One of the focuses of my simple life is trying to tread more gently on the Earth. I want to limit my environmental impact in as many ways as I can. I’m not an environmental evangelist though, and after trying to research both the Zero Waste and Plastic Free “Movements” I am saddened by how difficult people can make a fairly simple concept - and it is to the detriment of the environment.
I joined a couple of Zero Waste/Plastic Free groups on Facebook, to see what I could learn from like-minded people on the subject. I find social media a tricky thing - a time sucker and place of vacuous whinging for many, but it can also be a wonderful hive mind to discover all kinds of real life applications and get real-time advice on any number of subjects. Although there was much to be learned, I found the couple of groups I joined to be very judgemental on the subject. One had to be ZERO waste and indeed, plastic FREE. There was no sliding scale and members were openly chastised for half measures. For instance, there had been much debate on the evils of plastic straws. A member boosted a picture of their drink from McDonalds with no straw, commenting “I am remembering much more often now to request not to have a straw”. The comments then proceeded to question why she was still using a disposable cup, and then onto whether it was ethical/responsible/appropriate to shop at McDonalds. And whilst the opinions may have been true, it really made me sigh, as I’m sure that lady’s little victory of which she had been proud, would have turned into a frustration, possibly even an embarrassment and may have even put her off her environmental efforts entirely.
A picture came across my news feed and summed my thoughts up nicely.
I’m going to put myself out there. I am not entirely Zero Waste nor entirely Plastic Free. I have limits to my time, my budget and the resources available to me. But guess what? I do aspire to LOW waste and LOW plastic consumption and I do believe that if everyone does a bit, incremental changes will make a big difference.
Here is a little of what we do in our household to reduce waste and plastic usage. As a rough idea, our household of 3-4 throws out 1 medium sized bag of rubbish a week.
We feed our food scraps to our chooks and compost any remaining organic waste.
I limit our purchase of packaging, especially plastic, wherever possible. Buying larger packages can also mean less packaging purchased over time too.
I take/use reusable produce bags, shopping bags and crates, my own water bottle and travel coffee cup to the shops.
Get educated over what can be recycled, composted and not. For instance, be aware of "hidden" plastics. Some paper packages have a plastic lining and many teabags actually contain plastic and can't be composted. Some plastics can be recycled, others can not. In Australia, a numbered code will let you know.
Get educated about more ethical and sustainable products and brands. For instance, I buy recycled toilet paper (in bulk) that comes only in paper and cardboard packaging from a company that gives profits back to healthy water projects.
When replacing defunct plastic items I consider other alternatives. For instance, I am phasing out plastic food storage containers for glass and have replaced cleaning sponges with long-lasting sustainable fabric alternatives. I'm not going to throw out still-useful items I already own, they will get only get replaced when needed.
Don't buy (or otherwise acquire) things you don't love, need or use in the first place. This one needs it own whole article!
I realise the imperfections of recycling, but still recycle what I can - I use our council recycling bin and also collect plastic lids, light bulbs, batteries and soft plastics for dropping off at other recycling facilities. Reusing is better than recycling, so consider other uses for bottles, jars and cans before recycling. Your local Buy Nothing Group or bulk store may be happy to receive glass jars and bottles in particular.
If I am throwing something away, I ask if it can (realistically) be repaired, reused, repurposed or used by anyone else first.
I do own a pod coffee machine (gasp). Our pod machine is the kind that uses aluminium capsules rather than plastic and has an active recycling program. I use my standard, bean-grinding machine far more often and the coffee grounds go in the compost.
I have switched out a lot of commercial cleaners for the homemade, low-tox variety. Less packaging and less chemicals, which is also good in our asthmatic household. I buy a couple of cleaning products in bulk, using packaging I can return for refilling.
There are so many times when we might be frustrated enough to throw up our hands and say that little changes have no point, that the world is doomed and what is the point of just not having that straw? Surely if you can’t see that, you’re hiding from reality, yes?
Well, I’m going to take a different road and hope that small changes can start a little snowball rolling. And maybe that will eventually start an avalanche. That is, if climate change hasn’t melted the ice caps by then.