Living Plastic free
Ending my relationship with plastics
After being sat in a tiny wooden boat, rocking dramatically in the Ocean off the Turkish coast, I was plunged into a turbid sea. I had about 1-meter visibility and was surrounded by jellyfish brought in by a storm the previous night. This was my first scuba-dive, and at 13 years old my future was set. 16 years later sees me as a fully-fledged Marine Biologist studying for my PhD in Ecotoxicology. My professional interests lie in assessing antidepressants in the sea, and how they can affect animal behaviours. However, I have a personal interest in plastics. It does not take a scientist to understand that a product that does not break down in the environment, when used once and thrown away, must build up somewhere and cause issues in the environment. It is easy to sit and point fingers, but in fact the blame lies with us all. It’s in our throw away culture and fast-paced lifestyles that demand convenience. Of course, if producers produce items that fit these criteria then the consumers will consume it. So some responsibility must be taken by large producers to do something about their products. However, surely if consumers begin refusing these products then the producers will have to change?
Nine weeks ago I made the decision to end my relationship with single use plastics. Like any break up, it was difficult at first. I was unable to clean myself, as all of my toiletries including shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash…. were all in plastic bottles. I had a bamboo toothbrush, but this was rendered useless by the fact that my toothpaste came in a plastic tube. I would also have to go without breakfast as my cereal came in a plastic bag and my almond milk in a plastic carton. Maybe it wasn’t too late to beg plastics to take me back? But no! I would stay strong!
I started at my local LUSH store, explaining to the very nice employee that I had just come out of a long-term relationship with plastics and had not washed that day. Instead of recoiling in horror, she gave me a full consultation and I went away with shampoo, conditioner, facewash and moisturiser in solid bars. These guys can be stored in metal tins and are completely zero waste. As an additional bonus, all of the products are 100% natural and non-toxic to wildlife. This is particularly useful when travelling to remote places for work, such as a 6-week expedition to Indonesia. It takes three days to get to the middle of the coral triangle, consisting of 3 flights and 2 boats. Having all your toiletries as solid bars means they can go in your hand luggage, so you can wash en-route. Also, there’s no plumbing on the island. When washing with a bucket directly onto the ground, it is comforting to know that your products are not going to cause harm to the local wildlife.
When it came to feeding myself, I quickly learnt that supermarkets were a bust. All of their products come wrapped in plastics. Instead I invested in some mason jars and found a local wholefoods store. They have zero waste isles where you can fill up your jars and they price by weight. This actually worked out about a third cheaper than buying in supermarkets. I took my Tupperware to the local butcher and fishmongers, who were more than happy to oblige, and my local greengrocer sells fruit and veg without all that plastic wrap. It felt good to be supporting local businesses and it made my shopping experience much more enjoyable as I was actually talking to people. Snacks were a lot more difficult to tackle. I’m an active person. I go to the gym almost every day, rock climb, swim, scuba dive, kayak, and I love to go trail running in the rain. Needless to say, I snack a lot. I struggled to buy snacks without the plastics so in the end just started to make my own. This worked out a lot healthier as I was not eating so many sugars, preservatives and nasties.
Having tackled the immediate issues of feeding and cleaning myself I was able to take a breath and focus on solving everything else. Some things were easier than others, most things simply required a little forward thinking and some prep. I set myself up with a zero waste kit that I am now in the habit of carrying everywhere. This consists of a tote bag containing snacks, a water bottle, keep cup, bamboo cutlery, some paper bags and a few cotton or beeswax wraps. This means I can still grab a coffee and a croissant with my friends without all the nasty plastics. Also, there are many places (cafes especially) who will happily refill your water bottle for free! Other things required a bit of time and research. It took a while to find a deodorant and toothpaste that worked for me. But after a lot of trial and error and having a go at making my own (with some disastrous results), I settled on a deodorant from earthconcious UK and dentatabs from Anything but Plastic, again both are solid, lightweight and great for travel. Other than prep, I would say the second key ingredient to a zero waste life is to invest in some quality products, these can have steep start-up costs but actually save you a fortune in the long run. I switched to safety razor, and I don’t know how I ever survived without it. The same goes for my menstrual cup, I can’t rate these enough! I have done a tough mudder, been horse riding and scuba diving with my cup and I honestly forget I’m having a period at all. Finally, something as simple as investing in a good quality bar of soap can replace multiple items like shower gel, face wash, hand soap and even moisturiser.
I am happy to report that after the steep learning curve of the first 2 weeks, living plastic free just became easier as the weeks past. 9 weeks in and these changes that seemed so dauntingly huge at first are now a part of my normal everyday routine. I do not see any benefits of going back to my old lifestyle. I’m sorry plastics….. but I’m over you.
For the full story on my journey into a plastic free life and reviews on all of the products I have tried so far, check out my Instagram account @me_living_plastic_free. You can also follow the plastics awareness group ‘See Bin, Sea Change’ on facebook @seebinseachangeportmouth or Twitter and Instagram @see_bin_sea_change. We host events throughout the year centred around plastic pollution and what we can all do to help.
From a plastic free Shanelle X
A massive thanks to Shanelle for the plastic free blog post, it's an issue close to our hearts and awesome work in being the change that we need to see in the world. Everyone can do their bit to help save the planet and it's about spreading awareness and all making small changes in our lives. Not everyone can be this commited but with people like Shanelle in the world there is hope for us yet!
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below. Positive vibes only though!