Like many things in 2020, the 10th year of “Plastic Free July” probably won’t be remembered as one of the more successful years.
Efforts to reduce single-use plastic waste have been stalled or rolled back because of the novel coronavirus. Grocery stores put a temporary stop on reusable shopping bags. Restaurants have had to adopt to-go-order policies that increase the use of plastic containers and cutlery. There is also the increased medical waste and packaging.
At a time when environmental groups are trying to raise the alarm about plastic pollution, it seems like the entire world is heading the wrong direction.
Some of these changes will be with us for a while. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce use of single-use plastic products this month. One change we all will have to accept here is the use of face masks indoors in public spaces. That’s one area people have a chance to make a cleaner choice.
Most people have three choices for their masks: surgical masks, reusable cloth face coverings, and disposable paper masks. (There are also N95 respirators, but if you’re using those to dash to the store, one of the choices above will provide about the same protection in casual settings, according to Mayo Clinic. Medical personnel and first responders need N95 masks in higher-risk settings, so consider donating them.)
In terms of sustainability, cloth masks are the best choice. The Textile Center has masks for sale made by Minnesota artists. If you have the fabric tools and know-how, the Textile Center has patterns and instructions for making your own. You can also help their effort by donating cotton fabric to the organization for their ongoing collection efforts.
It’s a small contribution, but enough people doing small things can have a big impact.
We can still make other daily efforts to use less single-use plastic. We can avoid bottled water; cook at home more; and buy fresh produce instead of prepackaged foods.
Started as a small event in Australia in 2011, more than 250 million people around the world marked Plastic-Free July in some way last year. That’s likely because concerns about plastic pollution have been growing as more plastic pollution makes its way into the environment.
A 2018 report to the United Nations found that about 13 million metric tons of plastic pollution is dumped into the oceans every year. That plastic doesn’t degrade, but breaks down into microplastics that can affect wildlife, biodiversity and human health. Microplastics have reached the most remote corners of the planet, and have even made their way into precipitation.
John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to email@example.com.