Why I converted to a Life With Less Plastic (and How I Make My Habits Stick)

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I live an (almost) plastic-free life. No disposable plastic packaging. No plastic bags, no straws, no disposable coffee cups. No single-use anything, in fact. But it wasn’t always like this. I always thought I did my bit for the environment. I recycled. I took my own bags to the supermarket…except when I needed a plastic bag to line my rubbish bin. I muttered about how ridiculous all the excess packaging was at the supermarket…as I piled those very same overpackaged things into my trolley. I wondered why somebody didn’t do something about it.

When I heard about the Plastic Free July challenge in 2012 -giving up plastic for the month of July- I thought it was going to be easy. I really had no idea about how much plastic I was actually using. Then I saw the movie Bag It! It blew my mind.

It was literally a light bulb moment. Something just clicked. Suddenly, I could see plastic everywhere. It was as if I’d never really had my eyes open before, and now I saw this huge, plastic-shaped monster coming at me from all angles of my life.

From that moment, I knew plastic wasn’t something I could just give up for a month. This was a change I had to make permanently. I was in it for the long haul. I had to be that somebody.

Slowly I’ve changed my habits, built up new routines and found a way to make plastic-free living work for me. In the beginning, it was hard. Over time, as I’ve found more solutions and alternatives, and the habit has strengthened, it’s become a lot easier.

Step-by-Step

My first realisation was that if I wanted to live a plastic-free life, I would need to find an alternative to supermarket shopping. It wasn’t that I couldn’t buy anything from the supermarket, but choices were limited. So I looked around for alternatives. There was a local bakery, a fruit and veg store, a gourmet food store that sold vast quantities of pick-and-mix but also lots of nuts, seeds, spices and teas and a Spanish deli that sold bulk olive oil and paella rice all in my suburb. Going further afield I found more bulk bin stores and a dairy with a returnable glass bottle scheme.

I looked beyond the conventional shops. I found veg box delivery schemes, farmers markets and community gardens. I found that lots of health food shops sell bulk cleaning products.

Step-by-step I changed my routine. Sure, I can’t do my entire weekly shop in a single place, but I don’t spend all weekend going to various shops either. Also, when the atmosphere is pleasant it doesn’t seem so much like a chore! I get my vegetables delivered to my door. One weekend, I’ll shop in one area, the next I’ll try somewhere else with different products. Some weekends I don’t need to buy anything! I’ve adopted green cleaning methods such as using bicarb, vinegar and lemons. I switched from dozens of plastic-packaged beauty products to a couple of staples: bar soap and almond oil.

The things that I struggled to find or found much more expensive in plastic-free packaging, I learned to make myself. I learned to make bread, yoghurt, and labne (a soft cheese made from yoghurt). I’m trying to perfect a recipe for coconut milk. I make my own deodorant and toothpaste. The things that were harder to find, I’ve learned to do without by choosing different recipes to make.

An interesting thing also happened. As I stopped buying plastic-packaged food and switched more to whole foods and fresh fruit and vegetables, I started to notice my health was improving. I had more energy. I also started to see those plastic-packaged products in the shops weren’t really food at all, but chemical concoctions filled with fillers, additives and preservatives. I had no desire to eat them any more – plastic-packaged or not!

There are a few items I’ve found essential to my plastic-free lifestyle. A stainless steel water bottle; a glass reusable coffee cup (which also doubles as an impromptu container); a reusable straw; a reusable cutlery set; and reusable washable produce bags. I’ve saved countless plastic bags ,straws, cups and cutlery by carrying these.

Tips for Making the Plastic-Free Habit Stick

  • Start small. You don’t need to make all of the changes at once.
  • Start with the easy things. Switch to a reusable takeaway coffee cup, or start carrying your own water bottle. That way you’ll feel the progress quickly and have more incentive to continue.
  • Get the support of family or friends – it’s always more fun to do something with someone else.
  • Remember why you’re doing it. Whether it’s because of plastic pollution, your health, the waste issues or something else, keep reminding yourself of the bigger picture.
  • Look for inspiration! There’s some great documentaries that I’ve found really motivating: Bag It!, The Clean Bin Project and Trashed are my favourites. There are plenty of bloggers talking about living plastic-free (including my own!). The PlasticFreeTuesday Instagram account is another great way to keep inspired!
  • Don’t forget that change takes time. Building new habits doesn’t just happen straightaway, no matter how inspired you’re feeling!
  • If you stumble or feel overwhelmed, don’t beat yourself up, and definitely don’t give up. Even if you stumble, you’re still moving forward.
  • Remember: “courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” (quote by Mary Anne Radmacher)

Guest Post by Lindsay Miles.
Lindsay writes about living plastic-free at www.treadingmyownpath.com. She’s also passionate about minimalism, simple living, zero waste and real food, and shares her experiences and thoughts on her blog. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – come on over and join the conversation!

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4 Comments

  1. Good advice for those setting out to rid their lives of plastic! I’m currently searching for a source of the vitamin and herb supplements I take in glass containers rather than plastic. Not having much success either. Any advice?

    • Annemieke

      Thank you for raising this question, Cynthia! We too have trouble finding plastic-free packaging. But my husband recently bought some supplements (zinc and vitamins) in glass jars with a metal lid. The brand is called Solgar. There might be plastic wrap around the lid though.

      Plastic-free pioneer Beth Terry also some more advice: “check out New Chapter Organics (http://www.newchapter.com). These vitamins come in dark glass, but they do have plastic caps. PhysioLogics (http://www.physiologics.com/) just switched to glass for environmental reasons, but you can only get them through your doctor. This site says that Olympian Labs vitamins are packaged in Amber glass (http://www.upscalevitamins.com/) with plastic caps. There are probably more. Try Googling: brand of vitamins amber glass bottle. Or take out the word amber.”

      Should you find an alternative, please let us know, so that we can share the information.

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