Common Energy’s External Team takes on the Plastic Free July Challenge!

First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge that abstaining from single-use plastics for a month is probably the most painfully boring-sounding topic to read about. You could be reading about the US presidential election, your summer term pre-readings or your refrigerator manual but alas, you fell for the click-bait that is Common Energy’s blog page. So we’d like to say in all genuineness that we appreciate you, nameless reader, and vow to make this synthetic-organic-polymer-free journey as witty and wisdom-bearing as possible.

So why abstain from single-use plastics for a month? Partially because it’s an actual thing;

The Plastic-Free July Challenge is an initiative that was piloted in 2011 by the Western Metropolitan Regional Council of Perth, Australia in an effort to educate residents on the importance of reducing and reusing before recycling. Since then, municipalities, other local organizations and even NGOs internationally have caught on.

The ramifications of single-use plastics on our environment and health are an endless list.

Entanglement and ingestion of plastic debris are some of the leading causes of marine wildlife mortality

Every piece of plastic manufactured since the beginning of its mass production in the 1940s remains somewhere on our Earth today, including our landfills and oceans.
Entanglement and ingestion of 6-pack rings and plastic bags are a leading cause of mortality to marine life. What’s even scarier is that scientists have been discovering bits of plastic that have been weathered down to microplastics, which are being consumed by zooplankton and are making their way up the food chain¹. It would not be a surprise to find bits of plastic in our salmon dinners in the near future.

About 4% of the world’s oil and gas production is used as feedstock for plastic materials, with an additional 3-4% consumed to fuel the manufacturing process². While recycling is great, it should be treated as a final resort; there is a finite number of times a given piece of plastic can be recycled, as each treatment yields a poorer grade. When plastic reaches the end of the line, it unfortunately does not vanish.

Who, what, where and when and how?

For the entire month of July, George Radner and I (along with numerous other individuals around the globe) are challenging ourselves to avoid purchasing and using products that are made from single-use plastic, or come with plastic packaging. There may be cases where certain purchases might be unavoidable; we will collect these “problem items”, and showcase all the plastics we did end up purchasing at the end of the month.

Vegan food options, natural cleaners and toileteries, drugs, banking and ID cards, and dental all come in non-reusable containers that will all eventually end up in our landfills or ecosystems even if initially recycled.

There are already dozens of “problem items” in our households that we use regularly and don’t necessarily think about as classic perpetrators like the age-old plastic bag. Personal hygiene products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, face wash, feminine products, even dental floss itself is made from plastic-based fibres. Alternative “natural” cleaning products that aren’t manufactured with harsh carcinogens still come in plastic containers that can’t be re-used. Food choices that are associated with lower carbon-emission vegan lifestyles like tofu and almond milk still come in plastic packaging (2L tetra-paks have plastic caps). Want to bring home-brewed coffee in your travel mug instead of purchasing a single-use cup from Starbucks? What sort of packaging do the beans and coffee filters come in? Our bus passes, ID cards, banking cards, rewards program cards are all made from polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). Even the Advil I took earlier today for my pounding headache came in a plastic bottle.

While avoiding all these products might be impractical and almost impossible, becoming aware of them is the first step towards effecting change; this is exactly what our aim is in doing the challenge and blogging about it.

George, myself, and other members of the Common Energy Directors Team and Steering Committee will be contributing blog posts about our personal anecdotes doing the challenge, tips on how to go plastic-free in Vancouver, informative articles, and Common Energy’s efforts to reduce plastics among other waste.

What can YOU do for Plastic Free July?

Pledge to take the challenge yourself, or if that seems too daunting try to phase out at least the top 4 perpetrators: single-use coffee cups, plastic bags, water bottles, and plastic straws. These items are the easiest to say no to, and also happen to fall in the dirty dozen when it comes to top items that are found littered on our shorelines. Every drop in the ocean counts!

Disposable coffee cup lid with wildlife bite marks- one of many reasons to always have a re-useable mug handy, or participate in Common Energy’s newly launched Mug Share program!


1.  Desforges, J-P. W., Galbraith, M.,  Ross, P (2015). S. Ingestion of Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, DOI:10.1007/s00244-015-0172-5.

2. Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115–2126.

Blog post written by Keila Stark, Assistant Director External