School has started. Fall is in the air. That, of course, means it’s time for the Plastic Free Challenge. Welcome to Day 1! If you haven’t registered for the Challenge yet, you can register here.

Earlier this week, I was chatting with some friends about this year’s Challenge. These were friends who have done the Challenge for the last three years and who had embarked on the journey to minimize their plastic waste well before October 2018. All of us have made significant changes over the last years—transitioning to bar shampoo and laundry soap nuts, carefully negotiating restaurant takeout orders, buying used clothing—but none of us can fit a year’s worth of our trash into a quart Mason jar.

Is that what we should all be aiming for? Maybe. Does that seem remotely reasonable? I wish it did. At one point, it did. Today, it absolutely does not.

Maybe it’s that I’m still struggling to get myself out of last year’s COVID funk. Like many of you, my family is still taking a lot of precautions, thanks to our unvaccinated child and the Delta variant. (Will it ever end?)

Maybe it’s that my daughter is in first grade now and has a schedule more demanding than ever before. (How can 15 minutes of homework every day feel so burdensome? Since when do first graders learn the clarinet?)

Maybe it’s that yesterday we started a long overdue kitchen renovation. A kitchen renovation we expected to begin in August. A kitchen renovation that has parked boxes upon boxes of cabinets in my living room for the last six weeks. A kitchen renovation that will take my oven and stovetop out of commission for most, if not all, of the Challenge.

I’m feeling some a lot of guilt about the kitchen reno. We are trying to choose sustainable materials. We are keeping all our major appliances. I’m trying to buy directly from local stores to avoid extra packaging and shipping (but again, we’re also trying to maintain COVID precautions). We’ve got a grill, a Crockpot, and a toaster oven, so I think we can keep the takeout to a minimum.

But will we? Are we doing our best to minimize our waste? This is an inherently wasteful project. Is there anything you can do with old linoleum countertops, or any materials from the 1980s? Builders used such crap then. Plastic everything. And as an eco-conscious family, is it OK that we embarked on this project to refresh a 30+-year-old kitchen? These questions have literally kept me up at night.

While my specific circumstances may be unique, I know from my conversation earlier this week that this general guilt runs deep in the Plastic Free crowd.

We all buy greens in plastic containers sometimes.

So, I would like to take a moment to absolve everyone of guilt up front. This October, I invite you to take the Challenge and just give it your best effort each day. We’re looking for progress, not perfection. Some days will be easy. Some days will be hard. Some days will feel like failure. It’s all OK. We’re all learning what is possible together.

Finally, for those who feel like Plastic Free is old hat and also for those who feel like it’s impossible, I hope you will still take the Challenge so that you can participate in the weekly activism component.

This year, like last, we will offer up easy, weekly actions that you can take from home to challenge the systems that make plastic pollution possible. From advocating for legislation to shaming corporate polluters, we will take aim at the narrative that cleaning up plastic pollution is the consumers’ responsibility. (Because it’s not!) Stay tuned for the first action in Monday’s email (which you will only get if you register for the Challenge).

Welcome again to Day 1! I’m so glad you’re here with us.

Julie Kimmel