It’s come around again, that time of the year when people start thinking about the changes they want to make to become a better version of themselves. We’re busy people with busy lives and as a sort of default due to the time we have off over Christmas, we tend to reflect on our year and start thinking about the changes we want to make to improve aspects or areas of our lives. We’ve all fallen into that trap, haven’t we?
We’ve set our ‘New Years Resolutions’ only to let them fall by the way side a few months or even a few days into the year. And they’re always quite self serving, aren’t they, these ‘Resolutions’… Lose weight, exercise more, read more, save more money… Always quite me, me, me.
“I’m going to exercise more;” check. I’ve done that one. “I’m going to eat healthy;” check, done that one too. Some have stuck, some haven’t.Once, I decided I was eating too much KFC so resolved to quit for a year. About 20 days later I was at a KFC in Brisbane devouring my Wicked Wings. Fail. Another year I has decided I was reading too many news items on the Kardashians and resolved to not click on a single news article about them. Oddly enough I was successful at this one. Will power – go figure.
But this year I started my ‘resolution’ early. Why? Because it isn’t a resolution for me, and it’s something that’s so important it cannot wait another day. It’s that being busy and our need for convience that’s got us in this mess to begin with. It’s also something I emplore you to educate yourself on, think about, and take action over. Because each person who takes action, together, will make a difference for our earth and our future generations. So, what am I talking about?
It’s everywhere. It has become such a prominent material in our lives we don’t even realise we are buying it.
Out in town on a hot day and thirsty? Buy a water. Plastic bottle.
Go out for a drink in town? Plastic straw.
A bag of carrots. Plastic bag.
Order something online. Plastic courier bag.
A take away coffee? Yep – plastic. “But it’s a paper cup!” I hear you say. The exterior of it, yes. The lining on the inside of the cup – plastic. Even many of the compostable cups are only compostable on an industrial scale, not the home composts we have sitting in the back yard, and not all refuse stations have industrial composts, so if you live semi-rural like me they go straight to landfill.
We can’t escape the stuff.
Or can we?
Last year I started to educate myself on the amount of plastic we are using and it’s effects on our health an environment. And the effects are astounding.
Obviously there’s the fact that a large percentage of our landfill waste ends up in the ocean. You’ve heard about ‘garbage island’, the gyre of rubbish in the South Pacific. Did you know there are actually at least four other gyres of an equal scale?
Being in New Zealand means we have a gyre to the north and one to north-east. Think about that… That much of the ocean surrounding us is filled with plastic. Plastic that our sealife and kaimoana are eating, and we in turn, are eating them. But how does that work? How are they eating plastic?
Have you ever seen a plastic bag break down? It doesn’t acutally degrade, it simply breaks down into smaller pieces, called micro plastics. These microplastics more often than not end up in the ocean where sea creatures think it’s food. The thought of filter feeders such as Whales, Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks consuming these micro plastics is heart breaking. Such beautiful, majestic, entrancing creatures and our consumer culture is literally killing them. If you watch any documentary this year, let it be ‘A Plastic Ocean’. Put your phone down and really watch it and think about the implications of the way we consume and how it impacts on our earth, the ocean, animals and your family and friends.
Plastic also contains harmful chemicals. Now days we see items being labelled “BPA Free”, as if that makes it o.k… It’s still plastic. And if BPA is harmful and we didn’t orginally know about it, what else is in our plastic that is harming us that we don’t know about? BPA and other chemicals in plastic have been proven to have signifcant health effects. Fertility issues in women, heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, puberty problems, fetal brain development. These are all serious issues, but as we heat our leftovers up in the microwave in a plastic container, we don’t think about the chemicals leeching into our food and affecting our reprodcutive organs, do we? I know I didn’t.
On top of this, another problem with the plastic we are handling on a daily basis is that only a small percentage is truely recyclable. Recycle.co.nz states that it is most likely that only 50% of what we think is being recycled is actually recycled properly. So in actual fact, as we put our recyclables in our bins, put them out each week and feel good about doing our part the save the planet, half of what we’ve put out will still end up in landfill. And often, the energy used to recycle these plastics for the end product is not worth it. In truth, hard plastic can only be recycled five to seven times before it loses its’ molecular properties and is rendered useless.
These are not all the reasons why plastic is bad for us, but three very, very good reasons.
So, what can we do to quit plastic?
In short, it’s near impossible to live a plastic free life.
But there are steps we can take to reduce the amount of plastics we use.
Think about the three ‘R’s’.
We’ve heard it time and time again, but do we actually follow it? The three R’s are listed in order of importance – step one is to reduce your plastic consumption. This is where you can make the most difference. I’ve heard it being called “precycling” recently – the simple fact of not buying items that are packaged in plastic. Resfusing plastic, leaving it behind in the store, finding alternatives in alternative packaging such as glass and cardboard, shopping somewhere different and asking for non packaged alternatives are all options you can take to reduce your plastic useage.
Failing the refusal of plastic, because as I mentioned, it’s near impossible to live without it, Reuse. Reuse the plastics you have bought home. In fact, resuse everything. Reuse plastic, reuse glass, reuse paper. Reuse as much as you can before the last step.
Recycling. This should be your last step, not your first. We’ve become trapped in the mindset that if we recycle, we’re doing something good.
This mind map is fantastic at making me think more critically about my consuming, along with this room-by-room guide to reducing your waste. Through concsiously thinking about what I’m consuming and how I’m using products, I reduced my waste last year. Some of the steps I took in 2017 include;
- Reusable shopping bags and produce bags (I now no longer need to buy bags of potatoes as I use a mesh bag at the shop and home to keep them in.)
- Buying food in glass containers instead of plastics – e.g. olives, peanut butter, jam etc
- Purchasing tinned food instead of plastic packaged to reduce waste – corn, beans, peas etc.
- Composting – everything that can go in the compost, does! Coffee grinds, food waste, paper waste, vaccum cleaner bag contents, paper towels
- Bamboo toothbrushes with compostable handles; the average person will use around 350 toothbrushes in their lifetime. 350 toothbrushes that will endup in landfill.
- Menstrual cup – a life saver, ladies!!
- I have begun to store my food items in glass jars and use reusable produce bags to get my bulk buy items in, I simply write the number down and tell the check out lady at the counter – no problem
- A Keep Cup – reusable coffee mug which I now take everywhere. I love it.
- Concious consuming – attempting to buy all natural products, including and especially clothing! Each time you wash your arcylic clothing you are depositing microplastics directly into the waster system!
And I still have a long, long way to go, but every little helps. Collecting or going through your rubbish is a great way to see where you need to start reducing your waste. I know personally most of my soft plastic waste is from cracker and bread packaging. When it comes to shopping, in the grand scheme of things, my personal feeling is that if something is going to cost me a little bit more, be of a higher quality and be better for me and the environment, it’s a no brainer – save a few dollars, or save the planet? I’ll pick the planet every time.
Steps I’m going to take this year are simply building upon last years efforts. I won’t be doing all at once. I want to create a sustainable lifestyle for myself, so I am taking this journey one step at a time, with the aim of creating long term change. This year I aim to;
- Create beeswax wraps as alternative to plastic food wrap
- Switch my appliances off at the wall when I’m not using them
- Ditch the papertowels and use rags and washable cloths
- Crochet myself reusable, washable cotton face wipes
- When I run out of toothpaste I’m going to try making a toothpowder
- Start talking to businesses about plastic free options – the more we ask, the more we will be heard and change can and will happen
- Start cooking and baking from scratch – something I’m not good at, and will be my hardest change. I aim on making my bread and crackers when they are needed to reduce the waste I was producing. The other positive to this is that I will know exactly what is going into the food I am eating, benefiting not only the environment, but myself
- Saving vegetable scraps to make my own soup stock, avoiding tetra packs
- Pick up rubbish in my environment, e.g. when out walking the dog. Setting an example to others can help induce change and is another way to get people thinking about the amount of rubbish around
- Replace my cleaning products with natural options as they run out
- Use natural beauty products; I have already bought a moisturising body bar, which came in cardboard, and Rosehip Oil which came with a dropper in a glass bottle
There’s so many things I want to say and share on this topic, with so little time.
Please know that any little step you take to reduce your plastic waste will benefit your health and the planet. So what steps will you take to reduce your waste this year? Something as simple as reusing a container, shifting from plastic to glass contained peanut butter, using reusable shopping bags and always carrying a reusable water bottle…
If each person takes a little step, lots of little steps together make a big difference. So lets do this together, and let’s do it now.