“As zoos and aquariums, we are keenly aware of the impact humans are having on wildlife every day. Each year, an estimated one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die from plastics in their environment.” – Plastic Free July website
What does it take to raise awareness and change behavior? According to common wisdom, it takes three weeks to change a habit. In other words, if you can stick with a new behavior for 21 days in a row, you are a lot more likely to keep it up long-term.
Inspired by this idea and the desire to reduce the harmful effects that plastic has on wildlife, Alaska SeaLife Center’s (ASLC) staff and fellows participated in the Plastic Free July (PFJ) challenge open to the country’s zoos and aquariums. It is a 31-day challenge throughout the month of July to reduce and refuse single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, soda and water bottles, food and hygiene product packaging.
How Plastic Free July Works
Seventy-eight teams from across the country’s zoos and aquariums signed up for this year’s challenge. Throughout the month, individuals and teams used an online platform to select specific challenges and earn points for completing their assigned actions. Participants’ efforts included eating a zero-waste meal, building their own hygiene products, organizing and participating in beach cleanup events, and viewing and discussing relevant documentaries.
In their first showing, ASLC made their commitment to changing their behavior in the interest of the environment known, placing 14th out of 78 teams. They made quite an impact through their individual and team efforts (click here for detailed results). These included a beach clean-up after the local 4th of July festivities; watching “The Art of Letting Go” TED talk; going shopping for clothes made out of organic materials; bringing reusable utensils and containers to restaurants, and making their own hygiene products.
According to Melissa Biggs, the Center’s Education Coordinator and one of the team captains for this year’s challenge, these individual and group activities, along with the online reporting mechanism, contributed to increasing awareness and changing behaviors among the Center’s staff and fellows:
“It was really neat to hear how involved people became. The challenge really got them thinking [about all the alternatives to single-use plastics] and it changed their behavior.”
“I was an environmental science major, so I knew what was affecting the environment. However, having that daily [online] reminder and motivation, was helpful for sure! It is hard to make changes if you are not motivated. Also, it was really cool and helpful to be part of a team!”
“I wish that it wasn’t just for July, but maybe for the summer. Like “Plastic Free Summer!” – Melissa Biggs
While ASLC plans to participate in the challenge again next year, one of their suggestions to the PFJ organizers will be to find ways to open the initiative to the larger community. That way, even more people can participate in the month-long challenge. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, here are other ways to get involved or keep abreast of the latest sustainability efforts in Seward:
- Attend the next City Council Work Session on Friday, September 21, noon, Council Chambers. The council will discuss Ordinance 2018-007, “Plastic Bags and Polystyrene Containers,” to prohibit the use of non-biodegradable plastic carry-out bags, and polystyrene foam disposable food service ware in the City of Seward.
- Attend the next City Council Meeting on Monday, September 24, 7pm, Council Chambers. The council will vote on whether to pass the ordinance to ban plastic bags and polystyrene containers in the City of Seward.
- Attend the next Sustainable Seward meeting on Wednesday, October 3, 6pm, Library Community Room
- Join the Sustainable Seward Facebook group page