Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

My plastic-free (and later, zero-waste) journey has been such an adventure, challenge and learning experience and brought so much enjoyment that I can’t help but want to share it with the world. There’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with discovering new (or more often, old) ways of doing things, being more mindful about the way we live our lives, and of course, reducing landfill waste!

The longer I pursue this lifestyle the better I become at avoiding plastic and generating waste… but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Of course not! It doesn’t mean I’m completely zero-waste. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be completely zero-waste. It’s a journey, after all… and that’s the fun!

Ah, the fun. Successfully making a recipe from scratch for the first time. The jubilation of finding a new ingredient in bulk for the first time. The smugness of remembering your reusable cup, and water bottle, and cutlery, and produce bags when you actually need them. The excitement of finding someone all the way across the other side of the world who thinks the same way we do. The excitement of finding someone just down the road who thinks the same way we do!

The satisfaction of setting a personal waste-free goal and then achieving it…

That’s the thing about plastic-free and zero-waste living. It’s a very personal journey. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. People will find their own path. There is no such thing as the plastic-free police, nor the zero waste police. How can there be, when there’s no rules except the ones we choose ourselves?!

There are, however, some people out there who think they can “catch us out”. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect it’s because they don’t know the rules we’ve chosen!

To avoid any confusion, I thought I’d take the trouble to explain my personal plastic-free / zero waste living philosophy. Just to iron out any misunderstandings ; )

Here’s my “rules” for living plastic-free (and zero-waste).

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

The best place to start is to explain what I mean by these terms.

When I say “plastic-free”, what I really mean is: I-try-to-live-my-life-as-plastic-free-as-possible-but-I-don’t-claim-to-own-nothing-made-of-plastic-nor-do-I-avoid-every-single-piece-of-plastic-entering-my-home-for-example-I-still-buy-ibuprofen-and-glass-bottles-with-lids-lined-with-plastic-and-I-still-receive-items-in-the-post-in-envelopes-with-plastic-windows-and-I-still-make-mistakes-more-on-that-in-another-blog-post-but-I-really-really-really-try-my-best-to-not-purchase-anything-with-plastic-packaging-or-and-I-try-to-buy-second-hand-but-I-still-own-a-computer-and-a-collection-of-biros-and-a-reel-of-sellotape.

Now I find that rather a mouthful, so I tend to use the term “plastic-free”.

When I say “zero-waste”, this is what I actually mean: “all-that-stuff-I-said-above-except-trying-to-reduce-my-landfill-and-also-recycling-to-the-absolute-minimum-and-when-I-say-minimum-I-mean-minimum-for-me-where-I-live-now-doing-the-things-I-do-which-isn’t-the-same-minimum-as-it-would-be-if-I-lived-in-a-cave-and-wove-my-own-clothes-but-small-steps-you-know?

Again, it’s easier to say “zero waste”. I also love the term “near-o waste”, which is far more accurate (!), but I guess zero waste is the end goal. The destination. Maybe I’ll never get there.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

The next rule, it isn’t about how much better I am compared to the next person, or how much worse. As someone who hates waste, I’d far rather everyone was better than me! The only competition I have is with myself, and it’s a friendly competition as we’re on the same side ; )

Everyone’s Limits are Different

Everyone has their own set of limitations, circumstances, restrictions and other things going on in their lives, and it’s important to remember this! I’m happy to wash my hair with bicarb or rye flour, bought in bulk, and rinse with vinegar, also bought in bulk (no-poo hairwashing instructions here). It suits my curly hair. However, it doesn’t suit everyone’s hair, or everyone’s skin. Bicarb especially can be a skin irritant.

Similarly, I’m happy to forgo make-up because I just can’t be bothered trying to make it.

[Actually, I did try making mascara. It involved burning almonds, many matches, beeswax, blackened kitchen utensils, far too much washing up and plenty of swearing. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…but it’s unlikely to be part of my beauty regime]

However, I’m not prepared to go without baking paper. I’m really not sure I could get by with just one kind of baking tin, either. I love to cook, and this gives me better results. It’s staying.

I may not be winning the zero waste trophy this year, but I’ll be eating much better chocolate brownies ; )

There Will Always Be Exceptions

(See comment about living in a cave, earlier.) There are things I have chosen to buy in plastic. Yes, I call myself plastic-free and I buy things in plastic!

Ibuprofen tablets and prescription medicine (antibiotic ear drops for an ear infection), a diary refill, a kilo of hemp seeds.

I rarely buy glass jars but when I do the metal lids have plastic linings. My husband drinks cows milk and these glass bottles have the same plastic-lined lids.

The thing is, I choose to be part of the real world (for now). In the real world, plastic is everywhere. I do my absolute best to reduce what packaging and plastic I consume.

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

It’s very tempting when starting out on a zero-waste or plastic-free journey to want to tell everyone about it…and also tell everyone what they were doing wrong or what they could be doing better! Thing is, most people won’t appreciate this. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! No-one likes to be told what to do.

Now  I try to show people how I live, help people who come to me with questions or looking for ideas, and strike up conversations where I can in the hope to inspire people to make changes to their lives. I’ve found it works far better.

Often when ideas are new to people it takes a little while before they’re ready to make changes, even when they want to. I just hope that I can plant a seed. A seed that grows into a really big tree : )

I try to keep my opinions to myself the rest of the time (it can be a challenge, and I’m not perfect!) …unless asked, of course!

Just as I’ve learned that people respond better this way, the same applies to me. Sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes there’s a better way of doing things. I’m always open to suggestions and I love hearing about new ways of doing things, but I much prefer it when the conversation is kept friendly and positive : )

There you have it – my five rules for plastic-free (and zero-waste) living. Plastic-free police vigilante wannabes, please read this first : )

Now I’d like to hear from you! What rules do you follow? Are there any you’d like to add? Any you’d like to remove? Have you had any near-misses with voluntary members of the plastic-free police giving you their two cents?! What are the best ways you find to handle disagreements and differences in opinions? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this so leave me a message in the comments!

46 Responses to Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

  1. I’m not willing to give up baking paper for baking either. I also keep the paper from my butter blocks to line cake and slice pans- as long as I remember to grab them before someone else throws them out.

    Sometimes baking paper does the best job and I figure that I’m reducing food wastage by not having it stick. Plus, I’m more likely to bake and not buy processed food if I use baking paper.

    • Yay for baking paper, that’s what I say Alison! I’ve done the same thing with butter paper – it doesn’t work quite as well but good enough for me. I pop mine in the freezer until I’m ready to use. I agree – there’s nothing more disheartening than baking an entire tray of deliciousness and finding half has stuck to the pan, and the only way to get it off is to chisel with a knife (and wreck the tray) or gnaw at the dish – not always appropriate, especially with guests!

    • OMG you gave me the BEST idea to use butter wrappers if I want to make something muffin-ish. Awesome.

      I never really use baking paper (that I can think of) growing up so I don’t really get the need for it, but I definitely agree everyone has their things they need.

    • I buy the If You Care brand of baking paper, which is compostable so I put it in the compost. Sometimes if it’s not too dirty I wash and reuse it!

  2. I use parchement paper too. Was wondering if I can recycle it? I try and reuse it until it becomes impossible.


  3. Re the nagging, I think you have to know your audience! A little friendly and well-meant push from time to time can work. I’m definitely not trying to force my ideals on anyone (at least, I don’t think I am!), but two days ago when I casually mentioned to a work mate that she could get a keep cup since she tends to buy coffee a lot, she went out the next day and bought one! Some people wouldn’t be as open to the suggestion but I suppose you just have to consider who it’s ok to have these conversations with.

    • Haha, I totally agree! I didn’t add that my no nagging rule in no way applies to my mother, who gets the full extent of my “you shouldn’t do this” and “you should do that”! Possibly because she’s learned to ignore most of what I say over the years, possibly because she wouldn’t expect anything less, and possibly because that way I can get it all out of my system before some unsuspecting person comes along!

      I’m a big fan of the well-meant push! But I agree – you have to know your audience, when to say something and when not to, and when to stop pushing and bite your lip! It all takes practice!

  4. HI Lindsay,I am doing some research on plastic free lifestyle and found your blog. I am totally hooked. Gotta spend more time reading through your blog. I am totally new to plastic free living even though I have had concerns about producing and dealing with wastes in my life. I think I need to take action now and start by following your blog to have a better understanding. Thanks!

  5. It is fun! … and I found an alternative to the Gilette razor blades!!! The totally Stainless steel “safety razor” handle and the loose steel blades (which come in little carton boxes) were after all easy to find: just around the corner from where I work. And that is the fun thing about plastic free July. There is more an more things you don’t have to buy from the big supermarket chains.

    I am still working on my shaving skills and not sure if I agree with the term “safety razor” ;-)

    • Yes, it is! your razor blades are a perfect example – setting yourself a challenge, and then succeeding at it is totally rewarding! And saving the planet at the same time, well that’s just a bonus ; )

      Hope the plastic saved by using the razor isn’t being replaced by numerous plastic-wrapped plasters / band aids! I’m sure it will get easier…

  6. I love the term near-o waste, it reduces the amount of guilt at not meeting our own expectations! I feel the ‘policing’ often occurs because we all fall prey to the idea that there is a ‘perfect ideal’ that we can all reach, and is also the same for everyone.

    Also, I’ve been able to cut down my baking paper use by using silicon baking sheets: http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/silicone-cookware.html Another option that works for things like bread is to oil the pan, then sprinkle with lethicin (I’ve also tried polenta to good effect).

    • I love it too! Far more achievable! Plus guilt is never a good thing.

      I have silicone cupcake cases which I use often, and a silicone loaf tin – well, except it’s not a tin, obviously. I felt like I was going through far too many cupcake cases. That said, I’m still unsure about the safety of silicone – expect a blog post on that sometime! I find silicone cupcake cases save me a lot of waste, and actually some things are easier to remove from these than paper. I use paper to line round cake tins or baking sheets, depending on what I’m making. When I bake bread I grease the tin with coconut oil. It totally depends on the recipe for me.

  7. I particularly like the idea of being on a personal journey, regardless what you want to achieve. There are always people keen to point out your ‘failures’ but luckily also those who are genuinely interested and even inspired. I firmly believe it’s better to do *something* and move in the right direction than not do anything at all for fear of not achieving 100% success.

    I hate littering and often pick up rubbish when walking in the woods or parks (cursing the litter louts). I don’t expect others to do the same but my telling about it has made friends notice the rubbish in wrong places more. It has been an eye opener to me too to see all that wasteful packaging for products it often takes only minutes to consume. I’ll definitely try to remember to take my own containers & bags to the community market and bulk buy what I can. The journey continues. :-)

    • What a positive response! Made me feel all fired up and pump my fist and be like “yeah!” I totally agree. For me, the personal journey has been a lot about thinking about why I do things the way I do them, and questioning whether they can be differently. Being more mindful about the way I live my life, I guess.

      Good luck with your journey : )

  8. Yes! I love this post, I feel the same way.. We are all on our own individual journey and we need to appreciate there is no right or wrong just different stages. great post! X

  9. Hey y’all – Parchment paper (and paper wrapping on butter) is compostable! So never needs to go in the trash. :)

    Regarding the post topic, what I do is look at my trash when I take it out and see how much we fill the bin each month – we only have monthly delivery and on a good month we fill maybe half of a small bin, and on a bad month it’s overflowing. The bad months for me are the same months I eat poorly it turns out – i.e., emotional eating from the frozen food aisle :( .

    Hubby bought BPA-free plastic popsicle molds last week for us to feed our “icy pole addiction” and while it’s plastic that I hate, it prevents us from throwing away all those freezer boxes, since freezer and other lined boxes (like butter boxes) are nonrecyclable, so we think we’re coming out ahead on that one.

    • I agree with you about the increased waste vs eating poorly / emotional eating – we get through so much chocolate like this! I still buy bars – wrapped in foil and card – I have found bulk chocolate buttons etc but I don’t like them as much. It’s my treat – not zero waste but all recyclable at least (and compostable card) – and I’m not giving that up for anybody!

      I have a popsicle mold (plastic tupperware bought second-hand – I’ve seen metal ones online but not to buy here) but interestingly I haven’t used it since I bought it. Really not sure why not! I should get onto that!

  10. Love your rules, and they align darn closely to my rules. I don’t preach partly because I’m not perfect and as you pointed out this is the real world where plastic and waste are a part of life and partly because at one point I didn’t follow a zero waste or plastic free lifestyle. I was too busy just trying to get by to give the subject the attention I should have. I see more changes in those around me just from what others see me doing and it leads them to thinking about the subject. Many give up paper as a result or start to carry their own bags when shopping. No one likes to be told what to do, it feels like criticism and no one likes to be criticized.

  11. It definately is just a competition with myself! but I don’t feel I’m competing with others. Having said that, I do wish other people would challenge themselves more. I think offering simple, single suggestions each time to people is great.

    • It’s far more fun this way, I think! (And satisfying, and rewarding!) I agree of course, I wish everyone would embrace the plastic-free / zero waste lifestyle, but I do feel like it’s a growing trend and that helps keeps me motivated! : )

  12. I just found your blog via Plastic Free July -it’s great, I will be reading more!! You might like to try Miracle Pan Release – find it on Pinterest, Google or my blog – you make it yourself from coconut oil, flour and a cooking oil – the baking just drops out of the pan! No more baking paper for me. Oh, and sellotape is biodegradable – if you get the sellotape brand – it’s made from cellulose. Use it with a free conscience.

    • Hi Anne, thanks for your comment and lovely to “meet” you! : ) I will look that up, thanks! I do use coconut oil to grease baking tins sometimes, it just depends what I’m making. I quite like making raw desserts and I find the paper necessary for this. But I’m always open to new ideas, and to change!

      I don’t know if I have Sellotape brand tape. I find it hard to use any single-use item with a free conscience! Particularly as sellotape is often posted off into the great unknown – the recipient isn’t necessarily composting it! Still, short of sewing my parcels with twine shut I’m out of alternatives, so for now it stays ; )

  13. I totally agree with you about zero waste and plastic free being good descriptions for a goal, but not an actual description of my current lifestyle! I try to do the best I can to move towards those goals and that is it. I have been through phases when I have felt I should stick to it to the letter, but it just is too hard and I would have to make more sacrifices than I would be happy with. That said on the baking paper front, I have stoneware which has become naturally non-stick over time and works well for me!

    • Doing the best you can is the best that anybody can do! And the meaning of “the best you can” changes all the time depending on life circumstances… What used to be hard becomes easy, and sometimes things that were easy become more difficult, and we have to find what works for us. The thing I love about Plastic Free July is that it’s a great time to re-commit, to revisit habits we’ve slackened with and explore alternatives again.

      I agree, some compromises are acceptable and some are just too hard to incorporate into everyday life. Good to hear that the baking paper is one you’re happy with! ; )

  14. I don’t think I will ever give up tom’s toothpaste … I need fluoride … And I really like my tempeh and tofu which I can not find yet without plastic.

  15. I try to live as waste- and plastic-free as possible but I don’t want it to interfere too much with my life. I’ve learnt a lot of things browsing the net during plastic free July last year and the easiest stuff has been in my daily routine ever since. Still I try to improve, so I do more research whenever it’s nagging me that I cannot get a certain product plastic- or waste-free but I don’t beat myself up. Sometimes I decide against buying the product altogether but other times I decide to treat myself to something nice.

    • Sounds like a great way to do it if you ask me! Master the easy things, then move onto the next thing, and keep going! As time passes more things become easier to access in a plastic-free / zero waste thing I find.

      What are your no-compromise items?!

      • Toothbrushes for example – I do buy those with bamboo handles but the brush itself is made of bio plastic. The reason is that a friend of mine works at a dentist and she told me that natural brushes are hollow – not good concerning bacteria. Also I cannot quite give up white cheese and cream, those things hardly ever come in glass jars in Germany.

        • I bought the bamboo toothbrushes for about two years but I got so fed up with the bristles coming out in my mouth that I switched to (gasp) a plastic one, but with a removable head. The heads come with a plastic pack but one is meant to last 6 months, and the brush comes with one replacement.

          We have slowly reduced and reduced our dairy intake but it’s taken time. I think I got fed up with the jars and going to delis on special trips etc. I actually found out I have a dairy intolerance which probably eased the journey somewhat. I used to drink cream out of the container! Something I never thought I’d give up, but the less you eat it the less you have a taste for it I think… And there are plenty of other delicious foods out there in the world to eat instead! ; )

          • I had the same problem with the first brand that I bought. Now I purchase mine from Hydrophil and they seem to be a lot more reliable, no bristles in my throat anymore ;) But the removable heads are a good alternative. It’s what I do for my razor. I’m too scared to go for the old-fashioned safety razors because I have two left hands but I found a standard gilette type made of stainless steel and use removable heads for that one.

  16. Thanks for your always inspiring blog posts! I really enjoy reading them. I must confess that during the last half year of so I lost some of my plastic-free habits. For example, I have not yet found plastic-free beans and lentils. We moved to a new place in January and although it has been seven months already, some things I have not found plastic-free yet. Due to work I have not been able to spend much time investigating plastic-free options in nearby cities. I am planning to look into this the coming weeks :) Soon I will be back on track.

    • Aw, thanks! I think these things ebb and flow a little. Making new habits requires effort, and change takes time, plus moving is hard! We’ll be moving at the end of the year and whilst I’ve sussed out a bulk store nearby, I know that some of the places that are easy access for me now will be trickier to get to…I guess we will see what happens. Remember every piece of plastic you refuse is still one less piece of plastic in the world, so it all helps : )

      And when you’re ready, you’re ongoing plastic-free adventure will be waiting for you!

  17. How can people do this with their parents, peers, significant others, spouses, children, relatives, etc. when those close to them using nothing but plastic and other junk? How can they explain this to those close to them without being misunderstood?

    • This is what I always say when asked this question: lead by example. Show people that there is another way. Show people that there are alternative ways of doing things and that it;s actually quite easy to make small changes. You’d be surprised how much impact you have. Not overnight, but it’s all about planting seeds of inspiration : )

  18. Fantastic article! I put my vegetables in glass jar first and then in the fridge. This way I don`t use plastic bags for storage. Thank you for sharing your article. Greetings!

  19. Hi Lindsay, I’ve been following you for a short while and am “in the process”! Sometimes it feels overwhelming. I’ve always been one to recycle, re-use, reduce and think about what we bring into our home. I am a much older woman and grew up without the plastic usage we have today. All our food used to be in bulk and packed in paper bags, carried in string bags and most produce was grown at home or fresh from the markets. In aiming to reach a higher level of waste reduction and a more plastic free household I’ve been astonished by the amount of plastic accumulated in our home. Your most recent post on taking it slowly has calmed me down a little. Thank you for your encouragement. I am taking small steps and making small changes every day. Now to get my son, a chef, on board!

  20. Only since starting plastic-free July have I realised that medications pretty much all come in plastic. To an extent it is unavoidable. For example, every 60 days I have to throw out a stupid plastic asthma preventer and buy a new one, and I can’t go without it. Frustrating.

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