My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

As part of the event I spoke at last week organised by Plastic Free July, I was asked to talk about my own journey in reducing my plastic consumption. One of my favourite topics! It was a great chance to reflect on how my life has changed in the 3+ years since I gave up plastic.

For those of you that couldn’t come along I thought I’d share my story with you here too.

Back-track to 2012, and I thought I was doing all the right things when it came to being environmentally friendly. I diligently recycled everything I could. I was a master recycler, sorting the plastic PET and HDPE bottles from the TetraPaks and the polypropylene plastic packaging, and disposing of it all responsibly. I religiously look my own bags to the shops.

Of course, every now and then I took a plastic bag at the checkout – after all, I needed them to line my rubbish bin…

I first heard of the Plastic Free July campaign when I saw a flyer at my local library. I’d been living in Australia for just 6 months, having moved from the UK, and I was still finding my way around my local community. The challenge was to give up plastic for the month of July. Give up plastic for a month? I thought. Easy!

As part of the pre-Plastic Free July launch, there was a movie screening of the plastic documentary Bag It! I went along. It changed my life.

It was literally a lightbulb moment. A realization that plastic was a problem. A waste problem, a health problem, a lifestyle problem, a political problem and an environmental problem. And a realization that it was a problem that I could do something about.

I realised that if I wanted to see things change, I had to start with me. I also realised that giving up plastic wasn’t something that I was only going to commit to for a month. I was in it for the long-haul. Plastic-free was going to be my new way of living.

Going home that night, I was aware for the first time that plastic was everywhere. How had I not realised?! Had I been walking around with my eyes shut?! Everything was packaged in plastic! My pantry was filled with plastic-packaged products and my bathroom shelves were lined with plastic bottles. Shrink-wrap, bubble-wrap, plastic-wrap, plastic-lined, plastic-coated, plastic-sealed – arghh!

And so my plastic-free living adventure began.

That first plastic-free shop at the supermarket, I took home bananas, bread, apple juice in a glass bottle, pasta packaged in cardboard, toilet paper wrapped in paper and chocolate. The only plastic-free things that I could find. I realised that if I was going to commit to this, I had to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the first things I did to ease the transition:

  • Got hold of a reusable cup and reusable produce bags

  • Switched to bar soap and ditched the shower gel and hand wash

  • Looked up local veg box delivery schemes to avoid the supermarket packaging

  • Hunted around for bulk food stores – even places that sold a single item like olive oil

  • Headed to Farmers’ Markets to see what options were available

  • Dusted off the cookbooks and tried new recipes featuring ingredients that were easier to find in bulk

  • Learnt how to make my own yoghurt, bread, nut milk, dips, you name it!

  • Learnt how to make basic toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste

  • Talked to local producers / traders about selling items to me without packaging

  • Bought more things second hand and made use of the sharing economy – like using the library

  • Started using newspaper to line my bin rather than plastic bags!

In the beginning I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes! I bought plenty of things that I thought were packaged solely in paper or cardboard only to find sneaky plastic inside! I’d forget my reusable coffee cup, or my produce bags, or purchase random ingredients in silly quantities, like 3 kg of sesame seeds simply because I’d found them in bulk but without having the slightest idea what I was going to do with them! Like all things, you keep trying and slowly you get better. Habits form and it gets easier. Now it’s second nature, and I don’t really need to think about it.

The benefits have been enormous, and in plenty of ways that I hadn’t expected. The journey that giving up plastic has taken me on has been so much fun! I never though that giving something up would give me so much more, but it has.

Interestingly, I spend far less on food now than I did before I quit plastic. Partly because all the processed food comes packaged in plastic, all the junk food that adds up on your grocery bill but doesn’t actually fill you up. Plus I stopped buying into those deals that seem like great offers until you end up with packets of stuff you don’t really need.

My diet is a lot better. I shop locally so the fruit and veggies I buy are a lot fresher, I eat far more whole foods and a lot less sugar, and I have a lot more energy.

I learned so many new skills.

That was all in the first six months!

I began my plastic-free journey by looking at the actions I could take, the changes I could make so it was very much a personal journey. As my expertise grew, as I learned more and more about not only the problems of plastic but also the solutions, I was determined to spread the message and to inspire other people to use a little less plastic in their lives.

I started writing my blog, which has connected me to thousands of other people looking to live a similar lifestyle, has allowed me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm, and also learn so much more. I’ve also got involved in my local community, not just with Plastic Free July but also the Earth Carer network and Living Smart, and I also organized a Sustainability Festival called the Less is More Festival in 2013 and 2014.

What really gripped me right from the start about plastic-free living was that it was something that I could do. It’s something we can all do. Plastic is something that we’re faced with every single day. Multiple times a day. We can choose to use it, or we can choose to avoid it, and we make these choices every single day. We can make a difference. We just need to decide what kind of difference we want to make.

You’ve heard my story and now I really want to hear yours! How did you stumble onto the plastic-free path? What have you done to reduce your plastic consumption? What have you found easy? What’s been your biggest challenges? Whether you’ve been working on it for years or you’re new to the idea, please share your journey so far! Tell me your successes and your hopes in the comments below!

20 Responses to My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

  1. Wow you went all gung ho right from the start! There are things I still buy that have a bit of plastic such as pasta. We can choose from plastic bags you can see through or cardboard boxes that have a plastic window to see the shape of the pasta. I buy less and less pasta, and had given it up until moving. It’s one of the few foods my granddaughter is guaranteed to eat. She also likes peanut butter sandwiches and since I don’t eat bread her mother has been leaving loaves here that are commercially made so wrapped in plastic. To get the garbage company to take my garbage it has to be in a plastic bag so I save the bread wrappers for garbage. One bread wrapper can fill up in 2-3 weeks or if my grandson is here often in a week due to his diapers.

    Anyway, as a vegetarian, it’s pretty easy to avoid most plastic in the store and I try to grow the foods that are the most heavily sprayed and come with plastic. One thing I noticed when starting to eliminate plastic was the savings on the grocery bill, just like you did.

    • Haha, yes I take my challenges seriously! ; ) It’s not like you need to replace everything at once, though. The first things were milk and yoghurt, and bread, then the longer life fresh items like juice and cheese, and vegetables, and then work backwards. I would say it took more than a year to use up all the plastic bottles in my bathroom because I had so many due to buying things on 3-for-2. Makes you think – holding a years’ worth of cosmetics is a waste of money and space! It gives you enough time to find alternatives and recipes to make your own.

      We just use newspaper to line our bin, and then deposit it in the big wheelie bin for the flats. Once we get a proper compost setup in the new place I hope we don’t put anything in the rubbish bin!

      I think it’s a common misconception that living without plastic costs more; it doesn’t. However at the start it can, until you find your way. Often products in glass are more expensive versions of the same products in plastic, or you buy fresh cheese from the deli which costs more. But once you start exploring what’s available and try different recipes and get new ideas, your bill definitely goes down. It’s aso about finding alternatives. Plus whole foods fill you up so you buy less, whereas junk food doesn’t – empty calories that burns a hole in your wallet.

  2. Such an inspiring story Lindsay! Thank you for sharing it. I am surprised to read it is possible to buy plastic-free toilet paper in your area. That is impossible to find here, unless you buy online, but then you’ll have to buy multiple boxes… A big investment.

    Beth Terry was the one who got me thinking about plastic. I love her work. Her TED video opened my eyes. Like you, I feel that the plastic-free journey has been really rewarding. I learned new skills, eat healthier, don’t buy snacks when commuting, and I met many new interesting people.

    • Thanks Annemieke! : ) Yes, even the supermarket sells paper-wrapped toilet paper fortunately, but I now buy big (48-roll) boxes from a company called whogivesacrap.org, who as well as being plastic- and chemical-free donate 50% of profits to water projects overseas.I usually go halves with a friend! Maybe you can establish your own toilet-paper club?!

      Who’d think that giving something up would be so immensely rewarding?! But it really is!

  3. Running across Beth Terry’s blog was the beginning for me. It’s crazy walking into a store once your eyes are opened and seeing that EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic!

    The sneaky plastic still gets me. I found balsamic vinegar with a metal cap and felt on top of the world until I cracked it open and say the little plastic drizzle spout arrgghh. I still have a lot of work to do on the obvious plastic too, like learning how to make bread and such.

    Great job on being active in your community. I think people like you can definitely inspire others and make a difference :-D

    • It’s funny, but I didn’t come across Beth Terry’s blog until several months after I began my journey! Although she is interviewed in Bag It!, but I didn’t make the connection for a while.

      Yeah, you’re right, it’s a really bizarre experience! I try to avoid anything packaged now, even if it’s glass because of the sneaky plastic. Of course, lids have a plastic lining so I try to buy as few jars as possible. Not that you can avoid them completely : (

      Bread is really easy to make! I don’t use a bread machine, I make it buy hand. I make sourdough and the trickiest thing is the timing – not having to get up at 2am to stick it in the oven because you didn’t allow enough time for it to rise, for example! But the actual time you need to be physically doing something is minimal.

      Thanks! I hope so! : )

  4. i worked in a refugee camp in Thailand for a year. Everything I brought in from the shops was burned in a big open fire, including plastic bottles and other plastic. Having your rubbish disposal in your face like that makes you think. Burning plastic stinks. My biggest issue was water. I ended up drinking the groundwater that was boiled and poured through cheese cloth just like everyone else and took the stomach bugs that came with that. Now I’m in NZ and I’m fairly slack but I joined up Plastic free July last year and then your blog and i am doing a better job. Having children who get presents from family for birthdays is a tricky one. My husband bought a pinata and I had to go to the supermarket to buy individually wrapped high sugar treats for 3 year olds. Its just wrong, but I did it anyway. However I have almost kicked the disposable nappies out of our house and we have got a worm farm to get rid of most food waste. I lived in a place where we could refill glass bottles with raw milk and I made cheese and yoghurt with it, but we moved and now I have lots of milk and yoghurt plastic bottles. Just gotta keep trying … :)

    • Woah, that must have been an intense experience : / I imagine that being in that situation would make you think a lot, and about a lot of things…

      I think every time we move, or our circumstances change we have to rethink how we do things. I sometimes wonder if we move back to the UK how I’d get on with the zero waste living – but I guess that’s the fun of life! Sounds like Plastic Free July and the worm far mare great steps in the right direction. Could you get back onto the yoghurt-making bandwagon?!

      Yes! Keep going! You only fail when you stop trying…

      • If you need plastic free disposable nappies, there used to be a German make which I used in combination with washables. They had sawdust & Tea leaves to absorb I think. Just as good as the plastic ones. Compostable. I can’t remember the brand now. They were available in U.K.

  5. Hi Lindsay, so lovely to come across your blog! i love this post about how you got rid of plastic from your life, its very similar to my path at the moment but i am not as plastic free as i would like yet. thank you for sharing and for including in your message that on this path we will make mistakes and forget our reusable bags etc, but thats ok :) Im really good at suffering from green guilt which doesnt serve anyone! xxx

    • Hi Regan, thanks for commenting (and thanks for finding me)! Just keep going and you will get there! It’s definitely more of a journey than a destination though – I still see things that I would like to improve on!

      We accidently purchased sneaky plastic on Tuesday! They had a new chocolate bar range at the local store in a cardboard box, and it didn’t cross my mind to check the inner – which turned out to be that plastic / foil combo that’s not recycable : ( At the start I’d try to check everything, but over time you get complacent. A good reminder that it’s not always straightforward! It was a nice chocolate bar, but I won’t be buying that brand again.

      Don’t feel guilty! Everything you do helps, and you just gotta keep at it : )

  6. Good article, written for like-minded people.
    Plastic terror into the environment, of course depressing.

    Anywhere from him not to go.
    We have a homemade recovery for fuel debris.
    Dual-use recovery.
    Warm water for solar shower on cloudy days.

    Thank you

  7. Hello, I am new to a plastic free. I am taking the June 2015 Marine Conservation Society plastic free challenge here in the UK. Like you I thought that I was already super sustainable. How wrong I was!! I have had my eyes opened and I am only one day in! It’s really shocking – the blind consumption and the sheer waste of energy and resources.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment! I love how there seems to be a plastic-free living challenge every month these days! And only one day in… Good luck! I think you’ll have an amazing journey…

  8. Such an inspiration! It’s so good to read someone’s experience and the great results that are possible for yourself too. I’m thinking about quitting plastic too, but I’m still planning only. Your post gave me so good ideas and a big inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

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