Can you believe it’s been an entire YEAR since I wrote My Month Without Plastic? Me neither. But it has, and a lot has changed in a year.
Arguably, plastic pollution is worse than ever and yet we are more conscious of it now than we ever have been. We’ve seen plenty of images of turtles with straws up their noses, seals with fishing nets around their necks and whales with tonnes of plastic bags in their stomachs. Some may say we’ve finally woken up to the planet’s plastic crisis.
So how has my lifestyle been since trying to give up plastic for a month? I’d love to tell you that it made me change my entire lifestyle and I now live a life free of pointless plastics, being conscious of each and every decision that I make. But, to be brutally honest with you (and what other way is there to be in a blog post?), it really hasn’t been like that at all. Living a plastic-free life is hard, because we simply don’t live in a plastic-free world yet. And the truth is, there are so many other things to worry about, that despite all of the pleas to save our planet, we forget about it as soon as that plastic crisis stops being front and centre of our news feeds. Agree?
I don’t know about you but rather than images of destruction caused by plastic pollution, my online news feeds are instead full of aesthetically-pleasing plastic-free products – everything from skincare, haircare, kitchenware, and every other –ware you can think of. And yes, these images, (mainly taken by ‘conscious lifestyle bloggers’ and ‘influencers’) look great, but do those products really work and what is their true cost to the planet?
You may have heard me say before that I have a real love-hate relationship with social media. While I believe it’s an excellent tool for giving anyone and everyone an accessible platform to have their voice heard, these online markets have simply become too saturated with everyone doing the same thing, and so it seems that you have to adopt a great number of tips, tricks and promotional spend, to rise above the noise. And this is when my relationship with social media turns more towards hate, because suddenly, we begin to see all of these plastic-free products everywhere with captions about how ‘amazing’ they are, and how everyone should buy them, and how buying these eco-products will save our world. But are they really as great as we’re being told and will they really save the world? Sadly, in an increasing number of cases, the answer is simply ‘no’.
To demonstrate this point, think about when you buy skin products – you don’t simply buy one brand when you’re 13 years old and become set for life, particularly if, like me, you’re allergic to the majority of skincare products on the market. You have to go through a process of elimination using trial and error to see which products suit your skin, because each of us is completely unique and each of our bodies has entirely different needs. So why do we now think that one plastic-free product is good for everyone and we should all immediately change to these?
What’s the issue with using the trial and error method?
Aside from the lengthy and resource-heavy process that goes into making every product that we use, from sourcing ingredients to producing packaging, as well as the excessive cost to the consumer of many of these eco products – in some cases 5x more expensive than the plastic packaged version – the frustration of purchasing these products only to find they do not work as promised by social media is a huge deterrent in the journey to a plastic-free lifestyle. Instead, I believe there should be more emphasis on reducing our consumption, which is where much of the impact lies, rather than simply buying more stuff because it’s “eco”.
Furthermore, whilst the additional cost of these alternative products sometimes isn’t as bad as it first seems – although they’re a lot more expensive initially, they can last much longer as they’re made from natural materials – if these products simply do not work, then not only are we generating more waste, but we also end up feeling discouraged and frustrated with spending so much more on a product that is simply unusable.
In my journey to a plastic-free lifestyle, I was severely allergic to a plastic-free, all natural deodorant, leaving me in pain for weeks, I used toothpaste that I later found out could be damaging to the lack of fluoride (there is still debate around this topic), after using coconut oil as a moisturiser I found it dried my skin out so much I had to do a full body intense exfoliation (twice!), and I even used a coconut husk washing-up sponge that simply covered my cutlery in coconut hair.
On top of this, it is now clearly evident that the previous statement of ‘small changes make a big difference’ isn’t entirely true. Yes banning straws is great, and I would still encourage you to refuse straws, but did you know that of all the plastic currently in our oceans, only 0.01% of it is plastic straws. What I believe we need is a cultural shift away from single-use plastics. For example, instead of using paper straws, just don’t use a straw, do something really crazy and drink straight from a glass!
I completely understand that living an environmentally-friendly, sustainable, conscious life can feel incredibly overwhelming, particularly when we seem to be fed an overload of information and statistics that seems to change from week to week. Then, when we do make changes, we’re told this isn’t good enough. I feel it too. So, what can we as individuals do to ensure we can live our best and happiest lives whilst still being kind to the planet?
Well maybe it’s just that, be kind to the planet. With each decision you make, whether that be buying lunch, an evening at the pub or a shopping trip, just stop and ask yourself whether your decision is kind to the planet?
Instead of buying the latest plastic-free products that you’ve seen on Instagram from a ‘sustainability influencer’ using #gifted, ask yourself these questions:
- Is my current version of this product almost finished? / Do I have a real need for this product at this time?
- Can I carry out this activity without this product at all? (e.g. paper straws, plastic bags, make up wipes)
- Have I read reviews for this product from people other than ‘social influencers’ who are being paid in some way to promote this product? And have I looked into whether this product would suit my unique needs?
- Can I make this product myself using ingredients I have in my cupboard?
So who knows, maybe this new mentality is all we need, maybe it really is that simple, and social media has yet again masked our natural instincts of knowing what’s right for the world. We can only try and live our best life for the best life of the planet.
Check out my Instagram page here for tips on how to make your own sustainable, plastic-free products without hassle, an excessive price tag or an endorsed review.