Becoming the Person You Weren’t
Ah, Plastic Free July is over, and we can all relax for another year! Note I said relax, and not go back to old habits! ; ) For me, Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the word, share ideas and encourage others to adopt some plastic-reducing habits, and I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at some events this July.
As well as hoping to inspire others, talking about my personal journey and digging out old photos is a great way to reflect personally on how far I’ve come, and where I hope to head next in this journey!
The talks I gave during Plastic Free July were an overview of my personal journey in living with less plastic. There was a lot to pack in, but there was a particular part my journey that stood out for me. Not because it was the most interesting, or most surprising – in fact I’m sure my audiences didn’t see this as any more significant than anything else – but it was definitely the most significant for me.
On the left is a reusable silicone menstrual cup, and on the right is a reusable washable sanitary pad. Both things I have adopted as part of my plastic-free / zero waste journey. Why was this so significant, though? Well, for two reasons.
Keeping with the Old…and in with the New
In terms of my plastic-free journey, these two items actually represent one of the first zero-waste habits I adopted…and one of the last. I first purchased a Diva Cup back in 2003, after reading an article in a magazine. They weren’t common at all back then: I had to order it from Canada and ship it to the UK. I was heading off on a 12-month overseas trip and had read that tampons etc weren’t always easy to buy in less Westernised countries. Plus this method was less wasteful, and in the long-term saved money.
I was sold from the start, and never went back. This photo is my second one (women’s hips widen with age apparently, so women over 30 need a different size), bought far more recently and from a high street chemist – I guess times have changed for the better!
The reusable sanitary pad on the right, is something very new… probably my newest zero waste habit! Even in March, when I wrote my Plastic-Free Guide to the Bathroom, I was yet to adopt reusable sanitary pads. In fact, this pad is only one month old! Back in March, I thought they were a good idea; I just hadn’t gotten round to getting one. Now I have one (a night pad made by Gladrags) and I love it!
But rewind two years, and the very idea made me cringe. Reusable cloth pads were something for hippies, surely?!
When I think about it, this cringing doesn’t really make sense. I’ve always believed in cloth nappies for babies. My mother used cloth nappies on me – I’m not sure disposable nappies were even invented back then. Is this really that different?
Why did the idea of a reusable pad gross me out, when cloth nappies didn’t? It’s not like walking around wearing an uncomfortable plastic sheet of dubious absorb-ability that sounds like a rustling crisp packet is really that pleasant, is it?!
Becoming the Person You Weren’t
Talking to my audience about reusable pads, I was reminded of the very beginning of my my own plastic-free living journey. I always talk about seeing the movie Bag it! and how it was a life-changing movie for me, but prior to that screening was a talk by a local couple who were already living plastic-free. They were real hippies, making everything from scratch and buying nothing new.
I remember the audience asking questions, and one of the responses being about reusable sanitary pads. And I remember wrinkling up my nose! Thinking, there is no way I’d ever be wearing a reusable pad! That is a step too far for me!
Oh the irony, that three years later I was standing in front of an audience extolling the virtues of those very things I had dismissed as a step too far!
The irony didn’t escape me at the time, either. How intriguing that in three years I had gone from listening to that person who seemed so different from me, whose lifestyle seemed so removed from mine, to being that very person!
I think it’s a really interesting lesson. A lesson in how we change and grow, in how much possibility there is, about how unexpected life can be. A lesson that we should be open-minded, and open to change, and just because we think we will never be a certain way, life is far more unpredictable than we expect!
The other interesting thing is that I don’t feel any different. I don’t look any different (in fact, that’s especially true as my wardrobe remains virtually unchanged in the three years that have passed!).
Yet I am very different, in the way I choose to live my life now compared to then. It’s just so ingrained now that I really can’t imagine living any other way.
The thought I wanted to leave you with is that change can be hard, yes, and change can be confronting. Change can seem so removed from where we are now that we can’t ever imagine ever actually getting there.
Yet we change all the time.
It doesn’t matter now if we think something is too hard. We can focus on the things that are easy, the things we can change and the positive steps that we can take. I didn’t write off the whole plastic-free movement because I couldn’t imagine canning my own tomatoes or using reusable sanitary pads. I just made a few changes, then a few more, and kept on going.
Somewhere along the line, I became the person I never thought I’d be…and I’m glad.
Now I want to hear from you! How have you become the person you weren’t?! Are there any habits you’ve taken up that you never would have imagined a few years ago? What habits do you still think of as a step too far?! How has plastic-free or zero-waste living changed your mindset? Are you a convert to reusable sanitary pads or do you still find the idea kinda weird?! I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!
I don’t feel like I have changed at all really. Everything feels the same I just do thing a little different now. Maybe because the way I live now feels more real than how I used to do everything. Every choice has more meaning and thought.
The minute I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012 I ordered a diva cup and cloth pads. So glad I made that swap. Saving over $200 in that time on sanitary items is wonderful. I wish I had known about them earlier. After a visit from my sister and my nephew last week I have learnt that cloth pads are so much easier to deal with than cloth nappies. If I get to have kids cloth nappies will be a fun topic. Actually raising children plastic free will be a good topic in general.
Really?! You don’t feel like you’ve changed at all?! That’s interesting. I feel like I have much less internal conflict – about wanting to live by my values but not actually doing it. What are your view about that?
I guess because I had the cup I didn’t think I needed the pads, but the cup does have a tendency to leak at night (I have a really heavy flow and it fills to capacity) which leads to a horrendous mess. Not what you want at 3am. I think the cloth pad means I sleep much more soundly!
A friend is just about to have a baby and was looking into cloth nappies – apparently you need 30 to do it full-time! That is a lot (plus a lot of laundry)!
I think because I was never that into sustainability/combating pollution/green/eco stuff before, i never had those conflicts or felt them. So when i decided to go plastic free and later zero waste i was still living the same life its just that i care about different things, consume in a different way etc. If that makes sense? Maybe it makes sense in my own brain.
And i hear you about the heavy bleeding. I have menorrhagia and always wear a cloth pad with my cup until the 5th day. Then i can relax with just a pad or cup for the remaining 2-3 days.
That’s really interesting! It kinda makes sense, but I also want to ask you a million more questions. i find understanding people’s motivations and values so interesting! I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until I pop over to Melbourne for a visit and get to meet you ; )
You’re right. I was brought up on junk food but now I’m totally grow-your-own, make-it-yourself, processed-food-free. The stuff I ate 20 years ago doesn’t even look like food to me any more. That’s happened a bit at a time, step by step, not by some revolution in habits, from growing a few beans to making bread, to making yogurt, to storing tomatoes, and so on. You can’t avoid changing all the time anyway – you’re a day older each day if nothing else. You might as well change in a direction that you want rather than just letting the world change you as it sees fit, and resisting. As you say, it’s amazing how far you can travel over time
I wasn’t brought up on junk food, but I can still relate! There are plenty of things I used to eat that now I wouldn’t touch! Almost anything in a plastic packet, for a start – and not just because of the plastic. Same as you, i just made a few changes, then a few more.
I love how you put that Wendy – you might as well change in the direction that you want! It sounds so simple and obvious, yet it’s so easy to get caught up in what the world and everyone expects of you rather than following your own path. It’s a far more exciting adventure! : )
Hahaha so when i started my period, I couldn’t handle tampons, but I knew it was the eventual outcome, cause mum’s opinions are fierce. So after the first few periods, I mastered tampons. Anyhow, when i went to a reusable cup about 2.5 years ago, I thought my mum would be on board – nope, she found it yucky.
Back to pads – I’ve never used them since 13. I do use the occasional pantyliner, but never a pad – I either go without overnight, or use a tampon or now the cup. LIke my mother, I now can’t fathom the discomfort of a pad! I knew I’d take time, but I came around to her point of view on that. And she’s coming around to other zero waste ideas too!
I’d forgotten about those early days! My mum was a pads fan and I couldn’t bear them so switched to tampons early on. I’ve always had a problem with the cup leaking at night in full flow (excuse my graphic description but it fills up and then leaks – making an enormous mess) so I used to use disposable pads occasionally. When I went plastic-free I used tissue paper or hoped for the best – which sometimes didn’t work out too well for me : /
I really can’t believe I didn’t just get a cloth pad sooner. It would have saved a lot of stress!
Aren’t we all so different? I am gosh darn thankful I have a light night time flow, now that I realise that doesn’t happen for all. Glad you’ve found a solution that you’re happy with!
I remember when we were taught about periods at Primary School, my teacher told us that you didn’t bleed at night or lying down. Hah! Let me tell you that the first night of my period was somewhat of a shock!
I’m actually a pads only person- just the way it’s always been I guess. I use cloth pads and have actually found that the “time of month” is less of a burden- flow seems to be less, it’s more comfy and no cramps anymore. I think it has something to do with the super- absorbency stuff they use with disposables that people develop rashes, bad cramps etc. I’ve been using them for about 4 months now, and haven’t had an issue about cleaning them etc. I have bought a cup too but haven’t had much success so far! I still have a huge disposables stash and maybe use one per month (for comparison’s sake) and I definitely notice the difference now. If you told me a year ago that I would be doing this I would have said that you were crazy! I’m totally a convert :)
Lisa, I’m exactly the same! The pads were the things that I was most reluctant about but in the end that time of the month has become a lot more pleasant. What I was most worried about was that they would leak or smell badly – neither of which has happened so far. And my period has also changed. Who would have thought?!
Isn’t it funny that we put all this trust in synthetic plastic made by pharmaceutical giants, and distrust fabric? When you think about it, it really doesn’t make any sense. I guess that’s the power of advertising and social conditioning… : /
I hadn’t heard about the health impacts of disposables but it makes complete sense. Why was I so late to the party?!
Key for nearly anything I do in my life is to do it the kaizen way. This means that I am constantly taking small steps towards whatever goal I have. So, no big changes for me, but looking back I realize that all these small steps means that my lifestyle has changed considerably over the last ten years or so. Along the way I have adopted some habits that I previously would have deemed extreme such as ditching nearly all bathroom products and using baking soda/vinegar for washing my hair. For some things, I feel I am still not ready. I purchased a menstrual cup months ago, but have not used it yet… Thanks for your continued inspiration. It helps me to take small steps towards less waste.
That’s why I love Plastic Free July so much – it makes me reflect on how much has changed in my life, and re-motivates and inspires me to keep going. I totally agree with you about the small steps, but sometimes they are so small that you just don’t realise how much change you’re making!
My pleasure! That’s for doing all you do too! ; )
Heh, I bought a Diva Cup earlier this year and I’m 41 and let’s just say for me the size was like trying to get a juice glass up there. And not like you can return it if it doesn’t fit!!! So since my cycles have always been light I just to the reusable pad nowadays after years of cardboard applicator tampons.
For me the big thing in plastics ultimately ends up in being how I eat. When I’m eating right, plastics don’t come into play because I’m buying dry goods from the bulk aisle (I bring my own canister to the store and weight it) and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. When I’m feeling down or anxious, and emotionally eat, my plastic consumption increases because I’ll buy something from the frozen food aisle, and everything – everything! – in a frozen food aisle is either pure plastic or plastic-threaded cardboard which cannot be recycled.
We also started buying our organic/local meats in bigger quantities so that less packaging is used, because in Oregon you’re not allowed to use your own containers for over-the-counter food purchases (only self-serve items, it’s weird), so we’ll buy several pounds of chicken thighs or ground turkey at one time, then divvy it up in reusable containers at home for freezing vs. immediate prep.
Really?! I’m learning all sorts from these comments!
I can’t believe there’s a rule for BYO containers! That said, I thought Oregon was quite progressive so maybe it’s just that they’ve thought about it, whereas everywhere else it’s not on the rulemaker’s radar?! So many of these rules make no sense. i remember many years ago ordering a takeaway coffee (oh the shame!) and asked for no lid. The girl told me I couldn’t have a coffee wihout a lid due to health and safety. After arguing unsuccessfully, I was handed my coffee, took said lid off and left it on the counter. Afterwards I thought – but when you serve coffee in the cafe, with the cups filled to the top, you don’t use a lid! So your argument makes zero sense! Alas there are too many zero-sense arguments out there : /
LOL – agree. I had a similar situation where I gave my reusable mug to a barista and she made the entire drink in a paper cup then poured it into my mug, and tossed the paper cup. Huh? She said they “weren’t allowed” to make it right in the mug.
Yeah I thought that rule seemed so out of place for Oregon as well – food handling laws are so weird and vary state to state. Some stores are finding ways around aspects of it by having more of their deli foods self-serve, but for me it’s that damn non-recyclable, plastic-coated meat paper that I want to avoid (not to mention half the time they put the chicken in a plastic bag THEN wrap it in meat paper, oy!).
My next campaign is against jamming straws in drinks without asking me if I want one…join me? :)
My daughter and I have been using reusable pads for several years. I made the switch when she got her period and we both like it. The cloth feels so much better than the plastic ever did. I will admit that I still use tampons when I run. I just can’t bring myself to do it with a pad. I thought about the cup, but since I’m nearing the end of my cycles, I just haven’t justified the purchase. I do buy OB tampons since they have less packaging and no plastic applicators.
Anyway, I do feel like a different person than I was many years ago. It has been a gradual change, as I’ve learned it is better to move slowly if you want the other members of the family to be on board. To many sudden changes and there is rebellion!
I’ve been lucky that my husband has been on board with me on this journey from the start. We both went to watch the Bag It! screening together, and both committed to Plastic Free July (and then plastic-free forever) together. He’s not quite as into it as me – and by that I mean, he’s happy to do it, but if I wasn’t around I think more temptations would sneak in, and he wouldn’t buy everything religiously from bulk stores. People often ask me how to get family members on board, and it’s a tough one as there is no quick fix. My answer is not to preach, and lead by example, and hope that they will adopt ideas over time. But I’ve also met women who tell me their husbands think it’s all ridiculous – that must be so hard! Sounds like you’ve been able to make it work with your family, which is great news!
This rings very true with me. I thought I hadn’t changed much, apart from being a lot more aware of plastics and waste in our environment. But when starting to talk about my lifestyle to my best friend with whom I’ve not talked in a while, I realise how weird some of the things I say must sound to her. All the things suddenly sound like a huge change to who I’ve been and what I’ve done before. If only people would be more inspired and less sceptic and realise that a huge leap is done through baby steps, a lot more people would start trying out new things and lifestyle changes!
That’s exactly it! When you see the media promoting all those “two years of trash in one glass jar” stories, I feel like it just seems so extreme to most people that they’d never make the connection that they could do it too. But when you talk about bringing your own bags, reusing produce bags, buying in bulk, making more things from scratch, shopping local (or whatever) all those things are accessible for most people, and not that hard to adopt, one by one. It’s all about baby steps – just lots of them! : )
I’m glad to be “over it” now. But, I remember my mother telling me about when they made their own pads. It sounds like it’s gone full circle now (and a GOOD thing for many reasons – remember the deaths from septic shock when tampons first started using the ultra absorbant plastics?)
So many things are coming full circle with the grow-your-own movement, and make do and mend, and upcycling – it’s great!
I don’t remember any deaths, but I remember learning about periods at school and it being a serious thing. My mother wasn’t keen on me using tampons for that reason, and I didn’t use them for the first couple of years. I’d never made the connection before that it was due to plastic. I thought tampons were only ever made of cotton. Stupid plastic!
Oh my I am so not the person I started out as. When I was younger all I cared about was my career. I was too busy to prepare a meal and either ate out or resorted to junk food instead. Then I was diagnosed with cancer and a few years later my son with ADD. Each diagnosis was another step to a holistic way of living with whole foods. The day I made my first loaf of homemade bread I couldn’t stop laughing that here I was kneading bread dough instead of grabbing the plastic wrapped convenient loaf at the store. I used to shake my head at the stories of my grandmother who grew up without the conveniences I had, then I became her.
As for sanitary products I never could use a disposable pad, I broke out from them so it was always tampons until I developed symptoms my doctor felt were either allergic reaction or mild toxic shock. I ordered a keeper cup but had to get it from Canada as they weren’t sold in the US. I loved it and never tried anything else.
Haha, I can so NOT imagine you to be like that! It seems so removed from where you are now! Isn’t it interesting, the paths the journey of our lives takes us on?!
I’m going to read your blog in a whole different light now, imagining you in your past life rushing out to the convenience store to buy junk food… ; )
I used cloth nappies for my first child, 22 years ago for all his nappy-time. We had to have 30 to 40 cloh nappies and the woolen pantys over the nappy. And he was wet nearly all the time — poor boy.
Beside this, there was a lot of laudry; collecting the nappies over a few days in a bucket with soda water — a very stinky thing. I remember one time, when we travelled to grandma in the car, our little boy made his big business in the nappy, we had to do a nappy-change imediately, and what about the stinky cloth nappy IN the car. We had to stop and throw it in a bin! The ecological footstep with this kind of cloth nappies, that we used (that was availabe in this times, 1992) was the same as ,,plastic” nappies. For our second child we used the plastic and it was a lot easier and not as stinky as the cloth. Both kids are grown ups now, and don’t remember these times :)
Thank god, they are over, this nappy-times!
My best friend from school had a baby last year and I hear that eco-washable nappies are far far better than they used to be! My mum used those cloth ones that you had to safety pin together but these days they seem to be fitted and absorbent in the correct places and all that. That said, it would a be a lot of laundry and I don’t envy anyone going through it !
My zero-waste journey is only just beginning, but since starting Plastic Free July this year I finally feel like I’m living in line with my values. I’ve been trying to live a greener life for years, but it never seemed like I was doing enough. Now I’m reducing my waste and sharing my experience with other people I actually feel like I’m taking meaningful action.
I love my cloth pads (though I do still use tampons on my heavier days). They idea of reusing pads never grossed me out – though I used to wonder what my flatmates thought of them. However, there is one zero-waste idea I’ve come across that has always felt like a step too far for me: replacing toilet paper with reusable cloth wipes!
I always credit Plastic Free July with putting me on the path of connecting my actions with my values – and it feels so good! Glad you’re feeling that way too.
Haha, I’ve read about that too! I’m not completely opposed to the idea, but I think you’d have to be pretty hot with your laundry, and even on Perth where the climate is almost always good for hanging laundry outside (we don’t have a dryer) we tend to only get it done at the weekends, and there’s no way we’d want used cloths hanging around for a week. Plus, there is absolutely NO WAY my husband would get on board with that. Ever. So I’m happy to stick to toilet paper too!
Twenty-five years ago, when I had babies, I was very enthusiastic about ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. I used cloth nappies, made my own liquid soap to soak and wash them, used calico bags for shopping (not easy as most stores didn’t like it), grew organic vegies and fruit and kept chooks. I made jam, preserved fruit and didn’t buy plastic if I could possibly help it.
Then somehow, over the years, I lost it.
Life got busy, I got lazy, I suppose, and it just all seemed too hard. I still used my own grocery bags and did some of my shopping at the farmers’market, but that was about it. But I’ve decided I want to get back on this track. I’m trying to change at least one thing every week. So far, I’ve planted garlic, replaced a broken casserole dish at the op shop rather than the supermarket, begun washing my hair with bi-carb and vinegar and ordered vegie seeds to plant when the weather warms up. It’s amazing how good these few simple changes have made me feel. And it is so much easier now to live this lifestyle than it was back then, when you got funny looks and even rude comments about these kinds of choices.
That’s such an interesting story, Lyn! I guess you lose these things slowly in the same way that you gain them slowly, so you don’t really notice. And I’m so glad you’re getting back into it! You’ll find it so much easier having done these things in the past and having the skills and knowledge, i suspect. Already sounds like you’re doing lots. Good luck!