Four and a half years ago, I decided I wanted our family to make some changes so that we'd be living more harmoniously with nature and utilising the knowledge we'd gained in our permaculture learnings. One of the ways we were going to do this, I'd worked out, was to reduce our family's waste. I made a list of how to approach it, and the slow, incremental changes we might need, to get there. We'd already mastered composting, and had a dry bin, so food waste was pretty much taken care of. Our focus for the next part of this journey would be on reducing packaging waste and specifically plastics. It didn't seem too overwhelming, but we didn't know quite where to begin, and the list was long and would take some time and persistence to make sure we got to the end of it. Then life got busy and I forgot all about the list.
Later that same year, I'd gained some knowledge about how damaging plastics are in our environment, and the realities of downcycling and recycling. I wanted to do more. And surprisingly, an opportunity to challenge ourselves to commit to living more sustainably, arose. Focusing not just on waste, but on water, energy and other habits, we had two weeks to challenge ourselves to live more sustainably. I knew we needed to aim to live waste and recycling free. We made a family pact, knowing it was only for two weeks and we could change back to our old ways if we wanted, at the end of the challenge. We put away anything in the pantry that was plastic and prepared to pretend that for two weeks that it didn't exist. And we made the leap. It was exciting. Something we could problem solve as we went along. It felt a bit like a game, and because we'd committed to it, any decisions we faced had a clear cut answer, for us and the kids.
After the second week, we realised how easy the shift had been for us, so we decided to keep going for as long as we could. By the third week, new habits were well formed and everything became quicker and easier within our new normal. Then we started seeing all the plastic everywhere and were horrified that we hadn't really seen it before. It's been nearly four years now, and we haven't looked back. The slow nature to detangling ourselves from the evidence of our pre waste-free life is where baby steps were used, but that happened naturally as things broke or were used up and became legacy waste, and we learned not to choose them again.
We often consider the approach we took in shifting to waste-free living, and for us, the only way it was achievable for us was a time-based commitment. The long drawn-out baby-steps approach, using arbitrary time limits, would have led to fatigue and confusion about what was acceptable and what wasn't. It would be difficult for a child to understand why we might buy rice crackers in plastic, for example, but choose not to buy chips. Instead, we looked for alternatives together, and had fun doing it. We've found that when making a change as a group or family, a strong and simple commitment is best. And setting a time limit makes it not too daunting.
In one week, Plastic Free July will begin. It's a fantastic opportunity to commit to making change as an individual, family, or workplace, with an achievable timeframe. Although we reckon the simplest and most powerful place to start reducing waste is with food, to really take it to the next level, you'll want to look at packaging and plastics. For many excellent Zero Waste advocates we know, their successful commitment began with Plastic Free July, so it's a proven path towards waste-free living, and one we'd been aware of before our challenge. We might have saved tonnes more waste by committing sooner! By committing to living plastic-free for a day, a week or a month, you'll be examining how your food and household products reach you, and how you use single-use products when you're out and about. You'll be creating new habits and learning what resources are around you. You may be surprised where it leads you!
Plastic Free July have a fabulous new website full of helpful information, so hopefully you're now convinced and can pop over there to sign up and read more. But you might like to use this week to have a chat with the people in your household, make a pact, look at the plastic in your home and think up some solutions for avoiding it. Then leap in and have fun!
If you need more ideas and inspiration for July, there's always our book! It's bursting with them! We're also planning to offer a few workshops for Hobart locals, like this Waste-free Masterclass at the South Hobart Tip Shop and blogging and chatting about waste-free living online. Also, stay tuned for an extra special and exciting thing we've collaborated on, in the next week. We're looking forward to sharing it with you!
~ Lauren. x