Our Kids Only Cried a Little in Plastic Free July

To succeed you need to take more than a bottle of ketchup to McDonald’s

No unpackaged broccoli. Why?

Why is broccoli wrapped in plastic?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but it is tough to find unpackaged broccoli. Only one organic market in Berlin appears to serve it up au natural. Kids hate broccoli anyway. We can do without it.

Packaged broccoli wasn’t the problem during Plastic Free July, a global challenge to get us to reduce single-use plastic.

Tackling single-use plastic is a great place to start, but it didn’t go far enough for my wife, Meg, so we did more. In the kitchen, in the bathroom, and even school supplies, tons of items took a beating.

I did my best to support, except for the one time I bought a packet of M&Ms and the plastic-wrapped frozen strawberries. I swear it was just those two slip-ups.

Nobody is perfect, and going plastic-free entirely was impossible. The challenge is about making conscious choices.

Plastic is in everything: the laptop I’m typing this story on and in my white t-shirt and now I’ve got to wear it until it dissolves. Ugh, polyester.

It’s also in things we couldn’t do without, like in the Oatly packaging we love and Lego, although the company is taking steps to change that with a plant-based alternative.

Kids are more flexible than plastic

I care more about the Lego than the kids, who went along with our experiments crying mostly about the loss of plastic-wrapped snacks. They’ve also turned into fine-tuned activists at grocery stores pointing and calling out “ewwwww plastic. Look, Mom, that guy is buying plastic.”

We took our kids to Berlin’s Original Unverpacket (unpackaged) grocery store, and our eldest had the best time of her life weighing out pulses, oats, and other items in glass jars. She keeps asking when we’re going back and we most certainly will.

Yay we can finally have popcorn again

The kids even surprised me with their ability for delayed gratification. You know, that awesome ability to forgo short-term pleasure for future gain most adults can’t handle? Our kids chose to hold on to the last legacy packet of Jumpys (a German paprika chip shaped like a kangaroo) for our holiday road trip. They cried at the prospect that we might never purchase them again.

The kids were extremely resilient and accepting after we told them they wouldn’t get a toy with their Happy Meals at McDonald’s. There was no fuss, and luckily, the golden arches had books to hand out.

Okay, we also took the audiobook CD in a paper cover, but CDs are made of, you guessed it, plastic (a CD is not single-use, and Diary of Whimpy Kid had me giggling as I flew down the autobahn. Plastic justified).

Plastic may have saved some money

On our first visit to McDonald’s (and please don’t judge, it’s our go-to stop on road trips) we ended up buying single-use plastic ketchup packets. Meg was not going to make that mistake twice, and on the return trip, we marched up with our bottle of ketchup and saved a few cents. Nobody cared or said anything.

Wow, look, I just saved a few pennies!

You’ll also get a 10 cent reduction on your coffee at McCafe if you have a to-go coffee cup. Properly invested, those 20 cents could make you rich. *wink*

I don’t think we saved much money in #plasticfreejuly. Sustainably-produced and packaged bamboo toilet paper cost quite a bit more, but we also didn’t buy as much stuff, so our grocery bills shrunk.

I attempted a cost analysis on trash bags and realized the cost of the more expensive plastic-free ones was easily offset but a reduction in trash overall. There wasn’t any regular trash to take out.

Once a week, I was taking out our diligently separated packaging, paper, and mulch thinking I was helping the environment. In fact, Germans — who are known to be among the world’s most diligent recyclers — only recycle 810,000 tons of the 5.2 million tons of plastic waste they produce.

Most of the plastics we use are in packaging (Verpackungen* Plastikatlast 2019)

Plastic Free July will turn into #lessplasticaugust and #somewhatlessplasticseptember, but our battle with the world’s most significant pollutant is not yet over.

Oh, and if you’re thinking, what impact can one family have? The global industrial complex has us all hooked on plastic!

Think again. My family’s odd behavior draws attention, opens up the discussion, and gets our friends and family thinking about the issue.

Meg’s high school gym teacher came out of the woodworks after decades to join in the discussion on Facebook, and we have a few other converts too.

So, a little grassroots activism is powerful stuff, plastic-free stuff.

Want to go plastic-free?

Meg is documenting her journey on Instagram so follow her by following this link.

Oh and here are few things you can do today to reduce your plastic footprint:

*get some reusable produce bags to pick up unpackaged fruit and veg (if it’s packaged, don’t buy it)
*buy milk, water, and yogurt in reusable glass containers
*take your reusable coffee-to-go cup everywhere. If you forget it, sit down and drink the darn coffee and enjoy a moment of peace or skip your coffee break
*time to go back to bar soap either sustainably wrapped, not wrapped at all or homemade
*bamboo toothbrushes, love ‘em
*get a refillable floss container
*switch from toothpaste tubes to toothpaste tabs in sustainable packaging
*spend a small fortune on toilet paper
*have a travel kit with ketchup, metal & paper straws, metal cutlery and empty containers with you
*get your ice-cream at an ice-cream parlor in a cone

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Johannes K.

I muse on being a journalist, author and on life. Husband. Father of two beautiful girls. Tennis & CrossFit.