We've reduced, reused, and fretted over Ziploc bags for an entire month, and now it's time to turn all those lessons learned during Plastic-Free February into words we can live by. After soliciting suggestions from some of the bloggers who followed along in our challenge, the editors of Rodale.com came up with this list of plastic-free life lessons that we all will continue to follow in the days and months ahead. The results may surprise you: "It wasn't so tough after all to live without plastics," one of our Facebook followers, Darcy Ludeman said.
Here are the 5 key strategies we learned, which can help anyone live with less plastic:
#1: Expect failure!!
As the team of bloggers over at Growing a Greener World put it, this is one challenge in which failure is almost certain—and that's OK. As we said from the beginning, completely eliminating all plastic from your life is impossible. Even the stuff you try to avoid will sometimes creep past your defenses, so rather than stress about a mistake or moment of weakness, just accept it and keep trying.
Deciding to go (mostly) plastic-free can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. Each of us experienced that sensation, and many of you wrote or commented about that too. So it's a good idea to start by IDing some of the bigger plastic inputs in your life, and work on those. Once you've established a plastic-free habit, you can move on to the next one on your list. Here are some good starting points:
#3: Reuse, recycle, recreate.
Have a backup plan for the plastic that gets into your life. Find other uses for it if you can, or find out how to recycle it when you're done. Take plastic bags to the supermarket, know what your curbside program will accept, and know how to recycle your electronics when it's time to get rid of them. If all else fails, call up a local nonprofit and see if it can be donated. When you're shopping, buy products packaged in recycled plastic if there isn't a nonplastic alternative, or even look for used versions of whatever it is you need.
Or, next time you find yourself reaching for something that comes in plastic, think, "Could I make this?" You'd be surprised at how easy it is to whip up hair-care products, body lotions, cleaning products, and pretty much every plastic-packaged food at the store. Or just go without. As Dani, one of the bloggers who followed our challenge on her site News from Nowhere, told us, "I would rather get in the habit of having and using less (of plastics and everything else), than be disgruntled about it when the situation is forced upon me."
#4: Slow down.
Plastic exists to support the go-go-go lifestyle that we all think we need to maintain. Committing to cutting back on plastic gives you a reason to insert some helpful speed bumps into your day. So enjoy them! Take 10 extra minutes to eat breakfast at home, for example, or use a full 30 minutes to eat lunch at a restaurant, off glass plates using real silverware, rather than grabbing something packaged in plastic to eat at your desk. Along with the benefits of avoiding plastic, you'll gain an opportunity to catch your breath, enjoy your food, and let go of some stress.
#5: Don't be a jerk about it.
None of your plastic-addicted friends wants to hear a lecture about the evils of plastic (ours sure didn't). Be relaxed and nonjudgmental when you talk about your decision to cut the plastic cord. Focus on why the alternative is better, not on why plastic and the people who use it are evil. And let your deeds, rather than your words, be the strongest argument. Every time you tell a cashier you don't need a bag, and walk out of the story carrying your carton of milk in your hand instead, you're planting an idea in the head of everyone around you. And that's how new norms are created.