One of the great things about social media is that whenever you use it to declare you are going to change your ways, break free from addiction, or improve yourself in any way shape or form, your multitude of followers then sit back, fold their arms, and collectively say: Go on then.
Three years ago, at the age of 37, I pledged on Facebook that I was going to run a marathon before I turned 40. I turn 41 at the end of this month and I still haven’t run that marathon. Yes I’ve had legitimate excuses (having babies mainly), but still, I look a bit daft because it is there on my timeline for all to see. Accountability is a powerful motivator, and it is undoubtably feeding my fervor to still one day achieve a marathon (before I’m 50…?).
That same accountability is present when your status update is about how much plastic you are shunning in your life.
With that in mind imagine for a moment the self-inflicted paranoia which has followed me around for the last few weeks since, not only talking on social media about my own personal vendetta against single-use-plastics, but also setting up the Zero Waste Sedbergh group and suggesting others might want to join in the party… paper plates only of course.
A few days ago I received this text from my husband:
Plz pick up choc biccies on way home xxc
So I dutifully stopped off at Spar, perused the biscuit aisle, and realised I couldn’t buy any of them because they were all wrapped in plastic. But here’s the thing: my thoughts weren’t about saving the planet or reducing my carbon footprint – they were simply: What if someone sees me?! In a town the size of Sedbergh word might get round quick that the plastic-free warrior is a traitor to her cause – a thought terrifying enough to make me put the hob nobs back and buy a tin of peaches instead. Husband a bit miffed, obviously.
Then there’s the online shop, which is now akin to a covert MI6 operation. If anyone bothers to peep over the hedge they would witness me taking delivery of, amongst other things, packets of breaded ham in plastic film, pasta twirls in a plastic packet, and a butternut squash in a plastic bag (Dear ASDA, why does a butternut squash with skin tough enough to break an industrial strength peeler need a wafer thin plastic bag to protect it from the elements?). The other day as the delivery man was carting tray after tray of contraband down my path I actually looked around to make sure no-one was watching, and a bit of me honestly expected to hear cries of Hypocrite!
The truth is I have made numerous plastic-free switches, and eliminated loads from our regular grocery shop. But I freely admit my family and I have a long way to go before we are plastic free and zero waste. And as a wise man or woman once said:
The thing is, you can’t just go cold turkey when going plastic-free. Why? Because firstly you need to phase out the plastic you already have (if you have 3 months worth of shampoo in bottles, it’s going to be 3 months before you can switch to shampoo bars). Secondly, shopping is habitual. Like with all habits, by definition, breaking them or creating them won’t happen overnight. It has taken me around 8 weeks to get to the stage where I never leave the house without my refillable water bottle. It is now part of my leave-the-house-checks: keys, purse, phone, bottle, children… in that order.
And we are all still trying to figure out alternatives. Our supermarkets haven’t caught up to the demand for plastic-free yet. If you want to reduce your fat intake or sugar intake, there are low fat or reduced sugar options available. The same can’t be said of packaging. Making those conscientious choices is really blooming hard.
Yes we know that plastic wrapping on a loaf of bread is bad. But the alternatives are a) bake your own, b) buy fresh from the bakers each day, or c) only ever buy that white loaf that comes in orange greaseproof wrapping. What are you going to do – send the kids to school with no sandwiches? No, you’re going to sometimes buy the bread wrapped in plastic, sometimes we do need to say to hell with it. And in those moments, a rush of guilt is not helpful.
So be kind to yourself, remember all the changes you have made so far, and acknowledge that THIS IS A JOURNEY. Journeys take time.
And if you tell the guilt to quieten down you can actually hear the planet saying: Thank you. You’re doing great. Now keep it up!