going plastic free ~ overcoming the challenges

Ellie Beck Petalplum blog Homegrown veges peas in a pod and purple carrots with childs hands

We're a third of the way through Plastic Free July, and I'm shyly admitting that we've failed in more ways than expected. Actually, we've failed worse than a regular month - which, *if I do say so myself*, our regular living isn't entirely that bad.

On the first of July I had to buy supplies to top up my workshop kit for my natural dye classes… rubber gloves in plastic packets. Cause not everyone wants blue hands like me! And then I ran out of time (and gas for our oven) to bake a birthday cake for my Grandma and horror of all horrendous horrors had to actually buy a cake. {I'm whispering that, because I never ever ever buy cakes. I always make them. I don't think I've ever bought a shop cake in a plastic packet ever}. And one time I was so tired after a whole day out - working or school-event-planning or something I can't even remember - and we were home late and we bought those little spinach pies in a packet to bake in the oven. These are things I don't buy very often - and you know, especially not when I say let's join #plasticfreeJuly.

I told my dad we were taking part of this annual event, and he half snorted - because my dad is the sort of person who lives his own quiet life doing his own thing that just so happens to be the sort of slow living, quiet plastic free, back to basics, living a regular but whole real life. He does not have an account on Facebook, nor Instagram - he does not even have a mobile phone. He's not a full on hippie, but just a regular living guy - living a meaningful life. He also laughed slightly scornfully at the new trend for 'mindfulness' and 2 minute meditation...... This whole hashtag slowliving thing does sometimes go a bit too far.

So - the 'not doing so well' at Plastic Free July got me thinking about the challenges we face in making changes to our life, and the way it sometimes seems the whole of society is geared towards making it not work. Buying milk in Australia without plastic is really hard - earlier this year almost all the cardboard cartons were replaced with plastic bottles. Previously we had been buying 1L milk in a cardboard carton, that brand now only offers plastic for ALL their sizes. There are still one or two cardboard cartons available, but only from Coles and not from our local IGA or even the farmers market, plus it's at least twice or more the price.

Other things that we eat in our everyday meals are cheese, coffee, yoghurt, tofu, and the occasional organic meat that Sam eats (us others are vegetarian) - these are our biggest and hardest to not get in plastic. I know that I should be making our own yoghurt, and it's on my list when life gets less busy…(haha). I haven't done a full stocktake of our plastics list, but

the things we don't buy include:

  • margarine - we only ever buy butter wrapped in paper
  • plastic bottles of drink or water - we drink our tank water (filtered) and very occasionally buy juice in glass bottles
  •  frozen berries in plastic packets
  •  biscuits, crackers, popcorn, chips in individual bags (we do occasionally buy chips when we're on car trips, and corn thins cause baby likes them!).
  • pasta in plastic packets (we buy the one in a cardboard box, and compost it) or pasta sauces
  • dips, hummus, etc in plastic tubs (we make our own hummus from cooking our own chickpeas)
  • tinned veges
  • oils, vinegars, dressings in plastic - we buy Aust olive oil in a big tin and vinegar in glass and make our own salad dressing
  • lettuce or fresh veges in plastic wrap or packets - we shop at the farmers market each week, or the local fruit shop and choose to not buy the plastic wrapped/bagged items.
  • throwaway cleaning cloths, plastic dishwashing brush or single use wipes - we use hand crocheted fabric cloths in our kitchen and a wooden dishbrush. We also keep old toothbrushes for cleaning little things or rubbing at a spot on clothing once I'm dressed (I have a 20month old - there's always a spot on my clothes!).

Oftentimes it might mean we go without - my kids are very regularly telling me I'm mean and horrible and why can't I be like the other mums, but I refuse to buy the convenience prepackaged lunches or the snack pack treats. I simply say no and we just don't have them in our home.

Also....I could write a whole blog post on the plastic things that do come home. I'm the only one who uses a bamboo biodegrade toothbrush, the others don't like them and my persuasive skills aren't that good!

BUT - I know the biggest challenge is time and finding the time to make alternatives. Because not as many families as mine are happy to put up with not having the items - my husband is ok to live this way, but I know some husbands aren't. Which makes it super hard for one mum to make a difference in her own home.

So, my advice if you're on the plastic free journey is:

  1. Be gentle with yourself - don't try and cut back on everything straight away if it's going to mean mutiny
  2. Start slowly - make changes to the things that you can do without, but slowly. Don't guilt yourself or others around you, and don't let other "perfect" zero-wasters guilt you either. What you're doing DOES make a difference.  You not taking plastic does change things, even if the whole rest of your street uses plastic. I can't help but hope that our small changes will slowly but surely change people's perceptions, and the possibilities for our future. And if we aren't prepared to make a few sacrifices for our children's future...well….

How are you going with plastic free living - is it a massive challenge, are you only cutting out the top 4 plastics (straws, coffee cups, water bottles &  plastic bags), or eliminating all / as much plastic as you can?