Plastic Free in the European Union

I can’t remember how I heard about the Plastic Free July challenge. Maybe it was Facebook being useful for a change. It only took from 2011 to 2018 for news of the challenge to reach from Western Australia to wherever I was at the time (Budapest?). Since I saw the deeply disturbing film Plastic China earlier this year, I’ve been trying to avoid plastic anyway, so I was happy to join this challenge. plastic free july

It just so happens that I was traveling quite a lot this July. I started off in Budapest, trying to give up possession of all of my extraneous possessions without throwing out much of it. From there, I flew to Lisbon to visit Portugal on my way back to the USA. These stopover programs that are offered by more and more airlines are a great way to see more on the same itinerary. Combine trips to reduce how much CO2 you release through air travel! On the 4th of July, I arrived back in Boston to reunite with my family at my parents’ home. This post will be about my journey of trying to avoid plastic in the EU. I never managed to post it over the summer, but here it is now as a response to Vitamin Water’s #NoPhoneForAYear challenge. It’s an interesting project, but #NoPlasticForAYear would be so much better!

Plastic Free July in Budapest

Earlier this year, I wrote about my waste-free shopping excursion at the Fény Street Market in Buda. Thanks to the many small corner shops and bakeries that abound, it is not hard to do one’s daily shopping for fresh ingredients in a waste-free way in Budapest. Avoiding paper could take more planning, but avoiding plastic just means bringing a bag or a wonderful woven basket (as many older locals do). I finally bought a great basket used on jófogá but couldn’t bring it home on the plane – so sad!

Eggs there are sold individually, and bringing a bag or basket for bread is easy, too. It’s always on the shelves unwrapped. Cheese is a bit trickier, but many sliced deli items are wrapped in paper at the deli counters, and the upscale cheese shop I visited on Máriaremetei út near Széchenyi utca did the same.

This blew my mind – I even bought milk by bringing my own bottle! The small dairy shop I was at was happy to use my bottle and dispensed the milk from a refrigerated tap. It reminded me of the ones we had at camp and at the university dining halls, too.

There’s even a little dairy truck that parked near my neighborhood in Pasaréti Tér every Saturday. Although I never shopped there, I came to realize they were selling milk the same way, too. My mother says they used to bring their own pitchers to the milk shops, where they would ladle milk into them. Then they’d try to carry them home uncovered without spilling. I guess not much has changed if you don’t drive past multiple small shops like that on your way to a supermarket. I hope Hungarians take advantage, at least for plastic free July!

bringing my own bottle to buy milk

Buying milk with my own bottle and unwrapped bread

Plastic Free July in Lisbon

I was only in Lisbon for a short time, but I very much enjoyed their bakeries, where one can eat a fresh pastry at the counter with an espresso in a real cup! I paid 1.70 Euros for a delicious filled donut thing and espresso at the counter. I stayed in a lovely room in someone’s apartment, rented through AirBnB. They had a fully stocked kitchen and encouraged me to help myself. So I was able to refill my water bottle, make my own tea, and eat jam from glass jars.

Another thing I loved in Lisbon were the beautiful postcards – it’s such a scenic city! And the woman who sold me some packaged them in a little paper bag made of re-used magazine pages.

Plastic Free on a Plane

Airports and airplanes were the hardest places to be plastic-free! Both Budapest and Lisbon were airports that did not seem to offer any good places to refill a water bottle. In Budapest I searched and searched for a shop that sold cold drinks in a real glass. Finally I had to go into the bar/restaurant at the top of the escalator that had table service and order an expensive but tasty lemonade. Refilling water bottles at the bathroom sinks is not my favorite thing to do. I hope more airports install the nice refill stations they have in Seattle.

As New Year’s draws near, I feel like thinking about what I can resolve to do or change to further reduce my ecological footprint this year. Going plastic free would be great, or have a #FlightFree2019?

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