Hi everyone, July is almost here! What does that mean for you? Hotter weather, fireworks and barbecue, maybe a new fiscal year?
Well, did you know it could also mean PLASTIC FREE JULY?!
What is Plastic Free July?
“Plastic Free July is a global yearly challenge where millions of people give up single use plastic during the month of July. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of single-use disposable plastic items in our lives and challenges people to do something about it.” 1millionwomen.com.au
I wanted to write a short post to introduce you to this annual challenge. It was created by the organization plasticfreejuly.org.
Why Go Plastic Free and Not Just Recycle?
Because only 9% of plastic sent to recycling actually gets recycled.
Because recycling is NOT the answer.
Because plastic has entered every ecosystem across the planet.
Let go of Shame
Are you just discovering the ramifications of disposable plastics? Or are you still struggling to take your first step toward eliminating disposable plastic from your house and life? Or have you already gone plastic free?
Whichever situation you find yourself in, the first thing you need to do is let go of any guilt or shame. I don’t want you to feel those emotions when it comes to your habits surrounding plastics, because negative feelings won’t propel you to action.
I want you to feel enlightened, hopeful, enthusiastic. If you’re just starting and you’ve already thought about these issues then you’ve already consciously taken the first step. Go you!
There are many organizations, websites, films, and social media groups dedicated to the plastic crisis and about going plastic-free. I’ve listed my favorites on my Recommended Websites page. Please check out some of my other posts related to plastic here and here.
July is a great month to become aware of the problems and to start. However, once July is over you can keep going! You can help prevent the plastic crisis from getting worse. Be the change!
Before you go, if you have four minutes, please watch this video from The Story of Stuff Project:
If you read my post about my family’s weekend trip to Hilton Head Island last fall, then you already know how much we love the island. We recently returned from a week-long trip there, and inspiration was all around! Besides the natural beauty of the island and the gorgeous beaches, there are many environmentally conscious things I appreciate about Hilton Head Island.
Plastic bag ban in Beaufort County, South Carolina
They implemented a plastic bag ban last fall, and I am here to tell you that from a tourist’s perspective, businesses have not been hurt by this. People were shopping in all the shops and supermarkets and the plastic bag ban did not seem to deter anyone from spending money. I have not found any studies on the result of this ban in the last 8 months, but I imagine the impact has been huge!
Unfortunately, I did find one article indicating that Target and Walmart are using supposedly “reusable” plastic bags. But since they are made of the same material as regular plastic bags, they defeat the whole purpose. I did not happen to shop at either store while there so I did not witness this first hand. As the article noted, that is disappointing.
At the other shops and stores I visited, I personally received only paper bags when I didn’t have my cloth bags with me. I love it! Can’t we do this everywhere?
There’s a lot of cherished and protected wildlife on the island. We saw all types of birds, including pelicans – my favorite! We saw dolphins, tons of fish, and several types of crabs. There are also bald eagles, alligators, and turtles living on the island but we didn’t personally get to see those this time. The local government’s website educates on sustainable living, the types of local wildlife, native plants, biodiversity, ecosystems, and how everyone can help protect those things.
Sea Turtle Conservation Efforts
Although we did not see sea turtles this trip, we saw at least 7 cordoned loggerhead sea turtle nest areas. They were marked with orange signs provided by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which alerts the public about the protection of this endangered species through federal and state laws.
Many Atlantic coast towns have laws, regulations, and organizations to protect sea turtle nests. On Hilton Head Island, lights on buildings and hotels cannot shine in the direction of the beach. People are only permitted to use red or “turtle-safe” flashlights on the beach between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. between May and October. They have a volunteer organization that patrols, monitors, and reports on sea turtle nests. They also clean up beach litter and plastics.
I read this article about a Kemp’s Ridley turtle making a nest on Hilton Head Island, a first-time event for the most endangered of all the sea turtle species! Wow!
The Coastal Discovery Museum has an “Adopt-a-Nest” Program, which not only sponsors the protection of a sea turtle nest but also supports the museum’s educational programs. Of course, this idea excited me so I absolutely adopted a nest while writing this post! They emailed me to let me know that my nest will be the 277th one this year and that they’ll keep me informed on the progress of my adopted nest.
Can I inspire you to adopt a nest as well? Just use the link above!
Coastal Discovery Museum
The Coastal Discovery Museum on the island is a great non-profit and Smithsonian Affiliate, dedicated to educating and protecting the natural resources, history, and ecosystems of the region. Their mission “inspires people to care for the Lowcountry,” through their many programs, exhibits, talks, and tours. What a great organization.
We’ve visited several times in past years but this year we did a Dolphin and Nature Cruise with the museum and really enjoyed it. And yes, we did see dolphins! The museum docent provided a dolphin skull replica and spoke about the anatomy, diet, and lifestyle of the local dolphins. The captain provided a rich tour about the history and nature of the island. Both the captain and museum docent were very knowledgeable and kept the passengers engaged for the entirety of the cruise. They even let each of the kids drive the boat for a few minutes!
Hilton Head Island’s beaches are very clean and well maintained. And there are both trash and recycling cans up and down the beach. Even so, I still picked up about 300 pieces of trash during my week there. Of course, I logged these through Litterati (see also my post on Litterati). My next post will be about the types of trash I found and what you can do to prevent beach trash and ocean pollution!
Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!
All photographs in this post were taken by me except where otherwise indicated.
“Every year, more than 20,000 species tragically disappear from our planet.”
If you’ve never heard of Jeff Corwin, I want to introduce you to him. For many years I thought he was just another popular tv show host but it turns out that he’s much more. He’s a biologist, wildlife conservationist, educator, advocate, and voice for endangered species across the planet.
This book caught my eye at the local used bookstore and I had to buy it. This is a very intelligible book for anyone and is meant for all audiences. It’s not written academically but it cites an immense amount of research and scientific studies. I honestly had a hard time putting it down even though it deals with subject matter that is depressing. But Corwin countered much of the sorrowful information with stories of progressive movements and hope. And all of it is so important for us to know.
The title comes from the most critically endangered species we are about to lose which have fewer than 100 individual living members left. All are direct consequences of the actions and behaviors of humans. Here, Jeff Corwin talks about the film and book:
I have not been able to find the companion documentary they referred to yet, but if I do I will update this post.
Corwin explained the story of each species delicately yet methodically. I did read one review where Corwin was criticized for jumping around from one species to the next in different regions of the world. But one glance at the table of contents reveals that he was clearly dividing his book into thematic sections about the major human causes of endangered species. The sections were:
Global warming and habitat loss;
The introduction of non-native species, pollution, and disease;
The exploitation of animals for products and economy.
I will say that that same review applauded Corwin for his genuineness and for highlighting how we can motivate people around the world to change.
“If you’ve ever doubted that a small group of people can make a big difference in the face of a tide that seems inexorable, organizations like the WWF and the IRF are proof that such a change is possible.”
The Endangered Species list is vast
At the time this book was written, there were 16,928 endangered species in the world. I was hoping that that number had decreased since 2009, but I figured it probably increased at least slightly.
But I was devastated to discover that there are now 27,000 endangered species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are generally accepted as the global authority on endangered species. Corwin cited the IUCN heavily in this book. If you’re not familiar with the IUCN, please check out this 3-minute video that will help you learn about them:
Corwin explained that there were 3,246 critically endangered species (the highest risk category for endangerment of extinction by the IUCN) in 2009. He wrote: “Whether we realize it or not, we need them…We’re inextricably bound with nature. When we put the survival of the natural world in jeopardy, we simultaneously put our survival in jeopardy.” We’ve harmed landscapes and habitats and entire ecosystems, and it’s going to hurt every species, ourselves included.
“We can’t fall back on letting nature take its course when we’ve changed the land and its inhabitants in ways that nature never intended.”
I was surprised to learn that habitat destruction is the number one cause of species extinction worldwide. It makes sense – as the human population increases, human activities spread and drive the land to a state in which the land can no longer support the indigenous species. Urban sprawl, logging, mining, commercial fishing, homesteading are all culprits, but agriculture is the main source of habitat destruction.
Oil & Drilling
We all know oil spills are bad. When animals try to lick off oil from their fur or feathers, “the effect is toxic and can induce kidney failure.” They also rely on their fur or feathers for warmth, but when they’re coated in oil, the animal can freeze to death. “Unless they’re rescued – a monumental feat in remote regions – animals affected by oil spills typically die of hypothermia.” This makes me want to stop driving immediately. How do I stop supporting this global greed for oil? That’s a discussion for a future series of blog posts.
Poaching, Slaughter & the Exotic Pet trade
Poaching is another major cause of species endangerment and extinction, although it is not always defined as just the slaughter of wild animals. It often includes animals captured for the exotic pets trade, for which there is a huge demand on the black market. Those animals are removed from their habitats, affecting the ecosystem. This reduces the populations in more ways than one – since they do not reproduce in that ecosystem, their numbers obviously decline further.
Slaughter for commercial profit is most visible from the slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses. These large animals are killed for only one body part, the tusks or the horns. The rest of the animal is left to rot. National Geographic recently featured an informative article on poaching. My family and I recently visited the Nashville Zoo and I was impressed with their exhibits about critically endangered species. I took a photo of one about the rhinos because the image so shocked me that it moved me to tears:
We can do better, I know we can!
“While the dinosaurs disappeared as the result of a natural but catastrophic event, the current causes of extinction are largely the result of human behavior.”
Even though the book made me quite depressed about the state of species across the Earth, the book was very inspiring. It inspired me to feature this review of the book, to read more on the topics, and to write future posts on the subject. Corwin offered hope at every turn in the book and that is why I loved the book.
“We’re not powerless, though. As demonstrated by the success story of the American bald eagle, great strides can be made through compassion and dedication.”
I found the dedication Corwin wrote to his daughters particularly inspiring. Here’s part of it:
“To my daughters…you are both so very precious to your mother and me; your optimism and trust, reflected through a lovely lens of innocence, inspires us…While at present the creatures who share Earth with us are in jeopardy, I have faith that my generation will make things right so you and your children will have the opportunity to thrive upon a rich, healthy, and diverse planet. We will not fail you.“
That’s beautiful, and it’s exactly how I feel about my own child. My son is precious to me and I do not want to leave a devastated planet behind for him to deal with. I want to be part of the change!
Established in 1970, Earth Day celebrates 49 years this year. Next year will be a huge anniversary! The first Earth Day “led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.” You can read the full history of Earth Day at earthday.org.
April 22 marks Earth Day every year. It’s an important day to recognize our beautiful planet, but many of us believe Earth Day should be Every Day. We can make a difference every day. We can be the change. We can participate in daily practices that are small but add up when many of us do them! Follow my blog to learn about changes you can make. Additionally, Earthday.org provided this list of actions, and the good news is a great many of them are small and simple but have a big impact.
How do you celebrate Earth Day?
Earth Day is a day of education and support for protecting the environment, preventing pollution, preserving and protecting all species, curbing climate change. The first thing you can do is commit to change. Pick one change and start there. Refuse plastic, start composting, drive less. There are hundreds of things you can do! Here are ways you can change your habits around food and here are 100 steps to a Plastic-Free life. I’ve also got a recommended list of books.
The next thing you can do is educate yourself, and then others! Many people have no idea about plastic pollution in our oceans. I doubt everyone knows how many species are now classified as endangered. Many believe recycling is enough but it isn’t. Some still believe global warming is a farce.
Once you’re aware of what’s going on, there’s no turning back. Your conscience will help guide you. Your knowledge will help you guide others.
Homeschool Lesson for Earth Day
There are so many ideas on the internet and on Pinterest especially for homeschool lessons on Earth Day, the environment and pollution, and endangered species. I wrote about a lesson on pollution and the environment that I did with my son a while back, but I also did special lessons about Earth Day when he was preschool age. Children will understand why we want to protect our world by learning simple things that explain what the Earth is, what the Earth looks like, and about all the animals, birds, ocean creatures, and humans that inhabit this great planet.
We did an easy puzzle of the Earth, coloring sheets of the planet, tracing activities, and counting games using the Earth as a theme. I found all of them as free printables on the internet from sources like teacherspayteachers.com and blogs like this that I found through Pinterest.
We made a paper mache globe based on a blog post from Housing a Forest. Here’s what ours looked like (my son was only 3 at the time):
We also read books about the environment and protecting our world, like the one below, which teaches that we need to take care of our Earth every day. You can find many other recommended books on my Children’s Book page.
But even if you don’t have children, you can still help people understand when the topics come up in conversation. And those conversations will come up. Won’t you be excited to share your knowledge?
What else can you do?
So. Many. Things.
You can plant trees (maybe even hug them!), clean up litter (join the Litterati!), join an environmentally conscience community organization, refuse disposable products, grow a garden at home or in your community, take the bus or ride a bicycle to work, eat healthier foods that aren’t processed or sold in wasteful packaging, strive for zero waste, donate to back an educational project or school program, go minimalist, donate to help protect a species, etc. Just pick something that speaks to you and do it.
Love the Earth. Then help spread that love.
You can also subscribe to my blog to learn more with me as I continue my journey!