My Plastic Detox Experiment: Plastic-Free in New York City

by Chris Thaller,
Head of Creative Projects at Runtastic

Why is quitting single-use plastic so important?

  • There is a lot of plastic around: Every minute 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world. If you add up all the plastic packaging and plastic bags that are thrown away each day, you can imagine how much waste we produce in just one single day.
  • The scary thing is — plastic doesn’t go away: It just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that we call microplastics. Sooner or later those pieces get into our groundwater or into our oceans, where the fish start eating it.
  • Plastic even gets into our bodies: We eat the fish, so the plastic we once bought goes straight into our bodies. Unfortunately, a lot of people are still not really aware of the scope of the problem.

It’s time for us all to take action and make people aware of this.

Lots of plastic bottles on a beach

This is why I want to share my plastic-free experiment with you, as well as the main lessons I learned along the way that now help me live with less plastic.

Believe it or not…

since I started making an effort to stop buying food packed in single-use plastic, I’ve lost a decent amount of weight. In the past, I loved watching soccer games with a big bag of potato chips in my hands. Have you ever looked for potato chips that are not packed in plastic? Good luck 😉


It all started on a flight to New York City.

I was on my way to the big final adidas x Parley Run For The Oceans live event on World Oceans Day. We were coming together to raise awareness about the dangers of marine plastic pollution. I was ready to take action!

“Your meal, sir?” the flight attendant asked. This question ended up completely changing my experience in NY.

After I finished my meal, I looked down at my plate and was shocked when I saw what huge pile of plastic waste I had just created.

Wasn’t I going to New York to achieve the exact opposite? Wasn’t it my plan to make people stop using single-use plastic?

This was the moment I decided to take on a new challenge.

As long as I was in New York City, I would not buy or take anything that was packed in single-use plastic. The game was on.


We had a very early meeting scheduled on our first day in New York and were on our way there when we decided to grab coffee at a little café just around the corner.

I had forgotten to bring my reusable coffee cup from back home.

Could I still buy a coffee to go? Would it be ok if I just skipped the lid?

Are take-away cups actually recyclable?

Although take-away cups are technically recyclable, realistically they are not. Those cups are mostly made of paper, but they are lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof.

My solution for challenge #1: No coffee for me. That afternoon I bought a new reusable coffee cup — made of bamboo — and was safe for the rest of my trip.


Day 2 in New York City. I wanted to go for an early morning run. On the way to Central Park I was shocked by what I saw.

There was plastic everywhere.

The more I looked around, the more I became aware of how much plastic waste we are surrounded by. I saw mountains of plastic waste lining the roads.

I knew someone would come with a big truck to take it away, but where would it all end up?

Piles of plastic on the streets of New York


Day 3 was reserved for some NYC sightseeing. After a 3-hour tour across Manhattan, I decided to grab some lunch.

I started looking for a healthy restaurant. After more than 25 restaurants that only served their food in plastic packaging, I was about to give up, when I finally found a cool new restaurant that served their dishes wrapped in paper on wooden plates. Exactly the place I was looking for.

I kindly asked the waiter if he could refill my aluminum bottle with tap water…

What happened then was utterly disappointing — I was told that I could get tap water but only in a plastic cup.

For hygienic reasons the waiter was not allowed to take my bottle and fill it up. Nor was he allowed to let me do it myself. I had to drink from a plastic cup or not at all.

Sounds like a joke? It’s not. True story.

Alu water bottle and a plastic-free meal


It was the last day of my trip, departure day. So far I had fulfilled my challenge to avoid plastic while in New York. I was proud, but I knew that one last obstacle was still ahead of me: my flight back to Austria.

When the flight attendant asked me about the meal this time, I refused.

I had brought my own veggie sandwich wrapped in paper, my aluminum bottle with water (filled up at the airport) and 2 apples for dessert. Yes, it’s possible to eat healthy even on business trips.

I had completed my mission. I had not bought any single-use plastic during my 5-day trip. But it doesn’t end there.    


Since my trip to New York I avoid buying single-use plastic as much as I can:

  • I haven’t bought a plastic bottle in over two years and I’ve upgraded my reusable equipment
  • I always have my reusable coffee cup, my aluminum water bottle, and my cotton bag with me
  • I even bring my own food boxes when I pick up dinner from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant

I have to admit that there is still a lot of plastic in my life, but as they say, every step counts, and if we all take just a few steps in the right direction, we will reach our goal to make things better.


  1. You always find plastic-free alternatives. It just takes time.
  2. You save money by buying less.
  3. You lose weight by eating less.
  4. You feel better, because it’s cool to care.
  5. You get used to a plastic-free life and soon establish new shopping habits.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my plastic detox, it’s that it’s a very fulfilling experience and a great feeling to know that you’re doing your best to make our world a little bit better!

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