What I *Actually* Mean By Living “Plastic Free”

What I *Actually* Mean By Living “Plastic Free”

What if I told you that “living plastic-free” doesn’t actually mean living plastic free at all?

Let me explain.

A reader of this blog, Stephanie, recently contacted me to share an online article that she had read, and had found rather discouraging. The article opened with the statement “I’m suspicious of people who claim to live plastic-free” and the title of the article was “I tried to give up plastic for a month and realised it’s impossible.”


I like to look towards the positives, the solutions, the next steps. Any article that begins by declaring defeat is unlikely to inspire and motivate (how can it?!) and I tend to avoid reading them. Give me a good news story any day!

But I read this one.

I came across some arguments I hear surprisingly often. What about laptops, and mobile phones, and credit cards? True, I use all these things. I also came across some thoughts that had never crossed my mind before in the context of plastic-free living: using plastic furniture in public spaces; answering the (plastic) telephone at work, or taking public transport (yes, buses and the London Tube both use plastic as a construction material).

I feel that the idea of “plastic-free living” is perhaps sometimes taken more literally than it is often meant.

In my view, there is nothing suspicious about claiming to live a plastic-free life. No-one is out to fool anybody. In my experience, anyone who says they live plastic-free is trying to be as transparent as possible about the things they do and don’t do, the choices they make… and the mishaps they have along the way.

I can’t speak for everyone who claims to live plastic-free, but I can speak for myself. I’d like to explain what I mean when I say that I live a plastic-free life, what I don’t mean, and when plastic-free doesn’t actually mean plastic-free.

Here’s my thoughts.

What Living Plastic Free Actually Means (To Me)

I always say that plastic-free living is a journey. Like any journey, things change along the way. What I mean when I say “plastic-free” today isn’t necessarily what I thought it meant when I began.

My plastic-free journey began in 2012 when I signed up to Plastic Free July and saw the documentary Bag It. Both the challenge and the documentary opened my eyes to the issues, but also my own habits, and made me realise just how much of the plastic I bought was avoidable.

It made me feel embarrassed that I’d never realised before, and determined to do what I could to make a difference and refuse all future plastic.

My first challenge was to reduce all the single-use plastic from my life. By single-use I meant anything that was designed to be used once. Not just things like plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups, but also things like plastic bottles of shampoo. Whilst the container might last a few months, it is not designed to be refilled and is therefore single-use.

With single-use plastic the main thing on my radar, other types of plastic hadn’t yet reached my awareness.

One of the first purchases I made when I embraced this plastic-free life was a reusable plastic KeepCup. I remember my husband (who has been with me on this journey since the beginning) posting a picture of them on Facebook, and one of his old school friends came back with the comment “but it’s plastic!”

We rolled our eyes and shook our heads at this lack of understanding. In our minds, it made total sense!

Of course, now I can see why there was a lack of understanding. Clearly, buying a plastic cup for Plastic Free July is not actually plastic-free in itself. It made sense at the time because it was reducing all the single-use plastic.

(5 years on, this cup is still going. My husband uses it at work. Would I make the same purchase today? No. But that’s part of the journey.)

Six months into my plastic-free living journey, and I’d found plastic-free solutions to a lot of the products that I’d previously bought regularly in plastic. I’d also stopped buying so much stuff generally (my minimalism journey had also begun) which gave me the space to think more carefully about the things that I did buy.

My single-use plastic avoidance became all plastic… where there was a reasonable alternative.

I started out as an idealist, but I soon realised that reason had a part to play. What does “a reasonable alternative” mean? For me, reasonable means practical, affordable (and I am happy to pay more for plastic-free items) and suitable.

It is possible to find plastic-free alternatives to most items. But not all.

Sometimes, plastic items have their place. I avoid new plastic as much as possible, but I’m happy to reuse plastic items to save them from landfill. If I think something is well made, built to last and serves a purpose, and I cannot think of (or find) a better alternative, then I consider plastic.

This includes the plastic olive barrels that I’ve upcycled into veggie beds in my garden, the clothing with plastic fibres that I’ve purchased second-hand from the charity shop, and the empty plastic yoghurt tubs I’m currently collecting via the Buy Nothing Group for mushroom growing.

What do I mean when I say I live “plastic-free”? Well, I mean no single use plastic packaging. I mean that I don’t buy brand new plastic things, unless there is absolutely no alternative, I consider that item to be necessary, and it is not not available second-hand. I minimize my second-hand plastic purchases, but I don’t avoid them completely.

For me, plastic-free is not an absolute. I make exceptions. I’m also very transparent about the exceptions that I make. Plastic-free living is an ideal, a goal to work towards, and a journey. I’m doing what I can, and always striving to do better.

What Living Plastic Free Doesn’t Mean (To Me)

At the start, I was determined to eliminate plastic completely from my life. Over time, I’ve taken a more moderate approach to what’s practical and possible for me.

I still use a mobile phone and a laptop. I have plastic travel cards (a Smartrider and an Oyster card). I have plastic bank cards, and I use plastic money (Australian bank notes are made of plastic). Plastic still sneaks into my life in other ways.

Plastic-free does not mean living in a house that I built myself from tree branches. (Natural building is a thing, so it’s not out of the question that I could live in a plastic-free house. But I don’t.) Maybe one day I’ll get the skills and the space to do it. Or maybe not. For now, I live in a house with recycled plastic/stone kitchen benches, plastic guttering, a plastic bathroom bench, a plastic rainwater tank, plastic doors, windows and frames.

Plastic-free does not mean avoiding touching anything plastic. The pipes that bring water to our house the cables that bring electricity and the internet to our house, every kind of transport (public or private) – it all features plastic.

Plastic-free does not mean refusing medical treatment. I take painkillers in packaging on the rare occasion I need to, I have a plastic filling (I wasn’t choosing mercury as the alternative option).

Plastic-free has never meant (and never will mean) throwing existing plastic away. In my home, plastic that is perfectly usable will never be replaced it with something that is plastic-free for asthetic reasons.

If I need to buy something in plastic so that I can avoid plastic in the future then I do. I buy seeds that come in plastic bags, but I am saving my seeds so in future I can use my own. I bought a second-hand plastic compost bin so that I can make my own compost and not need to buy plastic-packaged soil amendments for the garden.

Plastic-free living, for me, is not about taking things to extremes. It’s about finding alternatives, solutions and better ways of doing things. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists. If I can reduce my plastic by 95%, that’s a lot of plastic refused.

Does it really matter that I use a small amount of plastic to reduce my impact in other areas? To me, no.

When Is Plastic-Free not Plastic-Free?

I am passionate about living with less waste (you might have noticed). For me there are three branches to this, and they are all slightly different. There’s zero waste, which is about sending nothing to landfill. There’s plastic-free, which is about using no plastic. Then there’s the broader aspect of sustainability, using what already exists.

The way I live is the result of these three elements (plastic-free and zero waste and reducing waste) colliding. My ultimate goal is reducing landfill and making the best use of resources. So sometimes I choose second-hand polyester over brand new organic Fairtrade cotton. Or upcycled plastic buckets rescued from landfill over French oak wine barrels.

It’s not that one option is better than the others. There’s rarely a perfect choice. I just do what feels right to me and my values.

I say I live plastic-free because it’s a label that people can understand. It’s certainly a lot less of a mouthful than “I live single-use-plastic-free-and-new-plastic-free-but-occasionally-I-buy-second-hand-things-made-of-plastic-but-mostly-I’m-plastic-free”. It starts conversations, encourages new ideas and provokes dialogue.

Plus, it’s a way of doing something good for the planet, and for ourselves and our community.

I’m not one to dwell on the negatives. I could lament all of the things that I can’t change, and the things that hold me back from perfection. I could give up before I start, because I’ll never make 100%. But plastic-free living is not about perfection. It’s about making better choices. 

There’s so much opportunity to make change to reduce our collective plastic habit. To refuse single use items, make simple switches, avoid plastic packing. Living plastic-free is 95% possible. But even 1% plastic-free is better than nothing. Let’s not get bogged down with the things we can’t change. We can all change something. Let’s do what we can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree that saying plastic-free or zero waste is misleading? Or do you find labels a useful way to strike up conservation and convey ideas simply? Do you use these labels, or do you prefer not to? If you live plastic-free, what plastic compromises do you make? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

What I *Actually* Mean By Living “Plastic Free” from Treading My Own Path | Plastic-Free + Zero Waste Living | Less waste, less stuff, sustainable living. Tips for living plastic-free, plastic-free swaps, how to refuse single-use plastic, living green, plastic-free solutions, ideas to break up with plastic, changing habits, green living, eco living, sustainability, refuse plastic. #plasticfreejuly #choosetorefuse More at https://treadingmyownpath.com

85 Responses to What I *Actually* Mean By Living “Plastic Free”

  1. Lindsay, you’re doing great things. Keep on keepin’ on.

    I sometimes hear people use extremely literal definitions of labels to avoid having to make any changes themselves, ever: “well, my local bus contains plastic, so I can never be 100% plastic-free, so there’s no reason to rethink any of my actions or choices! Whoo hoo!”

    • Thank you Rebekah! I tend to stay away from those kinds of conversations or comments threads, but I will say, the amount of people who say to me “oh I can’t be plastic free because I have a computer!” It’s one of the most common things I hear. And I’m thinking, it isn’t like I’m sending these blog posts out by carrier pigeon… What about the other 99.9% of stuff you could change?!

      I promise I’ll keep on keepin’ on ;)

  2. Yep, people sometimes don’t get it.

    Next door to where I work there is a yoghurt factory. Dozends of beautiful food grade 20 ltr buckets with lids get thrown out each week (the owner has tried to send them to recycling but they do not take them anymore – now they go to landfill). We have started to use them in a drop and swop initiative at the Community Garden. It is all about making dropping kitchen waste at our compost bin really easy and reusing those buckets – and if people keep them for other purposes (we have to replenish regularly) even better, we just get more of them.

    Win win all around.

    And I just cannot see apartment dwellers taking their kitchen waste to a Community Garden in an old fashioned metal bucket without a proper lid!

    • I also save those 20 litre buckets from our bulk food store. My husband takes 2 to collect compost scraps from work (on a rotation system) – as you say, even if he could find a stainless steel version, the price would be astronomical and stainless steel has a huge footprint. Better to use something that exists. Those buckets are often in high demand from gardening groups / permaculture groups so if you find you have too many, donate on a Buy Nothing group or Gumtree. They are very useful – not waste at all!

  3. Yes. This has to be a journey. I’ve found plastic free shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and moisturiser that I like but I’m still finishing a couple of plastic bottles. I tried olive oil as a moisturiser but I’m allergic to it. I’m still buying yoghurt in plastic containers but I’ve made some bread and I’m hoping to have the time and energy for yoghurt soon. And I plucked up the courage to take my own containers to the butcher. They were happy to help- and I’d been stressing about it for ages!

    • Thanks for sharing Ann, sounds like you’ve made great progress! Ah, so glad you’ve had success with taking you containers to the butcher. In my experience 95% of butchers are happy to accept containers. I can imagine your relief when they said yes! Good on them :)

  4. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me and I live by many of the same principles, though I’m not as plastic free as you are. Some of the things I buy come in single-use plastic packaging, which isn’t ideal, but I avoid it wherever possible. I have very little waste compared to most people I know. It’s not about being 100% perfect, it’s about making a difference and looking at alternatives.

  5. Well done and understood completely. I am on that journey also. No single use bags, keep cup, no veggies or fruit packaged in plastic, reuse my plastic wrap (working towards an alternative), bulk buy in paper when I can etc etc. I am trying to do my bit and I have influenced others. I just love seeing people committed to making the effort.

  6. Once again, Lindsay, you are the voice of common sense. We need to stress to people, instead of plastic free, that every bit counts. Once they get that mindset, they too will be on the same journey.

  7. Great article, Lindsay! This discussion reminds me of the things people sometimes say when you tell them you are vegetarian (but what about the milk?) or vegan (but what about your leather shoes?).

    • Yes I have experienced the same situation many times as a vegetarian. ‘Plants are alive – how come you eat plants? You are killing them!’ And the label ‘vegetarian’ is also not uniformly used, so a lot of people will still ask you if you eat seafood, even though seafood is not vegetarian. I think people take things literally because it’s easier to question someone who is challenging what everyone does than it is to question what everyone (including oneself) does.

  8. If you are trying to win others over to your way of thinking, I think you ruin your credibility if you call yourself plastic-free. If it’s a new idea, their minds quickly go to, well that’s impossible, and they have an excuse to dismiss the whole idea out of hand. I truly think those of us who embrace this way of life need a more honest, truly descriptive label. I haven’t come up with one yet though that isn’t too much of a mouthful! I keep hoping someone will.
    I love your blog, Lindsey. You have influenced so many people to reduce plastic and the planet (and I) thank you.

    • I’ve been an anti waste person for several decades, and have been following the anti-plastic/waste movement for a few months now. In my mind it has always been “land-fill free” rather than “plastic free”, ie I have no problem using plastic, best if second hand and not anything that will go into landfill after a few uses. We all live in the “real world” so cannot avoid plastic but we are not really trying to, just send less to land fill and use only what we need.

      The second step is removing plastic from your life, as much as possible.

      • Hi Norah, loved your thoughts! Yes, you are right about not trying to avoid all plastic, just the unnecessary stuff, the single-use stuff, the stuff with practical alternatives. We don’t want to go back to ivory or whalebone in an attempt to be plastic-free, there are definitely some good uses (medical emergencies for one!). It’s about recognizing the waste and the other issues that come with abusing this material.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Cynthia. I think transparency is so important, especially as labels can seem so absolute. With a blog it’s very easy to dive deeper into the background and stories behind it all. With a headline or hashtag, not so much. If you come up with a better label do let me know!!! ;)

  9. Hi Lindsay,

    This is the article I have been waiting for! I have only really thought about my environmental impact in the past year, and, as you say, it has been a journey. I am constantly learning new ways of doing things to reduce my waste, and I honestly believe obsessing about the way you live to the extent that it stresses you, is unhealthy and completely unconstructive! Although I am always striving to do more, just identifying there is a problem and making some changes is a massive step! What you are doing is incredible (and I’m so jealous of your garden)! Thank you for reassuring me!


    • Aw thank you Becky! Yes, there is absolutely no point in stressing ourselves out, denying ourselves things we need, making ourselves truly uncomfortable. We really need to give ourselves time. Sometimes there’s a lot of time between the big leaps, and that’s just how life is. I think having to work towards something makes it much more rewarding (and likely to stick) :)

  10. Hello Lindsay, I’m from Portugal. Since last year I started to pay more attention to this subjects and to what they mean to me. I started researching, reading a lot of articles, seeing a lot of documentaries, follow a lot a bloggers and people who shares their opinions and tips, about reducing waste, food, sustainability and so on (this is where I found you). On January first this year I became vegetarian, and today I also have a water filter in order to use less plastic bottles and recently both organic sanitary towels. I decided to comment this post, because I totally agree with your arguments and couldn’t share more of your feelings. “But plastic-free living is not about perfection. It’s about making better choices.” this sentence is just perfect to me, because I think it can be use for almost everything, giving my example of the vegetarianism journey, I always say, I don’t know about tomorrow but today, I’m certainly going to chose green food, and guess what!11 months have passed and I’m here totally happy with my diary options and always finding better options. This is a wonderful journey and I’m excited to find new paths, it may be sometimes slower, but I prefer small but solid steps then a totally change that I can not support after a while. I have a lovely family who goes many times in those adventures with me. I think that if we are able to show the good things of this lifestyle to our beloved ones, they proactively will join it and it is already a progress. Keep your good work spreading the word.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story Carina and taking the time to comment :) I love what you said “I don’t know about tomorrow, but today…” That’s been so true for me. What I did five years ago when I began, there’s lots of choices I wouldn’t make now, but I needed to make those choices to get here. And it’s wonderful to look back and see all the progress we have made (and conveniently forget some of the pain and twists and turns it may have taken to get there)!

  11. Great article. I like to say something like, “I am mostly plastic free” or “I am trying to be mainly plastic free.” I worked in compliance for years, I don’t like absolutes. I think absolutes default in my mind to lies, intentional or not, my mind defaults to low trust when absolutes are used. Having some type of qualifier, for me, allows my auto pilot to automatically have more trust. In my mind, it auto-files to something realistic and achievable rather than an impossible level of extreme perfection that I am not likely to be able to obtain. The lines around what habits I want to change, what I am ok to accept as plastic, my knowledge and use of easy alternatives…. everything keeps changing, it’s fascinating and fantastic. I love things where I am always learning, always challenged, always changing. That may be why trying to be mainly plastic free has been able to slowly and steadily suck me in and expand, which I am quite happy about.

    • Loved your thoughts Mel! I definitely feel that as soon as we say “plastic-free” or “zero waste” to people who aren’t familiar with the movements, then those people default to suspiciousness and trying to catch us out. Not necessarily in a mean way, just in a default kinda way, as you say. Transparency is always best :)

  12. Yes, it is a journey. My glasses have plastic frames, I can’t go without those, but I can refuse a plastic straw (and tell them why). I have plastic bottles of shampoo etc to use up and am not going to throw them away to be plastic free, because that is wasteful, but when they run out it is solid shampoo from then on.The containers will be used to store other things. And the good news a zero waste shop is opening in my city next year. Yay. Currently saving every glass jar for then. Until then #refuse #reduce #reuse and then #recycle. Thank you for your inspiration.

  13. I also try and avoid the all-or-nothing negative souls. I know my plastic usage still is higher than I want it to be, but I like the challenge of trying to do ‘something’ – even if ‘everything’ is as yet beyond me. I’ve met a great likeminded community and found non-plastic choices often have other benefits.

    Switching to a bamboo toothbrush with homemade toothpaste & mouthwash has completely cured my bleeding gums problem. I love making my own chickpea tofu and baking my own bread – tastier and healthier. I’m slimmer as I found I can refuse sweets far more easily because they’re in plastic than I could for being expensive and unhealthy to eat!

    Quick question though Lindsey – how do you stop your toothpaste separating? Does yours need stirring up for every use?

    • You are so right Stephanie, my experience has also been that this is a great, supportive, welcoming community. It s so nice to connect with others who are and know we are not alone :)

      I think in my early years I was slimmer…and then I found bulk chocolate!!! :/

      I use glycerine in my toothpaste, it does separate a little but I just stir it up with the handle of a teaspoon. I’ve wondered about adding a small amount of shea butter to the mix to keep the consistency. One of my many things on the “should try that sometime” list!

  14. yes yes yes, its the same with zero waste.
    Its a journey and its about refusing what you can. And using everything thats been made already. I had those comments too when I use my silicone container or when I reused single use cutlery that sneaked into my life : “but its plastic!” And yes, I will use it until it breaks!!

    Important to share this, thank you!!

    (But I´m absoloutely refusing to buy second hand plastic clothing. because old fabrics shed even more micro fibers while washing and since my inner driver is to take care of our oceans I just wont buy plastic clothing anymore ;)

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jule. I love your thoughts about second-hand clothing. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I still don’t think there’s a perfect solution. I try to find natural fibre clothes second-hand.For example the shirt I’m currently wearing is modal, which is cellulose based and considered biodegradable. But I make exceptions with blends if I can’t find an alternative. I wouldn’t buy fleece (that’s one of the worst for microfibres) and I’m working towards 100% biodegradable fibres, but sometimes I compromise. And sometimes I don’t read the labels properly until I get home – plastic can be very deceptive!

      • I have been stressing about this very issue. We have fleece baby blankets, onesies, and hoodies. Is it better to throw them away so they aren’t being washed again and again? To donate them so someone who would have otherwise bought them new can have them? Should we stop using as much as we can immediately? Or keep it until it wears out? Do you find yourself getting stuck on one issue like this occasionally?

  15. Lindsay, that was SOME write up . Loved loved loved readign it and for someone like me who is just starting out on this journey, it felt really good reading about your thought process.
    “I would never throw out plastic items jsut to get something new that is aesthic looking and non plastic. Certain items serve a purpose and can be reuse for eternity, So I definitely will be hanging on to them. ”


  16. This is an issue I have gone over many times in my mind and I recently blogged about why I feel Zero-Waste needs a rebrand. You say calling yourself “Plastic-free” is a great starting point for a conversation and on a face to face level that is true but what worries me is when you are not there to back up our cause. Like the couch potato who decides to get fit so tries to run 5 miles on day 1, fails and gives up. With no-one there to help them they head back to the couch, disillusioned and unlikely to take up running (or going plastic-free) again. People see plastic-free as too extreme (they are never going to just fill that Mason Jar) so they end up doing nothing at all instead of those all important first plastic busting steps.

    I wholeheartedly agree that plastic-free is a journey that we all should be taking. As for what we call it to best get others to join us, that is harder than starting to give up plastic in the first place! Maybe we all live a Plastic Skinny Life or are we Plastic Light or Plastic Quitters? Hmmmm – I’m not convinced.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rosie! It’s always hard to articulate anything with a word or couple of words. To get to the essence of any lifestyle requires paragraphs! ;) I actually think “zero waste” has done a lot to attract people who would not have been interested in “living green” or “eco warrior”. A lot of these different movements have the same values at their heart, but are expressed in different ways and so attract different people. Ah, it would be so interesting to study this! How people use labels for identify, and what attracts people to different labels (or repels them). So interesting!

  17. Finally somebody said it! I hate (seriously hate, not just ‘don’t like’) all these articles starting “I tried zero plastic for x time and it didn’t work” and than state how it would have been impossible to write the article during that week as thw author had to empty his/her flat of ALL plastic and had no laptop to write and was not allowed to use the library etc. Well thanks for encouraging everybody out there how might have considered going zero plastic…

    I know that the terminology confuses peopl, after all my own dad asked me jokingly how I could own a laptop while claiming to go zero plastic. I told him, he kinda understood, I don’t think he will ever try to accomplish the same as I do, but it is okay, as long as he lets tries to understand my ways.

    Tl;dr: Thank you, Lindsay! Someone had to say it, thankfully it was you, as you seem to be one of those “still down on earth”-bloggers, and I appreciate this article (as the whole bolg) a lot!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Marisa! I did think in the article I read that it was strange that the author decides to “go plastic-free” but states she “did not do any research about plastic-free living before she began”. Now I’m all for people diving in and taking action. I don’t think you need to read a million blog articles to get started. But having an idea of what the community considers “plastic-free” is helpful. The article implies that people who say they live plastic-free are making it up. I think any plastic-free advocate would happily share which plastic they use, what they can’t get around etc. Ultimately, we are all trying to do the right thing, the best we can. I do think these articles are a bit of a disservice.

      Ah, thank you for your kind words regarding my blog! :)

  18. I think the use of a simple verb solves all of this dilemma and debate. “I am ‘seeking’ to live plastic free”, or perhaps “I am ‘trying’ to live plastic free”. That way you are not making an absolute statement, but a generalisation.

  19. My partner and I have been using the same ‘keep cups’ for 25 years. They are stainless steel. We take them on holidays and to the beach where we swim and have coffee every day. It’s just a habit we’ve got into.

    I have personally made hundreds of Boomerang Bags and am part of a group that has made thousands. These bags are all made from second hand fabric or fabric that might otherwise go to landfill. See boomerangbags.org

  20. I have arthritis in my thumbs and struggle with large glass jars and so on, but my local charity shop had a huge collection of hardly used plastic food storage containers donated last Plastic Free July. I have no worry about buying second hand plastic for re-use. I just hope the donater didn’t go out and buy new containers to replace all the plastic ones…that is not sustainable living!

    • Bronwen, so glad you found some containers that worked for you in the charity shop. Love it when we can find what we need second hand. Oh, and let’s assume that the person who donated those plastic containers got all their glass jars second-hand too ;) (At least they gave the plastic away for reuse and not recycling/landfill!)

  21. I am finding it difficult especially with the rubbish. Wrapping it in paper has not really worked for us. We are on a farm and take our rubbish to a land fill area and it ends up everywhere around the area if not enclosed. I am trying to cut down on plastic and that is what I tell people. I have cardboard boxes and paper bags that I re-use for my shopping as well as green bags. When I was growing up there was a big campaign to stop using paper and cutting down trees but maybe we would have been better off since there is now tree plantation plans in place.

    • Oh no, sorry to hear about your struggle Kathleen :( Hopefully you can come up with a solution that works for you. Yes, the thing about paper is that it’s great for those times we forget plastic, but as a direct replacement it uses a huge amount of resources and uses more fuel to transport. Reduce and reuse, that’s the answer! :)

  22. Thanks Lindsey….very honest appraisal of your intentions regarding reducing plastic. Certainly encourages me to keep going on this journey I have only just begun! Honesty is the best way to encourage others & help their understanding…I just say thanks but no thanks I am trying to reduce plastic. Have not had any negative reactions yet!

  23. Thanks for sharing your journey with us in such an honest and open way.
    YES I agree – it is a journey, one which our family is taking too. It takes time to find plastic free alternatives – for me these alternatives need to tick a few boxes like sustainability, longevity, affordability, useability and availability. We have and will make some ‘mistakes’ along the way – patience, perseverance, adaptability and a positive attitude are essential.
    To stay positive I look back to remind myself of how far we have come in our journey – we have achieved great things in the last year. Your commitment is nothing short of amazing, I hope in 5 years that I can say we are still as committed too!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anne :) I agree, it takes time, and yes…we do make mistakes along the way. And another yes – looking back is much more rewarding than looking ahead to the work still left to do! So glad you’re making progress and enjoying the journey. And of course you’ll still be committed in 5 years – by then it will all be second nature! ;)

  24. HI, I have been using my own shopping bags for nearly 30 years long before it was fashionable and bought second hand ‘country road’ think bags from op shops or garage sales. They last for many years and I throw them in the washing machine every so often. I was in the supermarket recently (one of the large ones) and was talking about using these bag, I usually have a couple of green in store bags as well and she said my country bags were much slower for them to set up and to use.She also said they are timed on how quick they scan and pack peoples’ groceries and can be reprimanded if they are too slow. She said she prefers to use the in store green reuseable bags and we didn’t even talk about plastic bags how quick they are.
    Yesterday I was at the optometrists along with my spouse and we picked up our new prescription glasses and she got a bag out to put them in. I said no bag and she said but you have five pairs of glasses to carry and would need a bag. I said no and carried the glasses out of the store with no issue.
    Another issue people talk about is if the plastic shopping bags cease ‘what am I going to put my rubbish in’. Every year I would only take a handful of one use plastic bags when doing my grocery shopping but always have a supply of bags, usually ones I find on the side of the road as I am a keen walker and pick up rubbish and especially anything plastic and put it in my recyclable bin. Many of the plastic bags I pick up look like the birds have ripped apart looking for food, but there is always amble plastic bags lying around the suburban streets.
    I could go on about plastic and although I am not plastic free I am always aim to keep reducing my use of plastic.

    • Thanks for sharing all these stories Melinda – plastic-free choices definitely start conversations :) I’m sorry to hear the supermarket treats their staff like that. People are not robots. I used to work in food retail management many years ago and the company I worked for wouldn’t have dreamed of timing staff and repremanding the for not being quick enough. How long can it really take to put stuff in your bags versus green bags? (On an aside, the green bags are made of plastic, and a life cycle assessment study I saw said they needed to be used 105 times to equal a grey plastic bag. I prefer bags that are well made, can be washed and can be repaired :) )

      Sounds like you’re doing great things, keep up the great work! :)

  25. Hi! Been reading your blog for a few months now and I so appreciate your consistent, logical and patient approach to your lifestyle and how you share it. This post interest me because I love language and it’s specificity – and for that reason I often hate labels for how reductive and inaccurate they are. As someone who has practiced (by Western cultural standards!) a rather environmental and sustainable lifestyle since childhood, I am drawn to the “zero waste” and “plastic-free” movement. I read blogs and follow various people on social media who use these labels. I love learning more about what I can do and things to think on that I never considered. And yet, even months later, these particular labels raise my hackles and make me feel like a cat who’s fur has been rubbed the wrong way! They don’t feel welcoming to me. They don’t feel like the introduction to a journey. They feel like absolutes, and they feel untrue. I find it hard to blame people who hear these labels, assume they actually mean what they sound like (NO waste, NO plastic) and then get discouraged when they try to participate in this way. They have beeen set up to fail already. And then to call them negative? I don’t know … it’s like when you meet someone who says they are a vegetarian and then says that they eat fish and chicken. Now, I’m not the food and/or language police – but if I get inspired by someone calling themselves “vegetarian”, give up all beef, fish, chicken, pork etc and find it incredibly hard and discouraging and then the person later says “Oh silly, don’t be so negative, I never meant that I didn’t eat any animal flesh, obviously I eat some!” That would be so confusing. Not a perfect analogy but this comment is already so long-winded! Thank you for this post. Again, I appreciate how thoughtful and kind your blogs always are and I hope this doesn’t seem critical! I just wanted to share since I seem to have a different opinion on this “label issue” than most of your readers and I wanted to present a different view of the people we might consider to be “negative” when it comes to asking questions about what the labels actually mean.

    • Hi Mimi, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, which I loved – and no, it doesn’t seem critical! ;) I love labels and dislike labels for the reasons you describe – they are both helpful and extremely unhelpful! Every zero waster that I’ve come across has a waste jar or still produces some landfill, me included. It’s an ideal rather than a scientifically accurate label! Then there’s things like: ordering coffee in a cafe, knowing the milk comes in a carton or plastic bottle, likely not being recycled – but the coffee itself is waste free. Or flying and bringing your own food but there’s still the waste that comes with flying generally (especially if we look at carbon emissions!). Or buying something and returning the packaging and leaving it at the store – well that’s zero waste for the purchaser in terms of their own bin, but not overall! But I think the point is that the movement is about empowering people to do what they can, take some responsibility for their personal actions, make better choices. The label connects people with similar values. But it can alienate people who see it as “extreme” or worse, lying. I don’t know what the answer is, but because I know the label helps connect like-minded people, I like it and use it. But at the same time, of course it isn’t ideal. Arghh! ;)

  26. Oh dear, my first time commenting and now I’m doing it twice! Eep! I just noticed something else about my relationship to “labels” and what they mean/how I use them. I used a food analogy in my first post. My own diet is actually vegan but that is a label I generally choose not to use because it means something very specific. For example, I don’t eat meat or dairy or foods containing animal by products etc but I DO continue to use the leather shoes and handbags I’ve already bought or been gifted in the past and I’m not averse to buying leather secondhand. Same with wool which is basically my favorite fabric in the world for a variety of reasons. At this point in my life I can’t imagine that will ever change and so I will never actually be a “Vegan.” Sometimes though, it’s more expedient for me to say to some people – “I’m vegan” so I don’t get unwanted foods, items tested on animals – rather than having to explain the nuances of what I do and why. I don’t know if that makes sense but what I’m saying is that sometimes using a label that it isn’t perfect produces the desired result :) Thank you again for allowing me to post these long responses to your questions and thank you for writing this blog! (In the world of zero-waste, you are my favorite advocate.)

    • Hi Mimi (again) – please comment away! I love hearing all the different thoughts and viewpoints out there, and we have some great conversations in these comment threads! I totally get you with the “vegan” label. I think my whole life I’ve been the person who uses a label and has an exception. I was a vegetarian that ate fish, then I was plant-based but ate eggs, now I don’t buy eggs or dairy at home but still have them if eating out sometimes (mostly if they come with something). And I eat honey and like wool and silk, so I don’t even go down the “vegan” road – although like you, if I go to a restaurant I find it easier to say vegan. I’m plastic-free but will use second-hand plastic. I’m zero waste but cannot resist the odd chocolate bar packaged in foil and paper (which I recycle). But all of these things are a mouthful, and there is no need to explain all the nuances to everyone all the time. Refuse a serviette and a straw in a restaurant, and say “I’m zero waste”. Do they need to know I eat pre-packaged chocolate bars?! Or look at the desert menu and say “I’m vegan”. There’s no need to go into the ethical debate about true vegans versus the more plant-based people like me, and whether honey is an animal product and the fact that I might have eggs when I eat out every few months. Labels aren’t perfect, but they are a starting point and a way for like-minded people to connect. And whether we like them or not, I suspect we all use them in some way or another ;)

      So glad you like my blog, and thank you for the lovely comment. Favourite commenter! ;)

  27. Wonderful insight. I like the realist in you that just wants to be more responsible and thoughtful in day to day living. You always inspire me.

  28. I agree totally with your article and most of the comments. Anything I can make or buy secondhand is my lifestyle except I do love knitting and pure wool is very expensive and not that easy to find in colours I like but whilst reading your article I had a light bulb moment – when I finish using the yarn ( which contains plastic) that I already have I shall do what my mum used to do – get an old jumper and pull out the stitches wash the wool wind it into a ball and reuse it !!

    I feel quite inspired. Next years woolly socks are going to be eco friendly as well as warm ☺️

    • That’s great Angela! I’m not a knitter, but I’ve read posts by people who find second-hand woolen jumpers (maybe with holes or pulls in them) very cheap from the charity shop, unwind the wool and re-knit! I’ve seen some awesome things recreated. Almost awesome enough to make me take up knitting! Maybe one day ;)

      You have to promise to show me your woolly socks once you’ve made them! I can wait patiently! :)

  29. Instead of saying “I live plastic free” I say “I try to be as plastic free as possible”. I feel it’s less confrontational and people are more open to hearing why. Making a hard and fast statement tends to put people on the defensive and makes them more likely to scoff at my ‘hippy ways’ I have found.

    • Great point :) I think it depends on whether you’re having a conversation face-to-face or whether you’re writing a headline or using a hashtag. At least with conversations it is easy to explain things. Headlines can be black and white – or even deliberately misleading to entice the reader in! It probably also depends on who you’re talking to and where they are in the journey. My old boss didn’t recycle at all. The idea of zero waste would have blown her mind. I just told her I was into recycling, as I tried to make the office recycle. That was almost a step too far! ;)

  30. Excellent article, with super illustrations of how a route to a ‘different’ way of living dovetails with modern realities.

    I often use the following example to illustrate my stance on plastics:

    I am glad I don’t have to carry round a leather case with a metal and glass syringe and glass ampoules and rely on myself or a stranger to fill the syringe in a panicked state and inject me with epinephrine if food sends me into anaphylactic shock. In this context a plastic item (a preloaded, safely packaged injection tool) is a God send and makes complete sense. I can’t say the same for a single use coffee cup, plastic bag or one-off plastic seasonal decorations…

    Oh, and the UK has gone down the plastic money route and it is vile. But then I would quite happily go back to proper paper bills and pounds, shillings and pence… ;)

    • Thank you Meg. Yes I always say, medical emergencies definitely do not count! There’s a time and a place for plastic. Takeaway packaging is not it!

      Yes I saw that re the plastic money. That’s what we have in Australia. Of course it lasts better when put in the washing machine, but I’ve seen plastic notes ripped, and notes bent so that they don’t fit through the bank roller machines and can’t be used. Shame they’ve gone down that path.

  31. Love this post! Personally I am aiming for zero waste, but its always a compromise and a journey. At least living with this intention is better than being oblivious to the problem. Thanks for all your awesome posts!

  32. We are going very well on our journey to reduce our footprint.

    Our regular exceptions are:
    – medication and a few personal care items like toothpaste, toothfloss, sunscreen;
    – we buy instant coffee in those big jars with the plastic seal (and then use the jars them to store our dry goods);
    – my partner still buys milk in plastic bottles (I gave up buying my substitute milks thanks to Lindsay’s guide to making nut milks);
    – And I don’t always remember to say “no straw, I’m trying to save plastic” when I order a drink, but I’m getting better at it.

    The ideal would be to remove the bin from the kitchen, like I’ve removed the bin from my office.

    I have no problem buying a second-hand plastic item if it’s something I need and I can keep it out of landfill that way rather than contributing to consumption by buying something new. I don’t like synthetic fabrics, especially because I live in the tropics and these fabrics don’t breathe – I love natural fabrics like bamboo.

    Like Jocelyn, I also love making Boomerang Bags – it feels a lot better than buying new fabrics for my quilt-making habit. I don’t need any Boomerang Bags myself though, because I’m still using the reusable bag I was given for Christmas in 2009, and another my mum gave me a few years ago, and a canvas Go Vita bag. My favourite shoulder bag is a sturdy fabric Penguin bag I was given as an intern there in 2005. They have all stood the test of time!

    • Thanks for sharing Julia – so good to hear your progress! Glad I got you onto the nut milks ;) I wish more people realised they were so simple and so much tastier – we’d cut out so much packaging.

      Oh the straw thing! Even when you remember, the staff forget. My father-in-law only drinks soft drinks (he’s tee total) and he is very well trained in asking for no straw. And he reckons he still gets them half the time. But that’s still half, better than all – and I think as more and more people start saying this, people will begin to remember. And bars and cafes will begin to ban them. We will get there!

      Boomerang Bags is just the best idea, I totally love it :) Great job joining in and being part of a bigger solution :)

  33. Thank you for writing this! I recently started my zero-waste journey and this was very encouraging to read. I know I have a long way to go but it’s nice to know that other people are on the same journey as well.

  34. I recently discovered your blog and I love it – a lot of your thinking about platics and minimalism really resonate with me.

    One resource I can’t seem to find easily online and feel I desperately need to feel informed about plasttic-free is an article that brings together the latest science on plastic toxicity.

    I use plastic a lot (lunch boxes, tupperwares, salad bowls…), I take good care of my plastic kit and have had them for years – so from a waste perspective, there’s no urgency for me to get rid of them. I’ll just know if/when I need to replace that the “recyclability” of plastic is much worse that I used to think.

    But having read Zero Waste Home, it seems another issue is that plastic leaks toxins into food – now that would nudge me to replace my plastic kit, but I was disappointed that Bea Johnson doesn’t seem to quote a single scientific article to back this up in her book. If you ever have time to look into this, I’d love to be able to find out what the latest research says: Is plastic really toxic? Are there types of plastic that aren’t (e.g. BHPA-free)? Is stainless steel definitely better (how about nickel and chromium)? Is the science on this credible, or is there still disagreement on this?

    • Hi Raph, thank you so much for your comment. I’ve written a couple of articles about plastic toxicity – specifically BPA and phthalates (if you click the blog archive tab you’ll be able to scroll down and find them). The truth is there’s a lot of unknowns around it all – whilst BPA and phthalates are well documented, many more aren’t. Even compostable plastics have additives and colours added (PLA is naturally a yellow colour and people want their takeaway containers colourless). I repurposed my plastic for dry goods (so storing oats and rice in) first and stopped using them for cooked food, tomato sauce or anything acidic. Then I repurposed to non-food items (storing jar lids, washing powder) and eventually they broke, I gave some away and only have a few now. I got lots of glass jars second-hand to replace the plastic. I still have Pyrex with plastic lids, but it doesn’t touch the food.

      I haven’t heard anything about stainless steel being bad, but I would say get the best you can afford. Cheaper stainless steel will rust and won’t last. Good quality stainless steel, looked after, will last forever (well, pretty much).

      Toxicity is something I should probably revist on the blog as these things often change and new research gets published, so stay tuned, but in the meantime you might find the other posts useful :)

  35. Great blog post! I always say I’m on a ‘zero waste journey’ or am working towards using less plastic in my life. It’s something that can be difficult to explain to people who have never even considered reducing their plastic intake/output. I still have a couple of small things I buy in plastic packaging, as I haven’t been able to find an alternative. But I’m grateful everyday that I live in a city where there is a farm selling milk in reusable glass bottles to local shops, and where we have various bulk shops and butchers/some supermarket delis willing to let you use your own containers. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily have those options where they live.

    I still haven’t progressed to buying more natural fibre clothing, probably because I’m what is considered plus size and it’s difficult enough to find clothing suitable to wear to work as it is (I’m size 18)! Even second hand clothing buying is difficult for me. But perhaps in the future…who knows? It’s all a journey and I learn new things every day. I hope I can teach others what I’ve learned also.

  36. wow you’ve given me lots to think about – my eyebrows rose for the first time when you mentioned shampoo bottles as single-use. why had that never occurred to me? so what do you do about that? do you make your own shampoo? or do you have a source for refillable shampoo?

  37. Thank you! I am also trying to eliminate as much plastic from my life as possible. I left a group because they were so judgmental. Everyone has their own path to a plastic(less) life.

  38. Angelika- shampoo bottles were an aha moment for me too. We now use ethique solid shampoo bars (packed in cardboard)+ there are lots of other brands. Our organic shop stocks about half a dozen brands but I’d never noticed them until plastic free journey started

  39. But it’s tough, even though I’ve got quite a bit of plastic in stock yet – I try not to use it, but I have to. I wish I was a better cook and not germaphobic – that would make things easier. But it’s got to be done – there are plastic bags everywhere. I was out for a walk some time back when I noticed that a small animal – I don’t know what – struggling inside an empty plastic bag. I gingerly poked at it with my shoe, the bag turned a bit, the animal found an entrance, and hurried away. That memory keeps me stuck to my goal.

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