It is July and I have been blogging about Plastic Free July and Going Green in our home for a number of years… long before it was fashionable. And that is where I am going to say, “Let’s just take a pause.” The whole Plastic Free July Movement has become somewhat of an excuse for green vendors to go quite mad, there is a trendiness to living green and whenever there is a tend, there is a marketing push. It is our job to do what we can for the environment, and with a sense of urgency… but that doesn’t mean that we have to buy more stuff… Re-Use is completely on point. Don’t fall into the trap, that we can’t change the world, because we don’t have the right gear… you don’t need any gear. You do need an adaptable attitude, we do need to change.
Living Green actually means living life a little bit simpler, and I that is a concept that I can really embrace. I don’t need to toss out my wardrobe… because it wasn’t all made locally from sun dried hemp flowers, and I don’t need to replace my appliances with a greener ones made from up-cycled tree bark. That is just transferring the problem onto another problem. Garbage is the real problem… and we need to tackle it head on: Refuse to bring it into your home, Reduce our garbage significantly and Reuse whatever you can.
Green Living and the Great Garbage Debacle, is something that you can tackle from both ends of the problem. Certainly, while change begins at home, what really made a difference for us was to get involved in beach cleanups, a lot… tons of them. There is something wonderful about cleaning up an area and making a visible difference. Getting Active at Beach Cleanups doesn’t just help clean the oceans, but it raises your awareness of what you can actually live with out. I cannot tell you how many millions of individual sweet wrappers, earbuds and crisp packets we have collected. I loathe them and won’t buy them. The end.
Once you have cleaned up someone else’s take out boxes at every single beach clean up, the whole concept of fast food packaging loses its appeal. When it comes to fast food packaging, folk have come up with the great idea of “bio-degradable packaging.” Isn’t that a great concept… but the truth of it is, if it is only going to break down in three years time instead of three thousand years, then someone is still going to have to pick it up off the beach and put into the dirt bin. It helps to know where you’re garbage goes. It’s a thing, you can make the right choices, biodegradable is not the best choice, something you can re-use again and again is actually a much better choice.
The truth is that we have been forced to look at our food choices so carefully… we eat every single day, and no denying, if we can choose glass, or re-usable containers then that would be my first choice every time. But take a look in your shopping cart, it isn’t just food products that are surrounded by plastic. It is not just pineapples that get wrapped in plastic wrap… what about that notebook that comes wrapped in cling film, what about your stationary… most of our pens are plastic? Every toothbrush you have ever used is probably lying in a landfill somewhere, yes you can change to bamboo. But, what about your undies, that are wrapped in plastic packaging for protection? I don’t want to mention all the packaging on products we use in our homes: Shampoo, Washing-up liquid and so on. In this day and age it is possible to make better choices and I am quite happy to make the best possible choices most of the time.
Living green can be a full time job and that is just taking back some control of our garbage situation: By the time you have carefully processed your garbage; turned the compost; sorted the recycling; and stuffed all sorts of green living unmentionables into an eco-brick, your day can literally be over. The point is the Green Living/Great Garbage Question can be overwhelming and the easiest way for us to tackle it is one step at a time. Experience tells us that when we try to do everything at once we end up doing nothing… but one small change, creating new habits, can make a big difference.
Let’s be honest, everyone loves shopping at the market on a Saturday morning, and instagram is overflowing with beautiful baskets filled with crisp organically grown vegetables… the truth is closer to dashing to the store at dinner time and looking for any vegetable that doesn’t come with packaging. But there is that Green Living Guilt that we should all be composting and growing our vegetable crops in tiny green houses on our balconies. Honestly, I would rather buy a basil plant and enjoy it growing on the kitchen counter, than buy a plastic packet of basil leaves in the produce section. Wouldn’t we all. If I can grow some of our veggies, some of the time, and buy some of them from the packaging free market some of the time, then I am winning most of the time.
Se7en Easy Changes That We Made Without Looking Back
- Know Your Why: We significantly reduced our garbage a couple of years back… and it isn’t lost on me that in the week of pay day or recycling can quite literally be double the rest of the month. The key is to recognise packaging for what it is… most of it is marketing. If a product didn’t come in that fantastic packaging would you still buy it? Look for products with the very least packaging… hunt out products that don’t need any packaging at all.
- We Got Rid of Plastic Wrap: You can easily get rid of plastic wrap… easily. It was one of the “last stands” of plastic in our home. I just couldn’t envisage life without it… but it is actually possible. Just stop buying it. For a week or two it will drive you mad and then you will make a plan… small jars for some things, wax wraps for lunches and of course teenagers are fantastic for dealing with any leftovers.
- Be Prepared: But I have found that being better equipped on outings has kept me greener… we keep a set of camping mugs in the car, so there is never any need to buy plastic bottles. I keep a bag at the ready for outings where I know we might eat out, or we might end up shopping… I have a few shopping bags and produce bags, and my coffee mug… because I know I am most likely to grab myself a coffee when I go to the store. I am the champion of street food and always carry a pouch fully equipped with cutlery, straws and such like, if I think there is even the slightest possibility that we might stop for something. I have no problem asking for our snacks to be put into a container that we have brought with us.
- Make Sure Your Kids Know That Green Living is Cool: Your kids are under enormous pressure to be awesome… Give your kids opportunities to learn about green living, you can strew books, you can show them documentaries, but nothing beats hands on learning opportunities. Let your kids get involved and let them own it. We have a child in charge of the compost, we have a child responsible for the eco-bricks, we attend every possible cleanup… let your kids rub shoulders with eco-warriors… they need to hear that green living is cool, not just from their parents, but from other folk around them.
- Make green choices… lots of them: Less fuel, less electricity, less water… are all green living choices. Choose to walk to the store instead of driving, keep your shopping bags at the door, and yes it will take longer and you will have to carry your goodies (it will force you to buy less – trust me). Yes, your kids will stop and linger at every bug and beetle along the way – but is that such a bad thing. Choose to spend your evenings in one room and turn out the lights around the house, choose to batch cook your meals and use less power, and if you live in Cape Town, you can definitely choose to live without a tumble dryer and still get your laundry dry.
- Don’t Worry to Much About the Neighbors: Honestly, you are making your green living choices for yourself. It is one thing to gear up and quite another to feel that you need ALL the gear to be trendy… you don’t actually need a fancy gilded glass straw to go out for a milkshake… really, you can just drink from the glass container it comes in. Remember to keep it simple and make one or two changes at a time. It takes a while for these changes to become a habit… it took ages for us to get composting right… ages. But now we have it in order, we will never look back… We could not have mastered composting, eco-bricking, recycling sorting and so on… all in the same week… we could not have kept up with green Jones’, but step by step we are getting there.
- Join a Clean-up: There is nothing like consistently cleaning up garbage to change your own garbage habits… you just don’t want to create useless garbage anymore. Not to mention, your little kids can’t wait to be there, while your teens might drag to get there, but they will all love it when they are there. Not to mention, the hours outside in nature means you are winning. Beach Cleanups are really treasure hunts in a beautiful environment, we always find something weird and wonderful. However, it won’t take your kids too long to realise that they are cleaning up other folks garbage… and tons of it. The point is, chances are they will never ever litter and they will discourage people they see from littering too. Your kids will make greener choices after a cleanup… because they don’t want to pick up one more “biodegradable” coffee mugs, one more plastic sweet wrapper.
Living Green doesn’t mean expensive, it doesn’t mean having all the fancy eco-gear… it does mean making greener choices and helping your kids to be part of the action… because there is a lot of green living action going on… help your kids to develop green habits, help them to choose plastic free products… help them to see that Green Living is Cool. Plastic Free is the goal, it’s a journey… the sooner we all get marching along on it the better.