! I tried to expand my horizons by buying a whole honeydew, actually figuring out when it is ripe (the hardest part), cutting it up and putting it in a plastic container. I also used a paper bag rather than the plastic to pack up cherries and grapes. When I got home I put them in reusable plastic containers in my fridge. This really works!

I have also been carrying a reusable plastic container when I eat out and packing leftovers in that rather than the plastic or Styrofoam containers usually used. And, of course, the plastic bags to carry it out are a no no. It makes for a great conversation with the waiters who have tried to be very helpful.

So – finally this plastic-free July seems to be coming to an end. And although I naively thought it would be easier than it’s been, I can actually say that it’s been a learning and growing experience. I’ve learned that I can do more – and that, by talking about my experiences, which have been both funny and serious, other people are willing to change too – maybe not in giant leaps and bounds but by making baby steps here and baby steps there. And it’s all good …


Four, three, two, one – what’s the first thing I’m going to do on August 1st?

OMG! – I just ran out of Trader Joe’s 73% Dark Chocolate Nonpareils, my favorite! Must get more!!!!


But despite my continuing maintenance of my chocolate addiction (some things will never change), the remarkable thing is that, in many ways, I know for me, it will never be business as usual again.


Plastic free July: So why bother?

by James Mangels


​Well I think this concept of reducing /eliminating the use of plastic in general is just “common sense”. If you do the slightest amount of research you uncover a mountain of evidence suggesting that plastic use harms the environment and our food supply. This is n not to say plastic doesn’t have a place, for surely it does. What I am trying to convey is the tremendous exposure of food packaging is very much the reason for the surge in childhood developmental diseases such as Autism and ADHD and the occurrence of Alzhiemers and Dementia in seniors.

​Without turning this into a medical dissertation, suffice to say the list of effects and diseases from the chemicals released in packaging is quite lengthy. BPA and phthalates are the two prominent chemical compounds that come to mind. These have been shown to cause cancer and be linked to autism. Why take the chance?

​Our focus this month is mainly on the non-use of single use bags but I cannot separate the two. Being mindful of one force me, and I hope others, to be aware of the other. These parallel one another and it takes tremendous effort to shop because most everything is packaged in plastic. But it can be GREATLY reduced if you are patient and conscious of your choices.

​Carry on the fight everyone and stay involved after we get this done!

‘No Plastic, No big deal’ – Ryder, 11

Author: Ryder Moore-Lukaszewski, 11 years old. |

Plastic-free July really hasn’t been that big of a deal. My mom hasn’t used any plastic bags since before I was born (and I’m 11 years old now). I haven’t used a juice box for over a year and always bring my lunches to school in containers; no disposable packaging ever.  I wish more people would do the same. plastic free july ryder

Sometimes we forget our bags and walk out of the store with everything in our arms. Sometimes there’s no way around packaging like the Luna Bars I love for snacks (which we continued to buy throughout Plastic-Free July, sorry!) We have been paying more attention to packaging and had to say “no” to certain fruits and vegetables like strawberries, my favorite.  But the upside was that my mom bought my favorite apple juice because it comes in glass containers, not plastic.

We tried to use our own cup for the delicious lemonade at Chic-Fil-A once in the city but they wouldn’t allow it. We did use our own straws though.  I get very upset when I see all the bags people use in checkout lines at grocery stores when I know how easy it is to avoid them.

BYO bag + MYO yogurt

Author: Joanne Moore
It’s been a challenge, even with the top 4 pledge: plastic bags, water bottles, coffee cups and straws.
Some things are easy, like refusing the automatic plastic bag at CVS, when a medication is already in a plastic vial, and then enclosed in a small paper bag. Others are not so easy. Our apartment building has a trash chute, requires plastic bags. I purchased an opened box of small garbage bags at an estate sale, so I don’t feel so bad about using those. I’m also really trying to set a good example at our local Stop & Shop. When I shop at the Fruit Bowl produce store in Long Beach, the people there always give me a smile and a thank you when I bring out my own reusable bag.
I did have a problem when I went to several different stores, and ran out of bags. I ended up putting purchased stuff on the seat of the car, and then combining them when I got back in.
I was very proud to refuse plastic from the Food Trucks, but then I sat with our items precariously balanced on my lap in the car to eat at home.
But the very best that I’m doing and proudest of, is that I started making my own yogurt! Used a recipe from the NYTimes. It is not difficult, and tastes better. And now I can reuse my culture, so I don’t have to buy more yogurt, which only seems to come in plastic containers. And it saves money, costing me less than half of the price of a Seven Star Organic quart of yogurt, which I had been buying weekly.

The Best Laid Plans

I recently went to Boston for a conference. I knew it would be really difficult to remain plastic free during the trip. So, I tried to think of all the scenarios that I would run into plastic and preplan for them. Oh, the best laid plans.

The conference was providing a continental breakfast so I thought I might run into plastic utensils there so I brought an Xgear camping utensil. It was very useful in more than one instance. I also thought about the little plastic bottles of shampoo etc. at the hotel. I came prepared with a shampoo bar and conditioner bar. As always, I brought my clip-on reusable bags.


My colleagues and I tried to be careful where we ate our meals to avoid plastic. However, at one of the restaurants we went to for lunch, they unexpectedly served our salad in a plastic bowl. I thought I blew it, but then I saw that the bowls were recyclable. I asked the store manager exactly what that meant. She explained that the store follows a sustainability model that includes waste management. They have a composting station in the restaurant and use a private trash company to pick up the plastic and take it to a special composting cite.

The explanation made me feel better.  But then I started to wonder about all the people leaving the restaurant with these compostable plastic containers.  Did they know that compostable plastic can not be composted in a regular land fill?  I needed to find out more.  So, I did a little research. It turns out that the compostable plastic being used at a lot of places in Boston are PLA plastic which is not plastic at all.  PLA plastic is made from things like potatoes, sugar and corn. Maybe Bostonions are on to something.

The Unexpected Plastic

Yesterday night I grabbed some food in Chelsea after my work. I didn’t order myself but I was pretty confident it was a plastic free restaurant.

Then as the waiter brought me my plate with a nice wine glass I realized at the same moment there were 2 disposable little plastic cups sneaking in the middle of my nachos plate.

I usually instinctively refuse it and send it back but for some reason and despite the plasticfree july I wasn’t willing to deprive myself of delicious sour cream that time. Nonetheless the anti disposable gene inside me couldn’t let it go. I scrutinized the little cups, they were made out of plastic number 6, one of the worst healthwise. I informed the waiter about it who seemed concerned and interested by the matter. I also left a review on their website.

Disposable plastic shows up in so many situations unexpectedly. Popping up from detergent boxes but also lining paper cups and aluminium cans or printed on cashier receipts. It can be demotivating from time to time but it also feels so good when I can use the situation to communicate about it and spread the word.

Plastic Free first report

​ by James Mangels

​So for the last two years my family and I have been making a conscious effort to more closely scrutinize the types of foods we buy and packaging choices. With this challenge in place it has amped up the elimination of plastic another notch.

​The first major obstacle to many days begins with the morning cup of coffee. I still get a take-out cup by justifying that the cup is paper and thus recyclable. The lid and lining are the sticky points that have to be addressed by changing to a stainless coffee mug.

​Up next is work… I work at a NY Firehouse with 11 men per shift. That equates to approximately $300 per day spent at the local supermarket. This boils to roughly 20-30 bags each day. The big obstacle here is to get the brothers to change their habits and bring, instead, reusable bags. I am happy to say that after years of gentle prodding I have noticed many do make an effort to use them.

​I look at the firehouse as a microcosm of society. The reassuring fact that my efforts have contributed to changing people’s habits has given me hope that maybe a small groups of people can make significant changes for the good.

​Side note… Many have also reduced meats in their diets and have become more aware of the plastic epidemic. Check out this sierra club short film “Martin’s Boat” by Pete Mcbride for some inspiration.


Little steps to big rewards

I joined this bag-free July challenge because I recognize that good intentions aren’t enough. I need to upgrade my attempts to be more environmentally responsible. This past year I’ve made sure to always have bags when heading to the supermarket. This has been helpful on planned trips, however I often find myself on a spontaneous shop, making a purchase that heads home in a plastic bag.
So, one big goal for me this month was to get into the habit of ALWAYS having reusable bags on me so I can deny plastic bags. I’d like to share some experiences this past week visiting stores with my reusable shopping bags.
At two major clothing retailers, cashiers questioned the use of my own bag. One girl was so uncertain, that she called a manager over to make sure she could put the items into my bag. Another cashier ignored my request to use my own bag and put my two items into a plastic bag. Again I restated that I didn’t need it because I had my own bag. She took the plastic bag and my items and put them all into my bag. I told her that I brought my own bag in a effort to reduce plastic bag usage, and proceeded to return the plastic bag to her. She scrunched it up and tossed it into the garbage.
We still have a long way to go in educating the public regarding conservation efforts, but I’m proud to say that I’m feeling good about my new habit of always heading out of the house with my own bags.
Little steps…