When the mid-point of the year comes around, many of us in the western hemisphere think about beach vacations and picnics in the park. But many people may not know about Plastic Free July, an international campaign to reduce plastic use during this month. What began in 2011 in a small town in Western Australia has ballooned into a global phenomenon, with an estimated 140 million participants from over 190 countries.
Here at Cisco, we are working on our own education campaign around Plastic Free July, encouraging employees to learn more about the plastic crisis and take concrete action to reduce their plastic impact for the month. The hope is that action taken over a month-long period can inspire a lifelong shift away from plastic.
But why is plastic a problem? After all, many individuals recycle at home and on the go.
The problem with plastic
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading circular economy foundation, estimates that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. And once received at a recycling plant, only five percent of that material value can be upcycled into another product.
This lack of recyclability is by design. Most plastic packaging is designed to be exclusively single-use, think of the plastic cellophane commonly wrapped around produce, or the stiff plastic on electronic items. Those common bits of plastic have no inherent value and are often missorted into residential recycling bins in what the industry calls “wish-cycling.” Wish-cycling is putting items into the recycling bin and hoping they are recyclable. Contaminating the waste stream with un-recyclable materials burdens the waste industry with additional costs (sorting, labor, repair to machinery) and has contributed to the decreased value of recycling markets.
Cisco’s take on Plastic Free July
Armed with this knowledge, our Plastic Free July campaign on Cisco’s internal platform, Cisco Greenhouse, encourages employees to take baby steps to reduce the amount of plastic in their lives. Below are some of the most common and impactful actions taken thus far:
- Use reusable bags at the market and grocery store. When looking to reduce plastic, it is helpful to see where the most plastic appears in your life. For many of us, this happens at the grocery store and market with pre-packaged food. Next time you are shopping, bring your own bag to carry home your goods, and try and purchase items that don’t come pre-wrapped in plastic.
- Try a bar of soap instead of pump soap or shower gel. This easy change can also save you money. Pump soap and shower gel often contain high amount of water pre-added to their solutions. Bar soap, on the other hand, is basically soap concentrate and can last equally as long as the diluted alternatives. There are even bar shampoos and conditioners!
- Bring a reusable water bottle on-the-go. Instead of purchasing a large pack of single-use water bottles, invest in a nice metal, glass, or bamboo water bottle. Not only will you reduce the amount of waste you are producing, but you can also look stylish and sustainable at the same time.
- Just Say “No.” Much of our plastic waste can be avoided by refusing it in the first place. If you forget your reusable bag at the market, try carrying the items if you are able to versus accepting the plastic bag provided by your grocer. Similarly, when you get take-out, refuse the pre-packaged cutlery that often comes with your order. Refusing plastic is an easy way to begin cutting down on the amount of plastic both produced and polluted.
With just over a week left in the month, I challenge you to try to adopt one of the actions above into your daily life.