Plastic-Free Living - A Beginner's Guide
I am grateful I have a Plastic Free Living expert among the people I know. I think, we can all agree that we have to make an effort to reduce the enormous amount of waste, especially plastic, we're burdening this beautiful earth we're living on with. As with every change, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start though
That is why I invited Jule from The Happy Choices, an expert in sustainable, plastic free living that is traveling the world, to explain us what we can do and where we start as a beginner. So, here it goes:
Yes, I would say I am kind of an Anti Plastic Activist... If somebody would have told me that a year ago I would have laughed.
But that is how life goes right? Your experiences are shaping you.
Why did I choose the path of Plastic Free Living?
There have been two experiences that pushed me into plastic free living.
First in Asia, I can remember, when I arrived in Thailand for the first time about 10 years ago, I became angry when I saw locals throwing plastic bottles into the ocean. Ever since I remember, I always got mad when I witnessed people littering.
I always loved the ocean and a dirty surrounding always had a negative impact on me.
When I went to Thailand last year, I witnessed so much plastic trash in the rivers, I was shocked. The streets of Bangkok looked kind of clean most of the time, but the water streams? Full of plastic... I saw a Goanna swimming through plastic bags, which broke my heart.
That is, when we started the plastic free living lifestyle, we only bought the biggest water containers we could get (from 5-20L) to refill our bottles. We refused as much plastic bags as we could and always asked for a ceramic mug for our coffee.
Did you know that a plastic bottle with 1L of water, not only needs mineral oil but also 3L of water to produce it?
In Malaysia, on parts of the beach, where no hotel was located, or early in the morning before they cleaned up, the beaches where swamped with plastic bottles, straws and cups. That is what led me to start thinking about how to evolve the plastic free living. Instead of feeling devastated and angry, I started to make small beach clean ups. Picking up the bottles I saw, while jogging on the beach in the morning.
I know it can be a fight against windmills because most landfills on islands are so close to the ocean or wild water that it only takes a few days until the bottle is at the beach again. They don't recycle, all of the trash will end up in a landfill. Locals are so used to burn their trash because a few years ago, it has all been organic „packaging“, and now it is plastic, they don’t think or know that it is dangerous to burn plastic.
Then, in Bali, I got hit hard... This beautiful island is choking in plastic pollution.
We drove a scooter to a secret beach. It looked stunning from above. We needed to take a 20 minute hike downhill to get to the beach and when we arrived I felt like crying. The beach was covered with plastic trash. Since there were no hotels and resorts around, it must have come from somewhere else, washed ashore. It was heartbreaking.
During our drive back, we witnessed cows eating grass surrounded by plastic bags and bottles.
My second experience that drove me to plastic-free living was when we arrived in Europe. I couldn’t wait to see clean beaches. At first sight, they where clean. Looking closer, I found microplastic, styropor, plastic ice cream spoons, cigarette butts, and other small candy wrappers. That is when I realised, the plastic problem is everywhere, not just in Asia or Africa.
Why has plastic been invented?
Different types of plastic have been produced since the 16th century. At that time it was made from low-fat cheese or other natural products.
At some point in the early 1900's, after a lot of new plastic inventions, we created plastic known to us from petroleum and stayed that way. It is cheap to produce, very durable and variable in use.
Also, recycling sounds good in theory, however, it is just a slower way to landfill or burn at energy facilities. Plastic cannot get recycled unlimited times and mostly it is not getting recycled at all. Only 9% of the worldwide produced plastic is being recycled.
After all those experiences, the topic is stuck in my head, I see plastic everywhere, since the beginning of 2017, I am living as plastic free as possible.
I am reading and learning about plastic recycling and if the so-called compostable plastic is compostable. How they manage their waste in the countries I travel to, if they recycle at all and what they recycle.
I am refusing all the excessive plastic wrapped fresh produce, like fresh juice in plastic bags. Drinks with 2 straws and a plastic stir. Food to go in styropor containers, plus plastic bags, plus plastic cutlery and sauce in plastic bags. Coffee to go cups, in some coffeeshops, they don’t even serve coffee in real mugs anymore.
I have seen coconuts wrapped in plastic. Single pepper wrapped in plastic. Corn wrapped in plastic. Can you believe it? Fresh produce that got an organic packaging already, double wrapped in plastic...
But why should we refuse plastic? It is really convenient isn’t it?
How is plastic produced?
Plastic is made of mineral oil/petroleum. It needs to be digged out of our earth. That is the beginning of the disaster. Nature around those places gets destroyed. During oil transportation, accidents happen once in a while. Just a few months ago, in Greece, a mineral oil freighter sank and the whole coast got covered and poisoned with oil.
Mineral oil is not a renewable resource. Ocean micro organisms, algae, plankton and tiniest micro ocean creatures need 100.000 to a few million years to become the oil we know. If that is gone one day, we will never get it again.
Isn't it crazy, we use a nonrenewable resource to produce throw away single use products? Plastic actually needs up to 600 years or longer to break down into micro plastics, that means, it will NEVER disappear.
Around 8 million tons of plastic is getting into the oceans every year.
Scientists say, we might have more microfiber (e.g. from washing plastic clothing) than plankton in the oceans already and by 2050 there will be more plastic in weight than fish.
Nowadays, we know the negative impact plastic has on our life on earth. Scientists find microplastic/fiber in most water samples around the world (from the ocean, to Loch Ness)
How does plastic end up in our food chain?
- We know that mussels filter water and also microfiber, which is how plastic ends up in our food chain
- Scientists found plastic in sea salt samples from supermarkets
- Whales have been found, which had plastic bags in their stomachs, sea birds die with a full stomach because they cannot digest plastic, they mistake for food
- Sea creatures getting entangled in balloons from balloon releases. What goes up must come down...
- So called BPA is found in many plastic products. BPA makes a product last longer or used in the manufacturing process as a protective lining on the inside of some metal-based food and beverage cans. Its in flip flops, textiles, cosmetics, toys…
BPA is dangerous because it has a similar structure to our hormone estrogen. So our body will mistake it as it, which can bring our hormones out of balance. The documentary „Plastic Planet“ reported about a sort of fish from a BPA rich river. The males are changing gender. This phenomenon is called intersex and caused by estrogen excess disrupting chemicals.We can just guess how these hormones could affect humans in the future.
How can I start plastic-free living?
1. Avoid the Big 4:
- Plastic bags
- Plastic bottles
- Single use cups.
If you avoid those, you are good to go. Instead, use paper or reusable straws, and reusable cups.
2. Take-Away Food and Drinks:
- Get a reusable water bottle to refill
- Always have your own reusable cutlery with you
- Take a reusable coffee cup
- Bring a reusable container. Most places don’t mind and remember to refuse the plastic bag, the single use cutlery and any sauce in plastic cups
- Always have a reusable shopping bag with you
- Put the fresh produce in your trolley without plastic bags, or get some mesh produce bags (I made them myself out of an old scarf)
- Buy milk and yoghurt in glass jars if possible
- Buy cheese and meat in your own container. It is easier on markets and private delis than in supermarkets because of hygienic standards/laws. Or in supermarkets, ask if they can only wrap the cheese in paper, to avoid any additional plastic bags.
- In most shops where you can buy in bulk, they don’t mind if you bring your own bags.
- Check if you have a zero waste store in your city. You can get everything, from soap, pasta, grains, flour, sweets. I talk more in detail about it over on my blog
My mantra for my daily life, the 5 R's
In short, start with what will be easiest for you to change
We do have a lot of possibilities to refuse plastic, and I know all the stuff above seems to be so much. So how do you start?
Start wherever you feel most comfortable. And with whatever is possible where you live.
Make small steps. Every marathon runner started with 20 minute runs before he managed to run the 42 KM.
Take your time and maybe even collect all your trash for the next 14 days. Then go through it and see what kind of trash actually makes the biggest part.
Stroll around the supermarket and check what you can find unwrapped or in glass or carton.
Your first step might be to buy a soap bar or use your reusable coffee-to-go cup, to refuse the straw or to avoid plastic wrapped fresh produce. Whatever it is, just start. Every day, every decision is going get easier.
Find your WHY of plastic-free living
Find your personal reason, why do you want to live plastic free and more sustainable?
For me, nature, the ocean and animals have been the reason. I have seen sea gulls trying to eat plastic, puppies eating cigarette butts and the trashy beaches. That is, why I want to live a life without using plastic.
For other people it might be that they want a better future for their children or grandchildren, or maybe the own personal health. Whatever reason it is for you, find your inner drivers!
I hope you found some inspiration to start your plastic free living journey.
Have fun exploring new stores, trying out new recipes, and enjoy the plastic free lifestyle.
Remember: Make some daily happy choices
P.S.We would love to know, what your first step toward plastic free living will be? Let us know in the comments.
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