Plastic Free July — Women’s March Geneva

We don’t have to start big, but we do have to start now.

by: Doreen Akiyo Yomoah


Throughout the month of July, Women’s March Geneva is participating in Plastic Free July, a worldwide campaign which started in 2011 to raise eliminate single-use plastics.

Plastics have proliferated every part of modern life. In almost every corner of the globe, you can find plastic litter. It’s easy to see why. After all, it’s cheap, durable and makes life very convenient.

But the low price has a high cost: it’s literally destroying the planet, and along with it, many people’s lives, health and livelihoods.

Although the link between oppression and plastic may not be immediately clear, once you dig deeper into how plastic is manufactured, you begin to see how the process destroys communities — by creating water and air pollution in sourcing the raw materials; contributing to climate change; and polluting the oceans, lakes, and rivers that people rely on for survival once it becomes an end product. This is why activists who care about ending racism, sexism, poverty, homophobia, and climate change need to care about where our plastic comes from, and where it goes.

While the long-term goal, of course, is to eliminate single-use plastic from our lives, you shouldn’t get discouraged if you flub up from time to time. Last month, for example, I bought a bottled drink. Maybe you’ll forget your lunch one day and have to run to the store and buy something that comes wrapped in plastic. Maybe you’ll be out without your reusable shopping bag and then see something that you need. The point of this movement isn’t to shame people, but to raise awareness and get people to change their habits, while also putting pressure on manufacturers and the governments who allow them to destroy the planet.

While not identical, Zero Waste is a movement that is closely related to the campaign against plastic. Zero Waste focuses on, well, eliminating waste in all its forms from our lives. Some people manage to fit several years’ worth of all of their unrecyclable materials in small mason jars. Don’t get discouraged if that seems completely unattainable, though. The important thing is to start making changes where you can.

There are different ways to go about it. If you are a baptism-by-fire person like I am, you might go out and get all of your zero-waste materials at once. If you’re someone who would feel overwhelmed by this approach, or you don’t have the resources to do so, you can start making small changes.

The next time you need to replace your toothbrush, head over to your local Zero Waste store, or order a pack of compostable toothbrushes so that you’re set for the next few months (or year, depending on the size of your family). You could get or sew a pouch, put a set of utensils and a reusable straw in it, and keep it in your bag so that you don’t have to use plastic cutlery the next time you’re at a picnic or barbecue. If you don’t already have one, buy a BPA-free water bottle so you can fill it up on the go (if you live somewhere where you can drink water from the tap, of course.)

If you’re on a limited income, check out charity shops and flea markets where you can find a lot of this stuff for very cheap, or look for Facebook groups where people are getting rid of their items. If you’re going to have a baby, ask friends of yours whose babies are potty-trained if you can have their reusable diapers, and then pass them on to the next person once your baby no longer needs them. If your clothes wear out, take them to the tailor, learn how to sew, or ask a friend if they can help you out, and if none of these things are an option, shop secondhand before going to a chain store.

While changing our individual behaviors is one part of the solution, we also need to remember our capitalist system has been set up to prevent any real change from taking place, and to keep corporations in business by maximizing profits over people. This includes plastic manufacturers. As activists, we have a responsibility to stand up, not only for ourselves, but for people who are less privileged than we are. Some people, for example, need straws to be able to drink due to limited mobility, and can’t wash them themselves. One way to not put this burden on people with disabilities is for able-bodied people to ask our local bars, cafes and restaurants to keep reusable straws on hand so people with disabilities can still enjoy time out with their friends and families. We can also pressure corporations to stop using unnecessary plastic by organizing boycotts and petitions asking supermarkets to stop wrapping produce in plastic and to provide compost bags instead of plastic bags.

We don’t have much time. Our oceans are filled with garbage. Climate change is here. People are getting sick.

We don’t have to start big, but we do have to start now.


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You can follow Doreen on Twitter as well.

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