FROM OVERWHELMED TO OVERJOYED
When I started to really tune-in to how plastic-wrapped our life was - OMG - it felt like such a daunting task. It was tempting to give up before I’d even started - to try and un-know and un-see the problem. Turns out that isn’t really possible. But it also turns out that un-wrapping it wasn’t (quite) as hard as I imagined. What follows are a few things that I’ve learnt along the way.
1 / GET CURIOUS
It’s worth taking a bit of time to first understand the problem. It’s important to think about plastic reduction in context of the wider environmental situation. Of course, plastic pollution is a disaster of epic proportions. But climate change is even bigger. The two problems are connected, and the solution to both can be summed up in one word - LESS. So, whilst there can be a tendency to want to rush out and buy MORE - to replace everything plastic straightaway - if we don’t properly think through our buying decisions, all those good intentions are wasted.
To that end, closer to home, take some time to understand your own plastic problem. Save ALL the plastic you use for at least a week - even the out and about stuff. Wash it, stash it, then tip it all out and have a good rummage. It was a real eye-opener (and a massive shock) to see how much plastic we used and where it all came from - and I thought we were pretty good already! When you know what most of your plastic is down to, you can make the biggest impact by tackling that stuff first. Tracking down a plastic-free deodorant - something you buy every few months - that can wait.
2 / GET A FEW THINGS
I can say this now - having initially got it a bit wrong - you really don’t need much. There are a few things that are genuinely useful to have when you start. I’m sure you’ve probably got this nailed, but invest in some kind of keep-cup, tote-bag, water-bottle, and (if you’ve got kids) metal straws. You could also get a spork (I love that word) but any old spare fork will do. The trick is to remember to have it all with you. It’s also useful to start saving glass jars (AKA my obsession) and anything else that might be useful for transporting and storing unpackaged goods.
3 / GET ORGANISED
The bummer is that it’s hard to avoid plastic and shop in exactly the same way. But it doesn’t have to be a lot more work. Write out your weekly shopping list, highlight the things you’ve already noticed are the most plastic-y, then see if there’s an easy way to get, or do, those things differently. My guess is they will all be food-related items. If so, see if you can make swaps where you already shop. Look into what other resources you have nearby. See what you can get delivered online. Make it as easy for yourself as you can. For nearly all day-to-day shopping items, there IS an easy(ish) alternative. But take it s-l-o-w-l-y. Investigate alternatives only as and when things run out.
4 / GET STUCK-IN
See this as a big adventure. It’s an opportunity to experiment with how you live and to shake-up some buying habits that you may realise are more autopilot that choice. You might not be able to find a direct swap for everything, and nor do you have to. It may take a bit of lateral thinking and a willingness to try things differently. I’ve been on a meandering journey of big leaps and baby steps, via as many failures as successes. Where I am now, versus where I started, is beyond recognition. And there is almost nothing in how I used to live that I miss (except perhaps Hula Hoops).
5 / GET REAL!
Let’s first talk about money. This is still a niché scene. And niché, unfortunately, can sometimes mean more expensive. Overall, I’d say we spend about the same. There are things that are waaaaay more expensive - stupid things like deodorants, pet food & milk deliveries. And there are others that are much cheaper, like buying most of our ingredients loose. Again, I think this is why working out where most of your plastic comes from is so important. If money is tight, don’t waste it changing things that won’t make much difference to your weekly plastic tally.
Secondly - and this is where I still struggle - plastic will definitely enter your home, whatever you do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had really disappointing packages arrive. Plastic-free items, from stores claiming to be all about eco-living, who despatch items wrapped in tonnes of plastic. My kids bring home the most horrendous tat from their friends’ parties, which makes me want to cry. And there are things in plastic that we still buy all the time, that I can’t find any other way. I’ve just had to learn to not sweat the small stuff.
Lastly - sustainability. Slowly aim to create new habits that are realistic, or you’ll probably bail on this pretty quickly. Picture the sweet spot venn-diagram between doing what’s right for the planet and what’s right for you, and hang out there. We set a pretty ambitious goal at the start. But you don’t have to do that - or anything close. There’s a quote that I’ve seen doing the rounds on social media, and it’s something like ‘we don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly’. Ignore the ‘zero-waste’ bit, because I think that’s an off-putting term. But I think the sentiment is SO true. Small changes x lots of people x lots of occasions. That’s when big things will change.
Whatever, please be proud of whatever you do. You totally rock for even trying.