Individuals kicking the plastic habit: is it enough?

Let me just preface this by saying that I think Beth Terry is fantastic. In case you don’t know, Beth has a website (really, it’s more than just a blog) called My Plastic-Free Life that basically documents her journey of giving up plastic and encourages others to do the same. I’m relatively new to it, but she’s been around since 2007.

It’s great, don’t get me wrong. Plastic is evil; it never goes away and it’s probably not all that good for you (but what is?). I’ve been trying to reduce our plastic consumption too, and have made some big steps: swapping to cloth nappies/diapers and wipes, purchasing metal water bottles, and banning liquid soap from the house. We’ve also been cutting down on tissues and packaged cleaning products, and I’ll continue to cut down as I’m able. Suggestions welcome.


Firstly, the whinge. It’s hard. It’s time-consuming. And it’s expensive. Especially with kids. Many of Beth’s recommendations centre around going to the farmers’ markets with your own cloth bags (not just to carry shopping in, but to bag each type of fruit, vegetable and legume). And buying bread that’s not packaged. And asking every online retailer you ever shop with to please not wrap your products in plastic. I could go on.

Do I have to point out how much all of this is not going to happen? Yes, certainly we could plan better and always have green bags with us, but sometimes we don’t and need to pick something up on the way home. You know, so as to feed the kids and all. Farmers’ market? Butcher? Deli? The supermarket is one of my coping mechanisms as a working mother; often our shopping happens late at night when everything else is shut. And don’t even get me started on the suggestions of “just make [bread/crackers/jam/sauce/tofu] yourself”. In all my spare time, sure. I’ll also get my own cow and milk her.

Then there’s the plastic that kids just attract, like magnets. Not just food packaging, but toys. Toy packaging. Toys begged for. Toys given as gifts. And soon enough, there will be toys bought with own money. Not to mention other miscellaneous stuff, like potties and high chairs and car seats. These things are mentioned in a guest post on My Plastic-Free Life, actually; one commenter suggested taking presents away before the kids get them. That might work for our baby, but I’d like to see someone try that trick with our almost-five-year-old.

Still, gradually we can educate and improve and make better choices, especially as our finances improve with time. Sure.

But then, secondly. Really, what’s the point in making these reductions? There’s the feel-good factor, doing something positive for the environment. But in the scheme of the world’s population (not to mention industry) it’s insignificant. I don’t think our tip is appreciably smaller because of the disposable nappies that we didn’t dump in it.

To me, the only real point is to make a point. To show that it’s possible, and then to push for legislation. Because the mounds of plastic are not going to go away because I carried a few organic veges in a hemp bag. They’re going to lessen, maybe, when the companies making them are forced to do better. When bottled water is taxed at 1000% or more. And when we start pushing, as cliched as it may be, for a better future for our children.

Your life in landfill

The proverbial straw, for me, was the disposable toothbrush. Of course, most toothbrushes are disposable (except for these), but I’m talking about the single-use variety. Apparently these have been around for a while, but (because I spend so much time avoiding popular culture) they’ve only just caught my attention. Could there be anything more absurd? Can they possibly do a better job on-the-go as a stick of chewing gum?

Presumably, we’re just too busy to plan ahead for our one-night stands… or whatever other occasion you might want to brush your teeth when not in your own bathroom. Likewise, too busy to put a tablet of Berocca into a glass of water.

Isn’t it about time that there was some kind of regulation governing this type of ridiculous product? Clearly, people can’t be relied upon to make intelligent, sustainable choices about these things. Tissues, paper towels, single-use plastic containers, bottled water… all these things are not only going into landfill, but also cost energy to manufacture.

I’m well aware that as a parent using disposable nappies (aka diapers) it’s hypocritical to say this, but at least nappies are used for a finite period of life. And I am actually giving cloth nappies a go. I’m probably better placed to do this than most women, as my husband does all our laundry: for too many families, cloth nappies are just another burden on women. So I’m all for seeing our disposable lives as a community problem that needs to be solved collectively.

That’s why I think we should deal with the most inane of these products first and work our way up to the ones that are actually useful — it might be worthwhile to create recyclable or biodegradable versions of these. (There are already several brands of biodegradable nappies). Half a brain and half a conscience should be enough to deal with this kind of rubbish.