plastic free beach fail

My Epic Plastic Free Beach Fail

When I ran my spartan race, I came in 153/300 in my heat. Almost exactly average. I feel like this is a descriptor for my life. I am an average person in everything I do, and even when I put my maximum effort and dedication into something the best I can hope for is to become “Good” but never great.

As I have made clear on my Transparency page, I am not and never will be a prodigy in Environmentalism. Just as I am average at Spartan races, writing, and all the other many things I care about, I’m average in my ability to protect the environment.

This doesn’t mean I never aspire to be greater. Every now and again I dream of escorting people into my home so they can oooh and aaah over my plastic free razor, pantry full of glass jars, and huge gardens. (My garden is middling, I have one glass jar in my pantry, and my razor is still plastic. This is just a dream.)

Yesterday was supposed to be a day when I reached for the stars and showed all of you how a zero waste beach trip would look. I spent hours planning it, from a beautiful zero waste picnic including reusable sandwich bags, our reusable water bottles, and cute little vegetable trays, and planned to bring a bag to pick litter off the beach.

Things did not go as planned, so here’s an account of what a not-so-zero-waste beach fail looks like, what went right, and how I did what I could to fix it.

Score: Careful planning

Using the back of an old grocery list to keep things zero waste, I wrote out everything I could think of that we might need, and strategized zero waste ways to handle it. Food? I made a list of everything I wanted to bring. Accident? I packed a first-aid kit. Period about due? I brought my cup.

The only thing that I planned and packed that were disposable were a single package of baby wipes and some disposable diapers for my daughter. Remember this, it will show up in my fails.

I reasoned that while this would technically make it not zero waste but low waste, I would pick up more litter off the beach than I brought, balancing the scales. Many companies make themselves plastic neutral by doing these things, so why not me with my own hands?

Having justified myself, I meticulously checked everything off and away we went.

Fail: We put the picnic basket in the trunk

What I wanted was to take beautiful instagram shots on the beach with my plastic free lunch. I totally had it envisioned in my head. The beach however, is 4 hours away, and my 9 year old son begs for food every 2 hours at least.

My son started begging, pleading, and outright whining for food just an hour in. We pulled over to get the snacks and food, but we happened to pull into a Starbucks parking lot and I am weak to Starbucks.
+1 paper bag, disposable paper cup, and single use plastic lid.

Fail: He wasn’t actually hungry

It turns out my son confused being hungry with being carsick. He puked absolutely everywhere, and then made my toddler sick because of the smell of his sickness. We ended up using the entire pack of wipes, and as I did not pack extra clean clothing for him, we also ended up getting him a change of clothing at a local store.

+1 dramamine packaging, sprite bottle to help his stomach, cracker packaging to help his stomach, and tags off the clothing.

So much for zero waste.

How we fixed it:

There’s nothing I can do about the plastic waste. I needed these things at the time, and while I can plan better in the future I can’t undo the damage. Instead, I am emailing the companies I had to purchase from during my beach fail to ask for plastic free or zero waste options.

A zero waste beach trip could be normal if we got a little help from the corporations that supply the things we need or want. You know?

Score: Borrowed beach toys were a hit

In a previous year I purchased dollar store sand toys and told myself I would be using them again every year. This did not work out. They did not survive to see the next beach trip.

This year I borrowed beach toys from someone who uses sand toys regularly, and a metal mopping pail. These worked great! On top of this I got to visit with a new friend from my Buy Nothing Group, and it got even better because it turns out they are also gardeners.

Score: I still litter picked as much as I could off of the beach.

There was unfortunately quite a bit of litter, and I was able to get a great deal of it picked up. I also did pick up much more trash than I generated, but since there is no “away” that’s just moving the location of the trash.

The rest of the beach trip went as planned, and compared to many beach trips it was still low waste–just not what I planned.

I hope next year we’ll be able to truly come with nothing disposable, and leave the beach a better place. Yet even though this beach trip wasn’t zero waste, it’s still better than past trips, and we did leave the beach a better place than when we found it. I’ll call that a win.

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