If I’m honest, I have not been particularly excited about this year’s Plastic Free Challenge. This year has already been one challenge after another. The hurdles required to complete easy tasks—like going for a walk with my daughter, going to the grocery store—feel innumerable.

Plus, I’m working a full-time job. I volunteer on the leadership teams for two local climate groups and on a Fairfax County task force. I’m raising and sometimes homeschooling a five-year-old. To put it mildly, I’m stretched a little thin.

Why would I choose to add another stress on top of it all?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to give you a whole song and dance about how taking the Challenge and forgoing all single-use plastic is a commitment we all need to make now to preserve the planet for future generations. There’s a little truth to that, but it’s certainly not my driving force this year—when we’re all just scrambling to make it through the next few months without suffering too much loss.

Going Plastic Free is a nice idea, and in previous, less complicated years, the Plastic Free Challenge has been incredibly fun for me. It was a 30-day puzzle, each day revealing how a new Plastic Free behavior could fit in the big picture of my life. I never went to the grocery store with fewer than 5 Mason jars and drove out of my way to buy chocolate chips in bulk. I started conditioning my hair with apple cider vinegar and made my own vodka-based spray starch. I rarely left the house without a water bottle, a tea tumbler, and bamboo utensils. I was a Plastic Free resource for my circle of friends.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March, so many of my Plastic Free habits went straight out the window. Coffee shops stopped accepting my tumbler. The bulk bins at MOM’s are now full of dry goods in plastic baggies. I haven’t been to a restaurant—except to pick up takeout that is usually in plastic containers—in months. For a while there, my freezer was stocked with plastic bags full of veggies because I wasn’t sure when I’d next get to a grocery store.

These things are not my fault. And they are not yours either. Living Plastic Free is a privilege. It’s achievable primarily for people with time and money. Because the system is rigged in plastic’s favor. For years, plastic producers have driven the narrative that cleaning up plastic pollution is the consumer’s responsibility. And now they are capitalizing on our fear during this pandemic to promote single-use plastic as the hygienic alternative to reusables.

Guess what? Neither narrative is true. Single-use plastic is not inherently sanitary. Coronavirus can remain viable on plastic surfaces for days. And yes, we consumers can make choices to reduce our plastic footprint (if we have the time and money), but the only way we can tackle a problem as large and complex as plastic pollution is to cut it off at its source—the corporations that dole out plastics like candy.

So for this year’s Plastic Free Challenge, we are introducing an activism component. This year we are challenging the systems that make plastic pollution possible. Because the ultimate goal of the Plastic Free Challenge has always been to make reducing our plastic footprint accessible to more people.

Every week we will provide at least one easy action you can take to reduce plastic pollution worldwide. This week we’re asking everyone to sign and share this Plastic Pollution Coalition petition:

And if you are so moved, you might also tweet directly at Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar:

@SecAzar Don’t let #BigPlastic exploit the #COVID19 crisis. Single-use plastics are NOT the most sanitary choice during the pandemic. #plasticpollutes

For me, these simple actions—being part of the movement—are reason enough to take the Plastic Free Challenge this year. But rest assured, we will also be offering tips and resources for reducing your personal plastic consumption during the pandemic—from people far more knowledgeable than I am. And we will also be highlighting our Plastic Free community partners’ work and perspectives on this issue.

We hope you will join us. Register HERE.

by Julie Kimmel