Plastic Free July is a challenge born out of a simple idea: small changes can have a big impact in addressing plastic pollution. As RoadRunner marks its third year of participation, we saw an opportunity to share our tips, advice, and own industry knowledge on how to make this plastic-free challenge a success for your business.
This post was originally published in July 2020 by Shelby Bell and has been updated. When synthetic plastic was invented in the early 1900s, it was seen as a once-in-a-century innovation that would change society as people knew it. Today, it has become an ecological and societal problem we’ll be dealing with for centuries to come. Plastic is everywhere. According to a 2017 study, researchers estimated the world had created 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin plastic to date. Additionally, over half of all plastics were produced in the past two decades, with some estimates suggesting production could double from today’s figures (currently around 368 million metric tons/year) by 2050. Developed for practical purposes like electrical insulation and car parts, its creators couldn’t have envisioned how ingrained with everyday life plastics would become, nor could they imagine a future where consumers would throw away their life’s work after a single use. Single-use and “disposable” plastics—such as thin plastic film for packaging, lightweight water bottles, and durable plastic bags—account for roughly 50% of all modern production. Designed with convenience in mind, there’s often no second thought as to what comes next for the products. That’s why, globally, less than 9% of all plastics are recycled. Looking deeper, despite being plastic’s most easily recyclable polymers, the rate for PET and HDPE (famously used for bottles and bags) barely scratches 15% (by the most favorable estimates). So, where does it go instead? 79% of the world’s plastic now resides in landfills or the natural environment—a crisis many experts suggest is completely out of control. Plastic Free July, a global movement created by Plastic Free Foundation, encourages us to take control back in how we use (or don’t use) single-use plastic. And it’s time for everyone to join in! Breaking your reliance on plastic will be a challenge, so consider the following tips, advice, and activities, a playbook for the habit-breaking, sustainable month to come.