Overwhelmed by plastic? Here are 4 steps to empower yourself.

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Perhaps you feel discouraged by the omnipresence of plastic. It is just everywhere and no-one seems to care about its environmental, economic, and health impacts. Trust me, I know how you feel.

We recently moved from tiny The Hague to buzzling, enormous Beijing. The amount of plastic in Beijing is overwhelming. At first it felt like being thrown back to zero. It was discouraging and for a few days I simply gave up my plastic-free habits.

Organic vegetables at Walmart. All packed in plastic. Most non-organic fruits and vegetables are wrapped in plastic too.
Even the plastic-free produce is forced into a plastic bag by theshop attendants who weigh and price the products.      
Although selling beautiful and delicious products, the BeijingOrganic Farmers wasn’t particularly plastic-free either. We broughthome a lot of plastic.
Plastic litter along the Liangshui River in Beijing. We spotted thisduring the weekly Happy Water Journey, an activity organized by a local NGO to create awareness about water pollution.


However, after a few weeks of reinventing the wheel, we are now slowly but steadily navigating our way through the piles of plastic and find more and more plastic alternatives.



Continue reading if you feel overwhelmed like we did, yet want to take small steps towards less plastic. This is how I overcome my feelings of hopelessness and got back to reducing my plastic footprint.



Explore

Yes, there is a lot of plastic out there. But there are plastic-free alternatives. Besides my own imagination, I often use the internet to find out if anyone who encountered similar problems has found a solution. In this regard, the plastic-free guide and blog by Beth Terry is tremendously resourceful. I also tweet and blog about the challenges I come across. Once I started doing this, I realized there are many like-minded people out there who are willing to share their solutions or help brainstorming for solutions. In effect this means killing two birds with one stone because not only do I find a solution, it is also motivating to find that I am not alone in my attempts to reducing my plastic footprint.



Experiment

Once you come up with a possible solution for one of your plastic challenges, experiment! A challenge that presented itself when settling in Beijing, was laundry detergent. In The Hague we used washing powder that is packed in cardboard. But in the Beijing supermarkets all laundry detergents come in plastic bags or plastic containers. I was convinced there must be a way around this, so I started searching online for alternatives. I soon started to wonder whether I could not just use baking soda instead of laundry detergent. In the end I found a Youtube video that showed how to wash your clothes with just baking soda. I tried it, and it worked! My laundry came out clean and especially my socks felt surprisingly soft.



Enjoy

Plastic-free living should not be a painful journey in which you force yourself to give up everything you love. Instead it should be a joyful pilgrimage that inspires and motivates to go on. This is why I decided to take a few steps backward when we first arrived in China and accept the fact that we would not be able to find plastic-free alternatives right away. As soon as I let go of feelings of guilt and frustration, I created space and energy for exploring and experimenting so that I could find plastic-free alternatives. At the same time, I realized that we will not regain our plastic minimalism lifestyle overnight. Instead I will have to focus on one problem and solution at the time. This week I will try find plastic-free vegetables.



Engage others

A great way to stay motivated and interested in reducing your plastic footprint is to engage others in your efforts. By that I don’t mean that you should preach to the people around you about their plastic consumption. Rather, I find that a good way to create awareness is to stubbornly stick to your newly adapted habits, even if this at first feels weird. For example, when I first went grocery shopping using my cotton produce bags (back in the Netherlands), I felt like I was a weirdo. However, it turns out everyone loves the idea of bringing your own produce bags. People always ask where I got them. I never need to explain why I use them. I guess it is one of those things that totally makes sense, but no one has ever thought about. Passively introducing plastic-free alternatives is a great way of inspiring others.


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About Author

Annemieke

In 2013, after reading yet another article about plastic soup, Annemieke started her Dutch blog Plasticminimalism where she documented her small steps towards a plastic-free life. To create more awareness about the adverse impacts of our plastic consumption, she launched Plastic-Free Tuesday in spring 2014. She strongly believes that building a better world starts by changing our own behavior. Annemieke is an environmental scientist and sinologist. She alternates living in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, and China while working towards her PhD dissertation about public health incidents and law in China.

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