Giving up single-use plastics can be a fun challenge, and it’s a great way to feel like you’re a part of the solution—every day!

School is back in, so as usual, my mom friends and I got together for coffee to celebrate. Of course it didn’t take long for celebration to turn to venting about the stress of the first week is and about the relentlessness of lunch. For fifteen years I’ve been packing lunches. Oy.

It’s not just the obvious things that bug me about it, like the pickiness (why can’t they just eat a PB & J every day like I did when I was a kid?), the monotony of it, or the early morning kitchen disasters. I also shudder to think about the amount of plastic that has ended up in the ocean because of just me. We all felt the same way, so it didn’t take long for the subject at our coffee klatch to turn to our attempts to cut down our single-use plastic consumption.

Somehow, we had all landed on this mission independent of each other, and the subject popped up randomly, but that didn’t really surprise me. We seem to talk more and more lately about how stressed we are about the state of the world our kids are inheriting. After seeing so many horrible pictures on social media of the turtles and seagulls who’d been entangled and reading about the devastation plastic is causing in the ocean and waterways around the world, it’s hard to keep chucking Ziplock bags and straws in the trash every day.

“It’s really frustrating to try to get it out of your life, though, because it’s everywhere,” my friend Tracy complained. “Even if you bring your own bags, you can’t possibly get out of the grocery store without something that has plastic on it!”

I felt her pain. But there are also so many creative and fun ways to avoid single-use plastic. I told them about 350 Fairfax’s Plastic Free Challenge coming up in October and the Plastic Free Forum on September 22. They were excited to join, and then we figured we could get a headstart by working together right now. We decided to share our ideas, discuss the things that worked and things that didn’t, and make a mini-challenge out of it.

Already, one of us has cured our kids’ Ziplock bag addiction using suggestions from the group about creative Tupperware usage. Huge win! We also found a video on YouTube that taught us how to make reusable beeswax plastic wrap, so we had a crafty get together to drink wine and make the wraps. So fun!

“It’s kind of cool when you find ways to avoid plastic that you normally wouldn’t have thought about,” Stacey said. “It’s a fun challenge, and it makes you feel like you’re actually doing something every day to help the environment.”

“Wins like that aren’t easy to come by on a daily basis,” Steph agreed. “I feel like I’m constantly bogged down by the bad news about climate change and the environment, so it feels great to just do something. Every time I don’t put a straw in a landfill, that’s one seagull who might escape entanglement. At least that’s the way I like to look at it – realistic or not, it keeps me motivated!”

I bet these thoughts resonate with you, and if you want to join us for lunch or wine and craft time, you’re more than welcome, but probably an easier way to join in is to take the Plastic Free Challenge, October 1–30. Tracy, Steph, Stacey and I have all signed up and are excited to take our single-use plastic bans to the next level. You can join us by signing up here.

It works basically the same way as our informal group challenge. You sign up and commit to limit your single-use plastic consumption on a level that will work for you. Simple things like bringing reusable bags when shopping or skipping single-use water bottles and straws can make a big difference. When you enroll in the Plastic Free Challenge, 350 Fairfax will help you along the way, offering encouragement, useful tips and practical alternatives to commonly used plastic items. By the time you’re done on October 30, new habits will be formed and many seagulls will be saved.

The Plastic Free Challenge is part of a larger effort in Northern Virginia called #PlasticFreeDMV. You can search this hashtag on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and learn more about all of the efforts going on in our area, and you can use it to talk about your efforts to go plastic-free.

To get you started, mark your calendar for the Plastic Free Forum on September 22. There will be expert speakers in the areas of recycling, plastic science and plastic-free lifestyle that will help you kick off your challenge and get educated about your role in the solution to this worldwide problem.

Make sure to sign up for the October Plastic Free Challenge today. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Plastic Free Forum on September 22—check out our partners below—they’ll be at the Forum to answer questions and help you get involved.

Let’s work together to clean up this plastic problem. The Plastic Free Challenge is a great way to get educated and form new habits. Once you do that, the rest is easy! Hope you’ll join us!

–Bobby Monacella

Plastic Free Community Partners: 350 Fairfax, Clean Fairfax, EcoAction Arlington, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, Friends of Accotink Creek, Great Falls Group Sierra Club Virginia, Greater Prince William Climate Action Network, Green Muslims, NOVA Trash Action Work Force