The Plastic Free Challenge is over, so what do we do now?

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to some mom friends on a run about changes I’ve made since the beginning of the Plastic Free Challenge. One of the changes I’m most happy about is making time to bake cookies and crackers for my daughter from scratch. A friend chimed in that she also avoids packaged snacks when her girls are at home, but when she takes them out for stroller runs, they usually get treats in single-use wrappers.

“I’m a work in progress,” she said.

I have to tell you, this stuck with me. I’m also a work in progress. But that’s thing: I am making progress.

Over the last 30 days, I’ve learned to live without certain products (namely, chips, tortillas, and vegan cheeses), I’ve created new habits (like bringing my “dining out” bag to restaurants), and I’ve found Plastic Free sources for things that I love and don’t want to live without (this tea, for example). I have drastically reduced my single-use plastic consumption. But there is still progress to be made.

So how do we keep up the momentum we generated during the Challenge? How do we continue to make progress?

Make a commitment to continue your Plastic Free journey. Now is a good time to reflect on what changes you’ve made during the Plastic Free Challenge and how you feel about them. Remember the Plastic Inventory you did at the beginning of the Challenge? Fill it out again and see what’s different.

We hope that many of the new habits you’ve created—like bringing your reusable bags to the store and skipping the straw at restaurants—seem easy and make you feel good. Let’s make a commitment now to continue with these easy and good habits.

Let’s also make a commitment to keep trying. For some of us, this might mean choosing fewer and fewer plastic-wrapped products at the store. For others, it might mean continuing to swap out more sustainable alternatives as we use up the single-use plastic already in our homes. And for still others, it might mean addressing sources of uninvited single-use plastic in our lives. (Here I’m thinking in particular about the zip-top baggie full of pin punch that inevitably shows up in my daughter’s backpack on Friday afternoons.)

It’s up to you how you continue your personal Plastic Free journey; we just hope that you do.

Talk to local businesses about single-use plastic pollution. Businesses like restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and retail stores are huge sources of single-use plastic pollution. Choose one or two local businesses and talk to the owners about skipping the plastic bags, bottles, and straws. Ask your favorite local restaurant to switch from plastic or Styrofoam takeout containers to cardboard or compostable ones. Start the conversation and see where it leads.

And keep your eye out in 2019 for a new Plastic Free certification for businesses by 350 Fairfax, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, and our other Plastic Free community partners.

Document the single-use plastic problem in your neighborhood for legislators down in Richmond. Every year Virginia’s General Assembly sees one (or two or three) bills about taxing or banning single-use plastic bags, but to date, none of these bills have passed and only one has made it out of committee. How can we get more delegates and senators on the right committees on board with these bills? We’ve spoken to legislators, and they need photographic proof of the litter problems we’re having. As part of the new #LitterFreeVA campaign, we’re asking you to snap photos of Virginia’s litter problems, upload them to Twitter or Instagram, and tag us using #LitterFreeVA. Bonus points if you add the location (including zip code if possible) and some colorful (but positive) commentary.

Congratulations on a successful Challenge! We made a lot of progress this October, and we should take time to be proud. But remember there is still work to do. Keep posting your Plastic Free tips and successes with #PlasticFreeDMV, sign up for updates on our Plastic Free business and legislative campaigns, and make plans to participate in the Plastic Free Challenge again next October!