This past July, the Office of Sustainability shared tips on participating in the Plastic Free July Challenge.

The Office of Sustainability shares tips and ideas to reduce plastic pollution.

This month, the UMB Office of Sustainability has been busy on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages sharing information about Plastic Free July. This challenge originated in Perth, Australia, and has grown into a global movement with over 140 million participants.

The theme for Plastic Free July 2023 was: “Small steps, big difference.” Individuals’ efforts to reduce their everyday single-use plastic waste will make great strides in the fight against plastic pollution. Visit the Plastic Free Foundation's website to read their yearly Global Reach and Impact reports.

The Office of Sustainability announced the UMB NexTrex Challenge (July 1, 2023-Jan. 1, 2024), and shared tips, favorite products, and more to help ease the transition toward plastic-free living. See our recommendations below.

Week 1: Bring Your Own Lunch

How does packing your lunch relate to plastic pollution? Skipping takeout reduces your consumption of single-use utensils, food packaging, and soft plastic bags. Bringing your lunch to work or school is also a change that can save you money! Americans spend about $2,746 a year getting takeout, brown-bag meals, and lunch in restaurants. Restaurant and grocery prices will continue to rise as farmers respond to the effects of climate change on their crop yields and animals. Homemade meals allow your money and ingredients to stretch further.   

We recommend these reusable items to build a plastic-free lunch kit:

  • Reusable bag or lunch box
  • Utensils from home
  • Food storage container/jar
  • Cup with a lid (for drinks, soups, or other liquids)
  • Cloth napkin or small towel

Many of these reusable items can be found in your home. Don't forget to bring your lunch kit when you choose to eat out and refuse those plastics you don’t need!

Week 2: DIY Dairy-Free Milk

Finding milk in reusable or recyclable packaging is not an easy task. Beverage cartons lined with polyethylene plastic are not widely accepted at recycling centers. Even biodegradable polyethylene that ends up in a landfill releases carbon into the atmosphere as it breaks down. By making dairy-free milk at home, you lessen the resources used to make new cartons and keep them from going to landfill. Below we share recipes for several types of dairy-free milk, which are great to use in homemade cooking, baking, and drinks!

Oat Milk

  • Blend 1 cup of rolled oats and 3-4 cups of water.

Nut Milk

  • Soak 1 cup of preferred nuts (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) overnight with water. Drain.
  • Blend nuts and 3-4 cups of water.

Rice Milk

  • Soak 1 cup of uncooked long-grain rice with 2 cups of very hot water. Soak the rice for 2 hours, then drain.
  • Blend rice and 3-4 cups water. Add a pinch of salt (optional).

Strain your dairy-free mixture, bottle it, and enjoy!

Extra Tip: Purchase ingredients for this recipe in bulk with reusable bags or containers of your choice. Try these additions to flavor your dairy-free milk: cinnamon, vanilla extract, dates, maple syrup, cocoa powder, berries, turmeric, and ginger.

Week 3: (micro)Plastic Fashion

In the United States, more than 34 billion pounds of textile waste ends up in a landfill each year. Modern fabrics made with microplastic fibers release methane and can take more than 200 years to decompose. Buying from fast fashion retailers who use synthetic fabrics contributes to plastic pollution. Reimagine your wardrobe through mending, upcycling, and shopping consciously. Below, we share ideas to reduce the plastic in your wardrobe and the environment.

  • Secondhand Shopping & Natural Materials

The microfibers that derive from synthetic clothing materials are major contributors to global plastic pollution. Secondhand and well-loved items from your wardrobe release fewer microfibers when washed compared to newly manufactured clothing. When shopping, look for naturally derived materials (i.e., cotton, wool, linen, hemp) that are biodegradable.

  • Mending & Upcycling Clothing

Mending and upcycling are techniques that help extend the life of your clothing and keep them out of a landfill. It’s useful to learn simple repairs (i.e., darning, sewing, patching, hemming, etc.), but a little creativity can transform your well-loved garments and give them new life. Garment dyeing and visible mending, like sashiko, are fun techniques with a long history that combines art and utility.

  • Shop Local

When possible, purchase from sustainably minded businesses and support the growth of slow and circular fashion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of companies who claim to have sustainable practices. When you’re strapped for time, a local tailor can help mend your clothing or complex garments. Visit the local businesses featured below for your next vintage or secondhand shopping trip!

BmoreFlea, Hunting Ground, Bottle Of Bread, Get Shredded Vintage, Milk & Ice Vintage, Illicit Rag Vintage, ReDeux, Vogue Revisited

Week 4: Laundry Day

When it’s time to launder our mended items and secondhand treasures, how can we be more sustainable?

  • Install a microfiber filter on your at-home washing machine.
  • Use filter bags or devices when at the laundromat.
  • Wash your clothing only when needed. Try to spot clean clothing in between wears.
  • Cold water and short laundry cycles save energy.
  • Hanging clothes to dry is gentle and preserves your clothing.
  • Purchase wool dryer balls, soap nuts, and detergents in sustainable packaging.

Microplastics have been detected in soil, water sources, air, and produce. The methods above can help us to decrease our plastic pollution output. Whether at home or at the laundromat, you can make a difference! Local retailers Mount Royal Soap Company, Echotopia, and Catonsville Cooperative Market & Grocery offer reduced plastic and sustainable bulk detergent options that will suit your laundry needs.  

The Sustainability Team’s Favorite Plastic-Free Swaps

The Sustainability Team created videos of their favorite swaps to use during Plastic Free July. Check out our recommendations!

  • Bamboo Floss – Elizabeth Main, MPA, Associate Director
  • Cotton Produce Bags – Olivia Rosser, Waste Reduction Fellow
  • Mason Jars – Angela Ober, Senior Specialist

Recommended Viewing

Anthony Consoli, MArch, UMB University Architect and past Sustainability Champion, knows how important it is to tackle plastic pollution. Upon reflecting on the message and goals of Plastic Free July, Consoli states, "I am absolutely convinced that it is the key to our health and survival on this Earth." He recommends two documentaries that will provide an in-depth understanding of how plastics affect our groundwater, ecosystems, and ocean:

  •  "A Plastic Ocean" (2016): Explorers Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter and their team consider solutions to the major problems caused by plastic pollution.
  • “2040” (2019): Damon Gameau reimagines a sustainable future through interviews with experts about innovative approaches to combat climate change.

It’s never too late to join the plastic-free movement! Challenge yourself to say no to plastic every day of the year.

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