Why I started my plastic-free journey
Why I started my plastic-free journey
This guest blog is by Zocogirl
Zocogirl is a page set up in 2020, focused on eco-friendly products that are either plastic-free, zero waste or refillable. Zofia shares her journey to minimal waste by reviewing her latest household swaps, being brutally truthful as to whether a product has or has not worked for her.
This blog post gives insight as to why Zofia started this journey, the highs & lows so far and her beliefs on how conscious consumers can influence big corporations but ultimate control lies with international leaders in government. She is best found on Instagram or Facebook as @zocogirl.
In Bali, I witnessed rice fields growing from a mix of soil and plastic. Waste built up on the streets, falling into rivers and the hands of monkeys who lazily nibbled them in Ubud’s monkey sanctuary. That was the first time I really thought, “wow, we have a serious plastic problem”. Surprisingly, it wasn’t King Attenborough, a BBC documentary or the UK’s education system. It was a trip to Bali.
Two months later, I found myself in Koh Tao – a place every diver has visited due to its world-renowned cheap prices. Unluckily for me, it was rainy season, so a storm hit, washing roads straight into the sea and the garbage with it. My dive instructor bobbled at the sea’s surface, screaming instructions unsuccessfully as the rain hammered down, drowning out all his words. I began to feel nauseous albeit not at the 1m waves dragging us away; but the plastic bags, period pads, coke cans, takeaway containers, coffee sachets, coffee cups, wrappers, plastic bottles floating past. We started our descent, I squealed as a plastic bag brushed past my leg.
One year later, I took the decision to become a dive master. Saved up thousands of pounds working in Australia (I miss Australian wages - £16p/h for a waitress on the weekend). So, I packed my bags, rented out a shoebox apartment on a tiny, tropical Island in the Philippines called Malapascua. Mala means bad in Spanish, Pascua means Easter – the first Easter the Spaniards spent on Malapascua, a typhoon hit hence the name – Bad Easter.
My time on Bad Easter land, was far from bad, it was a beautiful time in my life. Friendly locals, hearty meals for £1 and seeing sea-life species that I never knew existed. One trip to Klanggaman Island, I felt pure bliss as astoundingly colourful reefs acted as a bed for three snuggled up turtles. However, as a diver you take the oath to pick up litter (where safe) and multiple occasions, our litter bags were full so we would stuff crisp packets up our wetsuit sleeves. Seeing coral reef die, losing their vibrant colour for greyness, is really what triggered my decision to cut plastic out of my life.
My flight landed in Manchester airport in September, greeted by teary eyed family and, of course, rain. Fourteen months around our planet had flown by; I found myself craving home, a routine and to be a ten-minute drive away from loved ones, instead of 26hr travel time and at a £1k cost. I always called Manchester home but never thought I would live here again and especially not love it here as much as I do.
Routine, job and apartment all in check – I found myself with free time and I wanted to dedicate it to something productive, something I am passionate about and helpful to others. And so, zocogirl was born.
Highs and Lows
All plastic-free journeys should start by finishing old plastic products, rather than just throwing everything away. Make sure your plastic goods finish their lifespan, recycle where possible then replace. My first swaps were shampoo / conditioner bars, bamboo toothbrushes and charcoal toothpaste by geoorganics. Start small, keep questioning where plastic is not necessary.
Since then, I have swapped dental floss, candles, ground coffee, baking paper, foil, deodorant, make-up wipes, chewing gum, moisturiser, tea dispenser and soap. I have refillable laundry liquid, shampoo and hand soap; reusable water bottle and coffee cup. I visit my local refill stations, buy groceries without plastic and felt sorrow waving goodbye to fast fashion. “New” clothes now come from charity shops, thrifting or depop.
So far, so good right? For three months, I am pretty happy with the progress I have made in minimising waste in my life – more specifically plastic waste. But I have gone through bouts of self-loathing – for things like buying blueberries in a plastic tray, caving in to a Maccie Ds on a night out and, don’t hate me, bulk buying toilet paper, that is not by Who Gives A Crap. Fifty-four rolls wrapped in plastic then nine-packs individual wrapped in plastic.
Just want to clarify, I cannot stand carrying toilet paper from the supermarket – my hands are already full with the weekly shop, awkwardly finding a place to fit bog roll (usually under my armpit) and then incessantly readjusting, as gravity plays its course. It’s a nightmare. Also, should mention - we bulk bought the roll in February, just before holding a life supply of toilet roll became fashionable.
In my opinion, the biggest plastic-waste issue we face in the house is in the kitchen. Avocado, bananas and cucumber wrapped in plastic? As a fresh graduate, shopping at a trendy farmer’s market isn’t always feasible for my budget; so sometimes I will count my pennies in Aldi which brings me to my next low. People shaming and guilt-tripping others for buying plastic goods, not acknowledging personal privileges or the pricing of some plastic-free options are not affordable to everyone. In Aldi, you can buy wrapped bananas for £1.50 while M&S plastic-free, organic option is around £3. A quote I genuinely love is, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”.
To finish on a high, I love the sense of community in the minimal waste / sustainable living sphere. Also, the growing sense of community on zocogirl where people comment personal experiences on products, suggest alternatives and share diy recipes for things like beeswax wraps, candles and natural deodorants. The sustainable-living community feels like a group of people who genuinely care about one another and their impact on the environment. Living by the motto, “Let’s leave the world in a better place than we found it”. This brings me to my next point; you are really not alone if you decide to embark on the rewarding journey of cutting out plastic. Thousands of blogs, reviews and great online stores, like Life Before Plastik, can hold your hand and guide you to a more sustainable, conscious lifestyle.
Being a Conscious Consumer
Climate anxiety is a phrase increasingly coming up in extinction rebellion groups, sustainability movements and eco-friendly living groups. It means “a chronic fear of environmental doom”; and stems from the rational fear that human-induced climate change will see increasing extreme weather conditions, natural disasters and loss of life. Many have entered panic mode as our current actions for change are simply, not enough.
International governments and corporations still prioritise profit over planet; a deflating thought for the individual trying to do their bit. Buying a £4 skirt from RSPCA is better than an £8 skirt from Boohoo; but that one action is not stopping 1.7bn tonnes of carbon emission, every year from the fashion industry. Buying a plastic-free pack of coffee is better than a non-recyclable polyester pack; but that one action is not stopping 100 million plastic coffee packs going to landfill, every year in the UK. Although taking a local trip is better than flying to Australia – that one action is not stopping 915 million tonnes of carbon emission, every year in the aviation industry.
However, these singular actions do add up to shifts in consumer behaviour and signal necessary change for corporations. Conscious consumerism is on the rise and, thankfully, corporations are beginning to take note. A conscious consumer is someone who considers social, environmental and political impact in their purchasing decisions or boycotting actions. Individuals do eventually add up to be masses of people.
Finally, my last point and latest realisation is that it is necessary to act by joining your nearest ER (Extinction Rebellion) group, attend local talks on the environment and campaign for green. You will likely find yourself surrounded by caring, like-minded people. This is something I will be getting more involved in once we are “on the other side” of quarantine, but until then I will try my best to show support through social media.
Thank you for reading this far, hopefully you have learned a little and are intrigued to make some plastic-free swaps, especially if you haven’t already.