INTERVIEW: YOUR GUIDE TO GOING PLASTIC FREE... FOREVER?

Local INTERVIEW: YOUR GUIDE TO GOING PLASTIC FREE... FOREVER?

Meet Phoebe and her family. They participated in the Plastic Free Challenge for July and have some tips and tricks for how we can all live a little more waste free... all year round!


WHAT INSPIRES YOU DAY-TO-DAY? 

My kids, the environment, and my community.

 

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO NEWCASTLE?

The stunning beaches, estuaries and bushland, friendly locals and the possibility of being able to own my own home.


WHY DID YOU JOIN YOUR FOOD COLLECTIVE?

I was interested in sourcing locally grown produce for my family and YFC is the most convenient way I’d found to do that. Knowing where our food has come from and supporting local growers are important to me. The produce is fresh, full of flavour and affordable. And the people are so friendly.

 

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN PLASTIC FREE JULY? WAS THERE A DEFINING MOMENT?

I’ve organised community clean ups of Throsby Creek over the years and was overwhelmed by the volume of plastic pollution in one urban catchment. The scale of the pollution in our oceans and its impacts on sea life is heartbreaking. I’d been using reusable bags and keep cups for years, and composting and recycling, but I knew I could do a lot more. The defining moment for me was probably learning that the vast majority of items we put in our yellow lid bins were being shipped to China. Now that they are no longer accepting our waste, we need to take responsibility for what we're producing, consuming and throwing away. The other fact that I've read many times that repeats in my mind is that every piece of plastic ever produced still exists in the world. These two realities together have made me consider purchasing plastic items very carefully. 

 Plastic waste in the ocean image via National Geographic Magazine

Photograph of plastic waste in the ocean, National Geographic Magazine, 2018

 

HOW DID YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY REACT?

It’s been amazing. I thought I’d become a bit of a pariah but everyone has been on board and I’ve been surprised by some of the responses I’ve had. After posting about the challenge on social media earlier in the month my aunt told me she’d gone out and bought some reusable produce bags. That was great. My husband and my two girls have also really embraced it. My husband’s been baking bread and my girls were excited to make our own toothpaste (until they actually had to use it themselves!), it’s been a lot of fun. It would have been so much harder doing it without that support.

 

CAN YOU SHARE SOME PERSONAL TIPS ON HOW WE CAN ALL REDUCE PLASTIC WASTE IN OUR HOMES?

Our main focus was avoiding single-use disposable items and packaging. We put together a picnic kit to keep in the car, with keep cups, stainless straws, plastic containers, spoons and a face washer to avoid takeaway packaging. We took our own containers to our local butcher, we swapped shampoo and hand soap in pump packs for bar soap, and we shopped at bulk stores and the farmers market and baked snacks at home. And of course we ordered our weekly fruit and veg through Your Food Collective! Although we probably spent a bit more on our weekly groceries than we usually would it was so much more enjoyable and rewarding to shop with local businesses. I’ve spent a lot less time in supermarkets and shopping centres over the past month, and that's made me very happy.

 

Making big changes can be overwhelming, my advice is to choose just a couple of things you can do differently that feel manageable for you and your family and build up from there. There’s a great quiz you can do on the Plastic Free July website to work out where you’re at with your plastic consumption. Then there’s an Action Picker with suggested goals you can try to get started. There is so much support online and through plastic free Facebook groups.

 

The other thing I would say is have some fun with it. Get the kids involved in baking, making soap, growing vegies, sewing up shopping bags or whatever it is. It teaches them some really practical skills and helps them appreciate a different way of living and valuing resources. 


WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PLASTIC TO AVOID?

We found dairy products and soy milk the hardest things to find plastic free alternatives to. We did order some Premium Jersey Milk in glass bottles from Udder Farm through YFC but knowing that glass collected in Newcastle is currently stockpiled in Victoria rather than recycled, we went to cardboard milk cartons instead, but because they’re plastic lined they’re not easily recycled either. So all things considered we’ve decided we’ll go back to 2L PET plastic bottles because these can be easily recycled. Cheese also became a sticking point so we’re just buying the biggest block we can and recycling the plastic. I haven’t ruled out making our own yoghurt but for now I’m buying a really big bucket, which we’ll recycle or reuse. We’ve been using one of these as our compost bucket for ages.

Udder Farm Premium Jersey Milk from Your Food Collective

DO YOU THINK NEWCASTLE COMMUNITY HAS EFFECTED YOUR LIFESTYLE AND ATTITUDE TOWARDS FOOD? HOW COME?

The accessibility of good quality locally-grown produce is really improving in Newcastle and I've been keen to take advantage of that. YFC is a great example of this. I think people are really waking up to the benefits of eating good quality unadulterated produce and knowing where it has come from. It's great to have convenient, affordable alternatives to the big supermarket chains and being able to support local businesses.  

 

HOW DID YOU KEEP YOURSELF MOTIVATED THROUGHOUT THE MONTH?

The responses to my social media posts from friends and family and connecting with people from around the world who were taking the challenge made me feel part of something really big and really positive. It’s been really gratifying having that support and positive feedback. I also took a lot of heart from the screening of the second series of the ABC’s War on Waste, which is bringing huge public awareness to the issue. I’m really hopeful that we’re on the verge of a shift in public awareness and action on this issue.

 

WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

So much. It has been such a huge learning experience and I don't intend to stop now that the challenge has ended. Probably the biggest thing I've learned is how many people genuinely care about this issue and want to be part of the solution. I've had so many really positive conversations this past month with friends, family, work colleagues, Facebook groups, my butcher, and shopkeepers about simple things we can all do. Having said that there are currently so many barriers for people wanting to avoid plastic products and packaging. You have to really go out of your way and be prepared to pay a lot more for products without plastic packaging. That has to change.

For more information on the plastic free movement or for tips on how to reduce your plastic waste the Plastic Free July website.   


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