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Could You Live Plastic-Free?

Could you live plastic-free?
Written by Jennifer Nini

A week after World Oceans Day, two weeks since seeing the zero-waste Tedx Talk by Lauren Singer and about 3 years almost to the date since Queensland proposed (unsuccessfully) the banning of disposable bags, the subject of waste (and in particular plastic) has been consuming my thoughts. According to a study published in Sciencemag.org, more than 8 million metric tonnes of plastic trash ends up in the ocean every year which is disastrous for the unique plants and marine wildlife within that ecosystem.

This year World Oceans Day asked us to take a simple pledge and commit to not accepting disposable plastic bags for a year, a pledge I am seriously considering. In fact, rather than just avoiding disposable plastic bags, I’m considering going plastic-free for a whole year. Gulp.

THE MOST DIFFICULT GREEN LIFESTYLE CHALLENGE THUS FAR

I’m no stranger to sustainable lifestyle challenges. I have

However going plastic-free for a year seems a mammoth challenge, even for me who consciously treads lightly on the earth. I still have bad habits such as:

  • accepting plastic bags (once in a blue moon but still…) when shopping and using the justification that they will be reused as bin liners;
  • buying bulk vegetables wrapped in plastic (like a bag of carrots or potatoes);
  • buying plastic-packaged shelf items such as rice, rice crackers, noodles etc;
  • stocking up on plastic-wrapped deli items such as chicken and sausages (for my fiancé) and cheese (it is to me what chocolate is to other women); and
  • buying milk in plastic bottles.

While some of you may be thinking my situation isn’t as bad as I make out as I can reuse plastic bags and recycle plastic bottles, it isn’t a real solution. Waste prevention is better than waste cure.

Before I can fully commit to this plastic-free challenge, I will have to determine whether I can:

  • find milk in glass bottles
  • forgo plastic bin liners and wash bins out weekly instead (this includes no plastic liners for the kitty litter… gross!)
  • organise myself and make my own toothpaste, shampoo etc
  • purchase food items using containers brought from home
  • use paper packaging for meat and deli items

PLASTIC-FREE TRAILBLAZERS

Luckily there are pioneering people who have successfully completed the challenge and documented their journeys. I will be using Beth Terry from My Plastic Free Life and Merrin Tait from A Year Without Buying Plastic as inspiration. Check out this wonderful Tedx Talk by Beth:

Now plastic-free may be difficult but it pales in comparison to convincing my fiancé to join in with me.

Ben has already endured my other environmental challenges; has given up Coca Cola, BP and Nestle (by default) due to my boycotting activities and is already eating mostly vegetarian (he’s a meat-eater but I do most of the cooking).

So perhaps I should spend less time preparing for a plastic-free year and more time on how I’m going to broach the subject with Ben… 🙂

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she began this blog to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

17 Comments

  • Ooh! Good luck with this one Jen 🙂 Going plastic-free is something I would love to do but it seems almost impossible. Maybe, by following your journey with this, I can adopt a few ideas – I’m feeling inspired!

    • Thanks Ann, it’s going to be a hard task and I haven’t fully committed yet as I have to consider how I’m going to do this! The food shopping is going to be the difficulty as it involves planning ahead (in terms of sowing seeds and planning the vegetable growing) and also shopping at the deli and butcher… I’m still in research phase but I’ll keep you posted 🙂

  • I admire Beth’s efforts and fully support a reduction in plastic consumption, as long as the impact of the alternative is considered. I would encourage people to also check out this TED Talk by Leyla Acaroglu https://www.ted.com/talks/leyla_acaroglu_paper_beats_plastic_how_to_rethink_environmental_folklore?language=en
    In some ways it is contradictory to Beth’s but with the same noble end goal. Are Beth’s Soap Nuts packaged in paper truly better than plastic? I am not suggesting this is an excuse not to reduce plastic consumption, just an added consideration.

    • Great point Zoe! The paper vs. plastic thing has been a discussion I’ve entered into many times myself 🙂 I prefer paper if FSC certified and locally sourced because it can be used for mulch in the gardens. Plastic such as the the hardy (well made) food containers we buy is okay I’m not opposed to it as it can be reused over and over however the problem lies in single use plastic and disposable plastic bags. Like ethical fashion, every one has a different set of ‘ethics’ or priorities so will justify/accept/reject based on a personal sets of priorities but I love that we can have discussions like this because they are important. I also like that Leyla says that consumerism/consumption is the problem because it is. I often say that being ‘eco’ isn’t just about BUYING eco. Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us 🙂

      • Agreed! These problems can feel impossibly complex sometimes. One moment you think you are doing the best thing, then you find out that you are not and everyone’s situation is different. I firmly believe in just doing the best anyone can and continuing to self educate, ask questions and reduce consumption.

        I was in Myanmar early this year and our guide was cursing the plastic bags coming over the border from China and polluting their local lake. He took us around the market and showed us how they used Lotus leaves for packaging, from wrapping bouquets of flowers to parcelling sticky rice. It was interesting to look at these plastic and paper alternatives that our societies have forgotten with the advent of disposable of plastic containers.

        My mum has told me countless times about when supermarkets first introduced plastic bags and her mother would wash them and hang them on the clothes line to dry so she could reuse them.

        I really look forward to reading more about your plastic free year Jennifer, and wish you every success 🙂

        • Wow! The great thing about travelling is finding out how cultures have learned to be so resourceful! I haven’t been to Myanmar but have been to other parts of Asia. One day maybe. Right after I head to Vietnam 🙂 I also love that story about how your mum used to do that! There are so many of these stories – the generations before us understood practicality and waste was such a foreign concept. My mum often tells us about how she’d hand wash our nappies and that disposable nappies just seemed costly and a waste of money!! I’m not a mum yet but I think THAT will definitely be a challenge trying to wash nappies (I have never changed a nappie so the whole thing sounds stressful to me haha!). Thanks also for the best wishes – I haven’t decided I’ll go ahead with it yet. The enormity of the challenge is something I haven’t wrapped my head around much less involve my fiancé 🙂

  • Going plastic free has been on my mind a lot lately. I always get a little overwhelmed when I start to think about the practicalities though. It’s actually mind blowing how much plastic has infiltrated everyday life, to the point where some of it is invisible (microbeads in cosmetics). For now, I think I just have to be statisfied with reducing how much plastic I use daily.
    Like you, I too have to convince my other half to get on board. He does love buying bottled water, even when we are at home! It’s a little frustrating to say the least.

    • It’s overwhelming to think about isn’t it, this plastic problem? Sustainability starts at home but from first hand experience, change is slow. I give him strict shopping lists but what ends up in the cupboards is a different story. He’s doing well though, little steps for him. For a tiny person, I prefer to take big steps! haha As for microbeads, they should be banned across the board like CFCs were decades ago, that’s the only way to solve that problem. Thanks for sharing Nicole 🙂

  • I’ve actively reducing my plastic over the past year or so. It is a tough challenge, so I prefer the gradual method of habit creation and changing one item at a time. I shop at my local organic food co-op so there are now very few items that I use which are packaged in plastic. But, like you, my challenge is changing the habits of my whole family. As I have ceoliacs there are a number of things that my family eat and I don’t (bread, muesli bars, pasta), and it is these products that produce the bulk of our plastic waste. I’m going to try making my son’s muesli bars next, which will reduce plastic and palm oil so it is a worthwhile effort.

    You might enjoy my tutorial for beeswax food wrap to replace glad wrap
    http://www.tortoiseandladygrey.com/2015/06/15/repurpose-tutorial-beeswax-cotton-food-wraps/

    • Hi Summer, thanks for sharing that! Will definitely pass on to my friends and family. I don’t use glad wrap at all to be honest, everything goes into plastic reusable containers, but we do have cling wrap here as a just in case. So with coeliacs I assume you eat gluten free and mostly whole foods? A great reason to eat healthily 🙂 Shopping locally is fantastic and I used to do the same when I was in Melbourne but alas, now we’re full time on the farm, we’re trying to grow most of the veggies ourselves and haven’t quite got the planning and planting schedule organised. We’ll get there though. As for going plastic-free, yes it would be easy if we were alone but we’re not. But thankfully there are people like us who have the discussions, try to apply sustainable practices into our lives and then try to influence those closest to us 🙂

      • I don’t use glad wrap either, I usuallly just put a plate over the bowl, but I had to make some so my hubby didn’t keep using glad wrap 🙂 I have found they are quite useful if you have food in a tray and you don’t want to transfer it to another container.

        Yep, with ceoliacs I eat a simple wholefood diet. I was raised on a wholefood vegetarian diet so it wasn’t a stretch for me when I was diagnosed. It simply forced me to stop being lazy with snacks etc. I must say that my weakness when it comes to junk food (and packaging waste) is Salt and Vinegar chips. I’ve been experimenting with spiced organic popcorn when I want a crunchy snack, and Peace Love & Vegetables Sourkraut when I want something tangy. It helps with the cravings for chips!

        BTW, the homemade muesli bars were a hit with my toddler, but hubby isn’t convinced. Will have to try another recipe!

        • Great thinking, finding an alternative to your hubbys Glad Wrap usage. Replacing a ‘bad’ habit with a more constructive habit is the way to go. Spiced popcorn sounds amazing. Have you tried kale chips? Yummo. Sauerkraut is delish isn’t it? I’ve tried Peace Love & Vegetables but looking to create my own. So far, not as good as theirs, but getting there lol!

          I’ll have to head over to your blog now that you’ve got everything up and running. Glad to know that it wasn’t me! Your comment land won’t be so quiet from here on in haha

          p.s great news about the muesli bars, your hubby may not be convinced for now, but I’m sure you’ll nail a recipe they’ll both like. My partner is the same with any of my raw food. Now he loves my raw broccoli salad, green smoothies and of course, the bliss balls 🙂

  • I’m interested to hear more about your journey and what you learn along the way. Plastic involves so much of our lives, it’s crazy. I’ve also started making my own conditioner and shampoo, but of course they’re both in plastic containers for food that have been rinsed out to re-use. It makes me curious to see what else is out there for containers. I can’t wait to see what you find.

    My mom made grocery bags for everyone in the family a few years ago and everyone uses them a lot. I never think to take them with me shopping at other stores, but maybe that’s a good idea. If you lived closer, I’d mail one to you! 🙂

    • Ooohh love that you’re making your own beauty products. What are you using? Vinegar? Coconut oil? I ran out of shampoo and conditioner a couple of months ago (I had been gifted with heaps over the last couple of years from various eco companies) and now using the natural soap instead. I will start making my own once the soap runs out (gifted too lol!) Have you put your recipes up on your blog? How does your hair feel, oily, normal, dry? Do you recommend it?

      You’re so sweet too about the bags. I have so many reusable shopping bags (I have about 8 of them, we need them when we do a big shop) and one is nice enough to use elsewhere. I’m sure the ones your mum made are pretty. If I had your sewing skills, I’d prob make some myself! 🙂

      • Right now I’ve only made my own conditioner with coconut oil. I’m finding, however, that I need to use a very small amount of it, otherwise my hair is super oily! I’m still finding the right recipe for it. I have the ingredients for shampoo, but haven’t tried it until I use up what I have. My mom grows lavender, so I want to add that into the mix someday.

        All I currently have is recipes from my Pinterest account, but I was considering a blog post for the future. Let me know what you find and come up with!

  • Jennifer, the most important thing is the fact that you actually try really hard to reduce your waste. Remember that very little step counts! I bet that your efforts are an inspiration for other people, so keep up the good work!

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