My year of living differently - plastic free January

This year my partner and I decided to swap a handful of hefty New Year’s Resolutions for 12 month long learning and lifestyle challenges.

Ditching a bad wrap

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Inspired by Plastic Free July, a Western Australian initiative that’s gone global, we opted to kick off the challenge stakes by buying zero single use or new plastic items.

As my family will testify, I’m ‘green by name and by nature’ so this eco move was a natural choice for me. I’m already a composting, ethical clothing wearing, pescetarian so I wasn’t fazed by pledging to go ‘new’ plastic’ free.

This challenge didn’t involve ditching my current cache of household plastics. I’ll conserve these for the term of their natural life, although they’re designed to outlast me by decades.

 

Why this matters

Plastic’s renowned durability has made it the curse of our throw away culture.

According to the‘Plastic Free July’ team, around 8 million tangled tonnes of virtually indestructible plastic waste enters our oceans annually. Like most of us I struggle to stomach the sickening images of dead and dying fish and turtles with bellies full of the toxic stuff.

So, driven by a desire to reduce the Everest of plastics piling into landfill and clogging our waterways, I set out to do my bit. Until I embarked on the ‘no new plastics challenge’, I had no idea just how hard it would be.

 

How it worked

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During January I strived to avoid buying or using any piece of single use plastic. Think all things plastic and destined for disposal - shopping bags, straws, take away coffee cups, water bottles and caps, food wrappers, packaging and lots, lots more…

I found heaps of practical advice, not to mention masses of additional motivation at ‘8 bits of plastic you can quit right now’. I also found pretty much all the tools I needed in this Plastic Free July Toolkit.

All my failures to keep the plastic free faith attracted a $2 donation to The Last Straw. This fantastic charity encourages you to ask for ‘no straw’. They’re also working with the hospitality industry to cut the number of plastic straws used in restaurants and bars. Ditching drinking straws is one of the easiest ways to put your ‘money where your mouth is’ when it comes cutting down on plastics.

Things I had to do differently
Sacrificing the convenience that comes with plastic packaging meant changing the way I prepared meals, stored leftovers, and grabbed snacks.  

Shopping and cooking
I needed to keep a supply of packing and storing containers on hand. This included everything from large recyclable shopping bags to small bags for loose items like nuts and salads and so on. I carried a water bottle and cutlery for takeaways and stockpiled beeswax wraps for covering fridge bound goodies.

I made more meals from scratch and bought food in bulk. Luckily we live near a bulk food shop where we could fill up paper bags with dried food and use glass bottles for oil and other essential liquids.

Some of my favourite staples like yogurt and berries are hard to get plastic free. Snatching a snack on the run was nigh on impossible. While this proved tricky it also gave me some mindful moments to ponder the value of my between meals munchies.     

Moving to the edge of my comfort zone

As an introvert, taking a public stand in cafes and supermarkets nudged me towards the edge of my comfort zone.  Initially I felt a bit of a weirdo saying'no straw please' or 'can you use my recycled plastic box rather than give me a new one?' However, I soon discovered that my offbeat request triggered some great conversations about why reducing plastic matters.

Confronted by the caramel slice I’d balanced precariously on my ‘bagless’ bananas, a bemused checkout guy left his post to hunt down a plastic wrap alternative. Handing me a paper napkin he said I’d made him stop and think about the madness of encasing everything in plastic.

Things I had to accept

I came to accept the unavoidable and the inadvertent.

Currently, there is no escaping single use plastic for essentials like sunscreens and medications.

Despite being vigilant about my plastics avoidance, the stuff turned up in all kinds of unexpected places. It was in the tag on my ethically sourced t-shirt, the sachet of salad dressing that came with my lunch, the bag that a thoughtful checkout operator used to segregate the seafood from the rest of my groceries.

I underestimated the depth and breadth of the challenge.

Coffee_cups_plastic

Breaking the plastics habit is a big job. It takes time and dedication to shop for just about everything and to cook and store food in different ways. It’s awkward to ask busy, distracted staff in plastics purveying places to do things differently.

Caffeine confusion and a long wait arose when we asked for coffee in our keep cups at an emergency refueling stop on a recent road trip. When we eventually found our coffees cooling in ‘plastic to go’, the barista poured them into the cups we’d provided. Then she tossed the take away ones in the bin. Not exactly the point!

That said, I recommend giving it a go. Take one step at a time to reduce, do what you can and be kind to yourself when something slips under your plastic detecting radar. Whatever you do will help.


By Jo Green, Career Change Coach

I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done! Changing your career can be lonely and confusing so I'll walk alongside you, be your cheerleader and help you figure out what meaningful work is for you.

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.