January 2020 was a weird month of my life. Not stuck-inside-self-isolating-because-some-guy-halfway-across-the-world-ate-a-bat-who-had-eaten-a-pangolin weird, but normal-circumstances weird. All Coronavirus jokes aside, I decided to go completely plastic free, partake in Veganuary and Sober January all in one go.
I was trying to encourage myself to think more about my lifestyle choices and make sure that it both benefited my health and that of the environments. I also managed to raise some funds for the WIRES Bushfire Relief Fund to help the animals suffering due to the bushfires that ravaged through Australia earlier this year. Wow, doesn’t that just feel like a lifetime ago now?
The donation page is actually still active if you would like to donate!
Veganuary was relatively easy, as I do usually try to be as plant based as possible although chocolate is my absolute weakness. Sober January turned out fine as well, as I decided to do this during the busiest month of the year at work and I will tell you one thing for free; overtime and hangovers do not mix well.
Now as you would probably know, vegan diets consist of a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and the big UK supermarkets are notorious for packaging everything in plastic. Fresh food is wrapped wherever possible which drove me insane from the moment I arrived into the UK, and especially now I wasn’t allowed any plastic. Want one zucchini/courgette? Sorry you can only have 3 of them packaged in plastic. Just need a tomato for your sandwich? Sorry, packs of 6 wrapped in plastic only.
This became extremely frustrating when I had my first day back to work after a small break for the new year. I hadn’t had time to prepare lunch the night before so I ventured into Tesco to see what I could find. Of course I knew that microwave meals would be out of the question, as would cups of noodles or any sort of pre-made meal. So I grabbed a roll from the bakery and headed to the fresh food section. I was annoyed and appalled to find nothing I could buy. No vegetables or fruits of any kind were without plastic. Tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumber, peppers, everything, covered in more plastic than a Kardashian. Thankfully as I turned the corner, there were bananas which were not wrapped and so my lunch consisted of a banana filled roll that day (and for a few other unprepared days that month, I won’t lie). I should add that bananas are also usually wrapped in plastic, which does not make any sense to me whatsoever. Is a bananas natural thick skin not packaging enough? You’re not protecting anyone by popping a plastic layer over the top, if anything, that plastic layer could be toxic. I have heard that plastic is supposed to prolong shelf life, but in my opinion it seems like they are packaged that way in a tactic to up-sell and encourage people to buy bulk. No matter the excuse, it’s just wrong!
The UK, miles behind other countries.
I had never seen such ridiculous waste in supermarkets back home. In Australia, they genuinely let you bag up fruit and veg yourself. In some supermarkets I remember even loose leaf spinach was found in big tubs and you could pick up as many handfuls as you wanted (or use the tongs provided for sanitary reasons of course… which I definitely always did). Of course they had plastic bags everywhere for people to put their produce in, but there were also paper bag options and you could also bring your own bag, or hell, no bag at all. Some of us are just reckless.
Throughout most of Europe, North America and even Asia and Latin America, I did not notice the issue as I do here and I really wonder why that is. Any enlightenment on this issue is very welcome.
How did I tackle this issue?
I’ll be honest, I ended up ordering pizza a lot when I didn’t have the time to make my own lunch or dinner. Whilst a cardboard box is still waste and any form of waste is bad, cardboard can decompose in a matter of months and is much kinder to the environment.
When I did have the time to shop properly, I found fresh food markets in my local area with no plastic wrapping for my fruits and vegetables. I learnt the hard way that organic food tends to go off a lot quicker than fruit and veg sold in supermarkets because they are not treated with chemicals and pesticides to increase longevity (which is a good thing). All of this just meant that I would need to cook within the following few days after my shop which worked fine as I was only cooking for one and I could easily food prep for the week.
I found a glorious zero waste store called BYO only a few minutes walk from my house. I never knew it was there until I did some research! The store stocked everything from pastas and rice to lentils and herbs and spices and the most delicious granola I have ever tasted! It even stocked household essentials such as shampoos and dishwashing liquid. You can take your own jars/containers/bags in or they have some clean jars or paper bags free for you to take and use as well. You pay for everything by weight and I was so impressed that I have been using it ever since (well until Coronavirus came along and the market it lives in had to close). I also bought my first bamboo toothbrush there and I am super impressed with it, never will I go back to plastic ones now.
So how did I go?
I wouldn’t say I was perfect, there were times I definitely wasn’t careful enough and slipped up but I kept every piece of plastic I used in the month and I ended up with only three pieces (plus a takeaway coffee lid that ended up in a Costa bin). I ordered a coffee and forgot to ask for no plastic lid so when the server was putting one on I asked if she could take it off and reuse it but she just threw it in the bin (fail). There was also the time when my mother and grandmother were in town and we went to the movies. It was early on in the month and I completely spaced and got lollies and popcorn…. double whoops. The last one was a lid from a porridge I bought for work when I forgot to have breakfast. Overall though, not a bad effort.
It has really made me think, especially now that we are in lockdown. Our house goes through bags and bags of rubbish which is mostly going to landfill and/or ending up in our oceans. This challenge really made me appreciate that we have so many other options to use less waste and this photo of ALL of my plastic waste for a month proves it.
There were definitely times when it was hard. I would often be lazy or lack motivation and I could have just thought ‘screw it’ and bought something easy that was covered in plastic and no one would ever know… but that wasn’t the point. I have a strong desire to help the planet and the mental challenges I faced didn’t faze me because seeing the earth suffer and deteriorate fazes me more. I would tell myself each time it got difficult that I was doing a good thing and not to be selfish and I think that really drove me. I believe one person can absolutely make a difference. I have had countless knock on affects from becoming vegan/vegetarian where my colleagues, friends and housemates have actually started to think about their meat consumption and have tried to eat less. That may influence others too in turn and so on. I was determined to lead by example. I saw similar results with reducing my plastic waste. The more I spoke about it to the people who asked “why?”, the more impact it had on them. If we all taught each other to think in these ways in order to help and give kindness to the planet and each other, the world would be a much brighter place.
On top of that, I was eating better and more consciously! I was having delicious cinnamon and nut oats most mornings, a lot of vegetable stir-fry’s and veggie burgers (I could buy vegetable patties to as you can buy 4 packs that only come in a cardboard box)! I would have to buy fresh bread which was not packaged but that is definitely not a bad thing! It was a lot of effort but I am now so much more conscious of everything I buy.
I would love to do another blog post to share the influencers and movements I follow who inspire me to be better for the environment. Let me know if you would be interested in reading it!
Try it yourself!
It is absolutely possible to limit your plastic waste and even eliminate it. No one is asking you to be perfect, but think of it this way: if you took 1 plastic bag a day from a store purchase over 10 years, that’s almost 4,000 plastic bags. In an average life time that’s almost 30,000 plastic bags that will be swimming in our oceans, killing or injuring marine animals, birds and many creatures it encounters on its way. If they are buried in landfill, it can take up to 20 years to decompose but when they decompose, the plastic just breaks into smaller pieces little by little and it actually contaminates the soil and waterways, ruining it for possible future use. The longterm effects are irreparable.
More solid plastic items take much longer to decompose. A plastic spoon, a plastic toothbrush, a plastic container. They will all take up to 1000 years to decompose. Bury one of them in your backyard and your great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren will be able to dig it up. Such an insane concept, and its scary that we don’t think about these implications enough.
So even if you say no to plastic bags and plastic items 50% of the time, that’s still saving 15,000 plastic bags from entering the oceans or from causing toxic soil. That could be saving thousands of animals and your future great grandchildren’s livelihoods.
I’ll end this article with one of my favourite quotes. I don’t actually know who said it but it pretty much sums up how much our attitude towards climate change needs to change and if we all think like this, the world could be a much cleaner and healthier place.
Please let me know if you have any questions and let me know if you have tried to go plastic free and how you went! I would love to hear some new methods or products 🙂