A decade ago, Meghan Haywood Sullivan and Sierra Quitiquit met as most climate activists do: while camping on top of a glacier in Alberta.
Sullivan, a professional photographer, and Quitiquit, a professional skier, were on hand for a shoot in the wilds of Canada, and immediately hit it off over their shared love of the great outdoors and figuring out a way to help save it. At the time, both women were already actively involved in programs like Protect Our Winters, an organization “promoting non-partisan policies designed to protect our world.” However, they wanted to make activism more accessible to the masses. So, in 2018, they launched Plastic Free Fridays, an educational resource and community on Instagram dedicated to encouraging everyone to make small changes.
“We wanted to create something easy, something actionable,” Sullivan said. “We want this to be a way that people can take accountability and start their own environmental journey.”
The program is simple: All you need to do is follow along on the Instagram account and become a part of the club by commenting, liking, sharing, and adding your own voice to the chorus.
On the account, followers will find fast facts about plastic pollution, such as: “…we now use 20 times more plastic than we did in 1964” and “…using and throwing away a vape pen creates three different forms of environmental waste including plastic, electronic from the internal lithium-ion batteries, and hazardous waste being emitted into the atmosphere.” All of these facts are meant to be bite-sized nuggets to get people thinking — and encourage them to start acting.
But, perhaps most importantly, the Plastic Free Fridays account is a shame-free zone. In fact, they embrace that we’re all still learning.
“We encourage people to post their fails,” Sullivan said. “One of the biggest hindrances to the environmental movement is this paralyzing fear of not being good enough. It’s OK to be imperfect. It’s a process.”
Beyond the account, the women also host a website with more information and a few of their favorite brands to help you go plastic-free. They are consulting with larger companies to provide them with corporate tool kits to reduce their dependencies on plastic, too.
As for what you can do to go plastic-free today, Sullivan offers the following advice:
Bring your own to-go boxes.
Next time you head out for a meal, or even when picking up takeout, try bringing your own containers along for leftovers or your to-go meal. Not only will you use less plastic, but you could also have an educational moment with your favorite restaurant. “It can be encouraging to cafes and restaurants, especially if you’re a regular,” Sullivan said.
Try out a local farmer’s market, or do a supermarket challenge.
If your community hosts a farmer’s market, Sullivan suggests trying to do your grocery shopping there, where you can bring your own bags along, and get to know your local farmers. But, if the grocery store is your only option, she suggests trying to challenge yourself to see how little plastic you can buy on your next trip. “It’s extraordinarily difficult,” she said, “but it’s a fun challenge.”
Get outside and clean your community.
Next time you’re in a park, on the beach, or in a public space, Sullivan suggests staging your own little cleanup. Or, go bigger by inviting a few friends along, or bigger yet by organizing a cleanup day for your community. “We really encourage people to get out there and give back to their community,” Sullivan said. “And this is a great way to do just that.”
Sullivan does make one thing clear: Stopping your use of plastics on Fridays won’t save the planet. Not by a long shot. But what it can do for your mentality may be the more important lesson here.
“Going plastic-free one day a week is not going to save the planet. But you know what will save the planet? Forging community and challenging social norms. And, when it comes time for policy change and making legislative changes, having this incubator of young, new environmentalists is going to grow the movement. We hope people use Plastic Free Fridays as a stepping stone to getting more involved.”
Follow the plastic Free Fridays moment and get involved in any way you can here.