Recently I wrote a post about how I was thinking of doing the Plastic Free July challenge, and the reasons as to why I felt this was important. I’ve been an avid reader to a group of ‘Plastic Free’ blogs for a few months now, and I’ve admired everyone of the women that have taken on this lifestyle. My go to blog of choice though was Gippsland Unwrapped, as the author Tammy is a mother too, so I felt like I could relate to her journey.
I contacted Tammy and asked if she’d be willing to do an Interview, and she graciously accepted.
1- Living plastic free is quite an undertaking, why did you decide this was going to be your path?
I found myself getting more and more frustrated for not living in a way that aligned with my environmental values. I could see all these environmental, health and social problems in the world and wanted to do something more about it but I didn’t know what to do. Late one night I started Googling for ideas and I came across the Plastic Free July (PFJ) Challenge. It instantly clicked with me because it was something I could do without spending large amounts of money (e.g. solar panels), and it wasn’t going to take me away from my home or family. It was really just about changing the way I shop, yet it could make a huge difference.
2- You live on a dairy farm, so I’m guessing your milk is checked off the list quite easily, but how did you find sourcing what you needed, when living in the country?
This was initially difficult and exhausting. I had to search local businesses and markets in nearby towns and do a lot of talking to find out from others where I might find things. Gradually, I found most of what I needed which surprised me. I do have to go to something like 5 different stores in 3 towns to cover all my basic needs but I tie my trips in with other things I am doing and buy enough to last me a month or more. Some food and personal care products I can’t find unpackaged or plastic free so I make them. If you live in a city or large town you will have a lot more choice and likely have access to at least one bulk store which will make life much easier. If you are in a rural area and don’t have as much luck finding what you need as I did, then starting a bulk cooperative is an option. The Baw Baw Sustainability Network in my region have been doing this.
3- Many/most people – including myself – might say, nice idea but in reality I just don’t have time, I have kids and a job etc… What would your advise be?
Yes, I definitely felt like this at the start too, but I have found the learning curve to be the most time consuming thing. Once I actually got my head around what I was supposed to do, I found making my own personal care products like deodorant and lip balm took no time at all. I guarantee you can fit these in to your regular routine. For me the challenge has mostly been finding the time to make more of our food from scratch. For example pastry and biscuits only come in plastic so to avoid the plastic I have to make the pastry and biscuits myself. Obviously if you are a person who already feeds your family with mostly homemade food, you won’t consider this an extra task to fit into busy family life. I try to set aside a day a week or fortnight to make all the snacks and granola and anything extra I might feel like. I’m trying to get my kids to enjoy more vegetable based snacks because they seem easier to whip up.
I should also point out that I believe that there are some things we just need to make time for. We need to slow down and be more mindful of our choices and the impacts they have. I don’t think it does anything for humans, animals or the environment if we focus on convenience and the cheapest option. We need to start valuing the right kind of things. So I guess what I’m saying is that I wasn’t a bored housewife looking for a way to fill in time. I am a person who readjusted her priorities to reflect her family, environmental, social and health values.
4- How did the rest of your family take to the transition to a Plastic free life?
My husband was resistant to begin with because I changed a lot of things really fast. I had tunnel vision when I first decided to do this and I didn’t give enough thought as to how he would deal with such fast change. We ended up having a big talk about it and he came to understand my passion and I came to respect that he needed more time to make changes. Now he is constantly surprising me with his initiative, like preparing for parties by finding alternatives to plastic bags of ice.
The kids have been great from the start. My husband and I spent some time talking to them about why we were going to try a plastic free life and they seemed to get it. They do have moments of frustration but its only if they are in a supermarket with me. Otherwise, they never feel like they are missing out. I always encourage them to make their own decisions and have their own thoughts and values. So sometimes they might say yes to the lolly wrapped in plastic. It goes into their waste jar so we can keep track of how each of us is going.
5- When it comes to kids toys, so many are plastic and they come in plastic packaging with plastic ties. How have you combated this?
I really dislike buying kids toys. I feel like kids have too much and it encourages them to grow up and be mindless consumers too. I focus on giving my kids experiences, and then books and sports and music equipment rather than toys. I do give them pocket money which they are free to choose how to spend. Being kids they often want toys, and there have been some lessons learnt about how easily plastic things break and if you spend all your money you have nothing left to buy the special thing you wanted. They are doing really well so far this year!
6- On Birthday’s and Christmas, do you allow other people to buy plastic gifts for yourself or your kids, and if not how have you broached this with people?
Well we don’t really like stuff and I’m not a fan of the birthday party where the whole class is invited. So we focus on small group celebrations and spending time with loved ones which limits how many plastic gifts and other stuff they receive. I don’t feel comfortable telling people how they should show my child that they care about them, so I have not broached the subject with people unless they ask (most people do these days). I find that when you focus on small group celebrations, people are more likely to know our family and respect our wishes, which further limits plastic stuff entering our home. In the end there are plastic toys in our house, many from before we started focusing on limiting plastic, and many received as hand-me-downs. However, these toys are not considered single-use plastic items and so I can live with a few if they are well made and meaningful to my children. This year we have told our kids there won’t be birthday parties, just time with family and 1 or 2 special friends doing something fun.
7- What has been the hardest thing to give up, or find a replacement for?
When I started I thought there would be lots of things that I would miss and I was a little bit doubtful of my ability to continue after the Plastic Free July Challenge, but I can honestly say the only thing I miss occasionally is the spontaneity of choosing a take away dinner like Chinese food on a busy weekend. You know the times when you are unexpectedly late and don’t feel like coming up with something to eat? If I’m desperate I’ll choose something like pizza that comes in a cardboard box that can be recycled. My next mission is to get pizza in my own container but again, that requires preparation!
I’ve discovered that I can still enjoy most foods that I had previously gotten in plastic. Berries were initially difficult. We started growing our own but hardly got any, so we went to a berry farm and picked as many berries as we could afford and froze them in glass jars. We don’t have enough to last us until the next berry season but I am okay with this because I think it is important to eat more with the seasons for the health of the food system and also because we evolved to eat this way.
One thing I have given up completely is soda water. I still don’t like plain water very much but I make Kombucha now which gives me a bubbly hit in place of the soda water. I didn’t want to get a soda stream because I hate filling my kitchen with appliances and gadgets. I just want simple stuff that I can use in a range of ways.
8- Do you believe anyone can live a Plastic free life?
Yes definitely. So many people approach plastic free living as an all or nothing approach but it’s really more about careful and intentional consumption. It’s a way of protesting against a wasteful society and saying we can do better. Making better choices as often as possible is what it is all about.
9- If someone was interested in living Plastic free, is there anything you’d recommend they do before taking the plunge?
Yes, be kind to yourself and set achievable goals, everyone is in a different situation so do what works for you. I believe a good place to start is to go to each room in the house with a pen and paper and list all the single use plastic things you own in one column. Next spend some time thinking about the alternatives for each one of those items and write your answer in the second column. You might find some things are an easy switch and others will require more research, learning something new or some sort of investment. Give all the easy things a priority one in the third column, the slightly more difficult things a priority two rating, and finally all the difficult things a priority three rating. Now start with all the priority one changes and enjoy the process.
10- I always imagine living Plastic free to be expensive, is this the case?
This is a common misconception. At the heart of plastic free living is simplicity; good fresh food, multi-use ingredients/products, and natural and ethical alternatives. You will find that you won’t need to buy half the things you did before. Bicarb soda and vinegar will do one thousand things for you. You won’t be paying extra for packaging and you will probably make more from scratch which will save you money. There’s a focus on eliminating the unnecessary and becoming more resourceful or thrifty. I am saving between $150-$200 on my weekly household expenses. I make a point of using what I have already (e.g. repurposing items) and getting secondhand wherever possible because consumption is the biggest generator of waste. Be mindful and critical of your purchasing choices, and you will find that you don’t need to go out and buy lots of new things to live this lifestyle. For example, there are alternatives to plastic cling wrap that won’t cost you a thing.
But as I said above, it does us no good to focus on the cheapest option. Filling our homes with healthy food and natural items should be considered more valuable than the latest car, or the biggest TV.
11- Does living this lifestyle mean you can’t buy a new Laptop, TV or car etc, as they all have plastic in them?
When we talk about living plastic free, it’s really a shortening for living single-use plastic free. It’s about trying to eliminating disposable plastic items from your life such as straws, plastic shopping bags, food packaging, takeaway containers and cutlery, coffee cups, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes, sponges, cleaning products and so on – it’s everywhere! But because people living this way recognise the health and environmental impacts of plastics, they will also try to avoid and eliminate plastic in other situations too. Similarly, people will often start aiming for zero waste like I am now striving for (that’s why the pizza box bothers me). So yes you can own a laptop, car and TV but you might want to look for good secondhand options first, and find ways to reduce your use of resources like energy.
I have found plastic free living to be a really effective launch pad for (re)focusing on all the other sustainability issues I care about.
12- Have you ever regretted you decision, even for a day?
Not at all. Some days are harder than others but generally speaking it gets easier as time goes on, and I keep discovering new benefits. Using the blog as a way to connect with others who feel the same has been a great source of support.
13- Do you feel like the Plastic free movement is becoming bigger, and how exciting is it to be a part of?
Yes, I think it is. I have been amazed by the uptake and sharing of ideas through my own blog. I think people are ready for change and just need to be shown what is possible. Individuals can make a difference and my kids will know what I did to fight for a better future. I am certainly motivated to be part of the solution
Thank you so much Tammy, you have truly inspired me!