Week one of my Plastic Free July challenge was largely successful, with only a handful of hiccups. As I've been traveling for the past 7 days in Scotland I've made good use of my zero waste go-kit (despite losing a portion of it) but have not been able to avoid or control every situation thus far. Our first 4 days in Scotland were spent celebrating the wedding of two dear friends at a castle on a 2000 acre estate near the town of Portpatrick, followed by 3 days at an Airbnb in Edinburgh.
Portpatrick is an adorable seaside town with a tiny population of just 670 people. While we spent the majority of our time attending various wedding activities at the Dunskey castle and estate, we did sleep in town at the impressive Old Church Portpatrick. We were excited that the Old Church had a large, well-equipped kitchen as our normal travel MO is to pick up a few choice groceries to satisfy our somewhat particular breakfast and snacking needs. Unfortunately, we arrived in Portpatrick to find that there wasn't a proper grocery store and therefore not a whole lot of food available that didn't come wrapped in plastic. We picked up a carton of eggs and snagged a loaf of bread from the Dunskey castle kitchens (they had wrapped it in saran wrap, sadly, but I've folded that up to reuse in my go-kit later) and relished the remaining half of an avocado that I had brought with me to snack on during the flight from New York.
Due to the lack of groceries and whole foods in general, we opted to spend most of our mealtimes either at the Dunskey castle or at one of the charming pubs in town. Most of the time, these two options were wonderful in serving food prepared and ready to eat with no plastic involved - at least not by the time the food reached my plate. I'm sure that many of the items used to cook our meals arrived at the kitchens swathed in various forms of plastic packaging, though it is impossible for me to know what that footprint looks like. The first night of our trip, after no true meals the day before and drinking a bit at the wedding's welcome ceremony, I succumbed to late-night munchies and consumed a cellophane bag full of Doritos as well as a slice of naan bread that had been sealed in plastic. Because the dinner that evening did not have a lot of vegetarian options, I was dealing with more hunger than usual which won out over my desire to be plastic-free at the time. I'm not proud of those Doritos, but a girl's gotta eat!
Another frustrating moment at a sweet waterfront pub was when I realized the vinegar for my "chips" needed to be squeezed from a tiny plastic packet rather than a full-sized bottle. I chose flavor over zero-waste and used two of the little plastic pouches, feeling somewhat defeated. Luckily the rest of our meals passed without an inch of plastic to be seen, aside from the plastic wrap that I know the Dunskey castle kitchens used to store leftovers and prepared dishes. The bar at the Dunskey castle did present a challenge, though, as all drinks taken outdoors had to be served in plastic cups. Of course, it would have been dangerous to serve beverages in glass outside on the stone and pebbled ground...especially in the hands of inebriated revelers. I allowed the infraction because it would have been outright rude and irresponsible for me to have ignored this rule. I did notice on the last day of wedding shenanigans that our hosts had gathered all of these plastic cups separately from other recycling. This, and the fact that they were durable plastic cups rather than the flimsy kind, led me to believe that they were destined to be washed and reused.
The other plastic invader at the Dunskey wedding was a pile of thin, rustling, cloudy plastic pouches which had sheathed an epic number of sparklers. The sparklers were lit to celebrate the wedding, a joyous occasion which happened to coincide with the 4th of July. Though I did decline to light my own sparkler (which I'm kind of regretting now) that doesn't mean that I prevented any plastic waste as the crowd gleefully lit every last sparkler anyway. Thankfully, the rest of the wedding week passed by without any appearance of single-use plastics. I had wised up after that first night and made sure to take care of any late-night munchies at the Dunskey castle before heading back to the Old Church to sleep.
By the time we arrived in Edinburgh, I was desperate for a good vegetarian meal. Scotland's largest city did not disappoint, with multiple options for veggie-focused cuisine surrounding our Airbnb. The luckiest thing about our location was the presence of a community owned grocer that supplied fruits, vegetables, bread, and kombucha all free from plastic packaging. I stocked up on breakfast and snack items and happily headed out to explore the city, knowing that this small amount of grocery shopping would carry me through most of my needs for food and plastic-free basics.
On Saturday, a friend who had spent time in Edinburgh before kindly took us to his favorite spot for Indian food, warning us ahead of time that they served their generous and delicious portions on styrofoam plates. I came prepared with my Klean Kanteen and left happy with a full belly and a full canteen of leftovers. The next day we met again for a picnic in the Meadows, something we felt was obligatory on one of the warmest weeks the UK has seen this year. We did our best to source snacks and beverages plastic-free but were forced to choose between plastic-wrapped bread and plastic-wrapped crackers, ultimately opting for the former because it suited our carb-loving ways with slightly less plastic than the latter. Though we came prepared with our reusable cups and bags, our friends do not (yet!) travel with their own and therefore had to pick up single-use plastic versions for their portion of the picnic.
Being plastic free as a wedding-goer in Portpatrick and as a tourist in Edinburgh wasn't as easy as I expected, but it was a good start to this month of travel without plastic. I've taken away a few main lessons from my first week traveling in Plastic Free July that I'll be keeping in mind as I move on for a week in Paris:
1. Planning is key. I could have looked up the grocery options in Portpatrick ahead of time and remedied my late-night munching situation by stopping on our way down to the town to grab adequate groceries. Typically I'm not huge on planning the minor details of a trip, which means that I rarely make a robust list of places to visit or shop at in any new destination, but from here on out I'll be doing a bit of research around grocery stores before arriving. Similarly, knowing beforehand that a restaurant serves it's meals on single-use styrofoam or plastic is a great tip to remind me to plan on having an empty container on hand for such occasions.
2. Sometimes being plastic-free needs to take a backseat to the realities of life. If it is rude, irresponsible, or simply too far out of my control to be perfectly free of plastic, it's not worth it to stick to the challenge simply for the challenge's sake. It's important that I am able to live my life and not alienate all of my loved ones in the name of sustainability (I learned this the hard way in my earlier years of studying the subject) so I do feel comfortable making these trade-offs. It's not so much about being perfect as it is about being aware and putting in the effort.
3. Systemic change has a lot more power to reduce plastic waste than I do. Things like abundant packaged foods and plastic-wrapped party tricks are well out of my control but could easily be altered by regulations around plastic wrapping or an industry shift towards compostable plastics instead of the petroleum-based kind. Of course, this isn't to say that I shouldn't make efforts or feel as if I am powerless, because that isn't true. The point for me in continuing to take action on an individual level - despite going up against systemic norms - is that it reminds me of the problem and therefore spurs me to do even more to advocate for the solution. Making small changes in my life has given me more confidence and awareness, helping me to better understand and support the potential larger solutions that are available. It's important to make our own efforts, but it's easy to place all of the onus and blame on ourselves, when that simply isn't fair. The system must change in order for a real dent to be made in the global plastic pollution problem.
MY PLASTIC TALLY FOR PLASTIC FREE JULY WEEK 1:
- 1 cellophane Doritos bag
- 1 plastic naan wrap
- Lots of plastic saran wrap in the Dunskey kitchens *(out of my control)
- Plastic cups at Dunskey outdoor bar *(necessary/rude to refuse)
- Plastic sparkler wrappers *(technically I did not partake)
- 1 plastic-windowed baguette bag
- Plastic cups & bags *(technically I did not partake nor was this my responsibility)
WHATS IN MY ZERO WASTE GO-KIT:
- Bamboo utensils | BUY HERE
- Metal straw | BUY HERE
- Beeswax food wrap | BUY HERE
- Stainless steel cup | BUY HERE
- Stainless steel food container | BUY HERE
- Cloth napkins | BUY HERE
- Cloth produce/bulk bag | BUY HERE
- Silicone resealable snack bags | BUY HERE
- Reusable water bottle | BUY HERE
- Reusable, foldable shopping bag | BUY HERE
- Stylish cotton net bag | BUY HERE
- Zipper pouch to keep utensils, etc in | BUY HERE