My month without plastic

This post is about Sarah Williams (Sez) a remarkable woman who is the most creative creature I have ever encountered. Her art, wisdom, food, edu-caring, writing and design always fill me with wonder and delight. She is also a yoga teacher in the Bay of Plenty, but the reason I’m profiling her is she is a practicing  plastic-faminer. This is part 1 of 4 articles which highlights plastic this month.

My husband chortled when I told him about Sez’s plastic-famine. Ha (he chortled again) is she walking to Yoga from Whakamarama? – cos her car’s littered with the aforementioned ‘demon’. Is she wearing her Nike running shoes or has she adapted the pedals (among other things) on her pushbike and going barefoot?

And I started to wonder and wandering thoughts became to ponder.

Gosh, even catching a bus involves plastic, the imperishable glossy ticket spat out of the plastic till, the red ‘press’ button to alert the driver to stop…

He went on…Is she cooking with an oven, or over an open fire? In fact, has she built that yurt yet, because surely her house is part plastic? Has she surrendered her cellphone? Is she refusing the computer and the television? Is she going to grow dreads? And I hope she’s changed to bamboo knitting needles now (actually that was my line not Jeremy’s, for the record).

How was Sez continuing to sustain her life and livelihood within these new oil-less limitations? I had to find out.

Let’s start at the start.

Sarah took on this plastic-famine after watching Captain Charles Moore’s (7 minute) TED which highlights the horrors of where plastic ends up e.g. in the guts of birds and amassed in a floating plastic island:

Sarah described this floating plastic island as a place in the Pacific ocean where plastic has congregated to form a type of random landmass. Another friend who works at sea, describes it not like an island above water with a mound or hill, but an inverted land-(waste)-mass, it’s peak, under the ocean. This concave, submerged and growing image haunts me, is more horrific than the honesty and clarity of something I can see with the un-goggled eye. Captain Charles Moore has watched over his years at sea as our ocean has become ‘plastic soup’.

I’m sharing Sarah’s story because perhaps you too will be inspired and led to change, and avoid or reduce and reuse or perhaps lobby your local council to increase recycling of plastic.

What did this plastic-less month entail?
Sez didn’t attempt to live entirely without plastic. She continued to drive her car and operate her cellphone. But what she set out to do was live a month without purchasing plastic. In a nutshell, Sarah wanted to eliminate buying everyday products that were packaged or made of plastic.

Did she fail or succeed?
Sarah felt she didn’t need to make too many sacrifices, or relinquish too many ‘addictions’. She said when we open our eyes and take more time initially (in the supermarket) the alternatives are there, and not necessarily more expensive. She did admit a certain level of convenience was compromised. When choosing to eat without plastic we need to be perhaps more organised (especially at the start), develop some different rhythms and rituals around where we buy, and choose to spend time making food at home.

What did she have to give up?

  • She chose to give up: soy/rice milk (due to the cap), sour cream, cheese, yogurt, rice crackers, packeted biscuits, commercial bread, frozen food such as peas.
  • Adjusting to a harder bamboo (bristled) toothbrush was an ‘adjustment’.
  • She couldn’t find any toothpaste without a plastic cap so had to rely on baking soda.
  • Chocolate was narrowed down to Whitakers, which is the only one she found accessible re: price and availability.
  • Paying for parking on the street dispensed a plastic coated receipt. She then elected to park in more expensive and less handy parking buildings to avoid this.
  • The eft-pos and till receipts one is given after purchasing ANYTHING are coated in plastic toxic materials and inks.
  • She had to forgo bought crackers and resorted to making her own.
  • It was difficult drinking a milk alternative as rice-milk, soy-milk etc all had plastic caps. I must ask her if she drank raw cow’s milk instead, as I don’t know of any glassbottled commercial milk available. Is bottled milk still available in the South Island? And meat would be a no go (she’s vegetarian) so she wouldn’t have encountered this problem. I wonder if one’s local butcher would be open to their customers taking in their own reusable containers for meat to be taken home in.
  • Thai/Indian/Japanese takeaways were out of the question, unless as above they’re open to the customer bringing their own container. Fish and chips get a tick here.

What surprises did she encounter?

  • She was disappointed to note many organic or specialty items were wrapped in thick un-recyclable plastics. Typically the thicker plastic, which often muesli and curry sauces come in, the sturdy stuff which makes it easier for the bag to sit up and look pretty on the shelf, is made from un-recyclable plastic.
  • She noticed many people using their re-usable (e.g. red New World) bags and wondered if they knew these bags (although made from recycled plastic milk bottles) were still plastic. She feels companies are misleading customers as these polyester/plastic bags are being sold as an ‘environmentally friendly’ alternative to disposable plastic bags. Can these ‘re-usable’ bags be recycled? Do customers understand the bags are still plastic? Do customers understand what fabrics such as viscose, cotton, polyester are actually composed of?
  • She noted that supermarkets and specialty stores are such as Good Food Trading Company (whose customer service and food I adore by the way) are convenience driven. It was sickening to note how much unnecessary plastic was being used in order to attract the ‘busy’ shopper/cook e.g. mushrooms in polystyrene trays, precut and glad-wrapped vegetables.
Sarah has continued to choose a life with reduced plastic. 3 ‘plastic’ stories follow:
1) Tips for how you can avoid or reduce plastic.
2) Tauranga only recycles plastic bottles – milk and others? Your council may be dragging the chain too. Find out more.
3) Plastic – What’s really the big problem? World map shows who’s banned plastic.
Sarah’s Kowhai Yoga facebook site asks yogis to consider this:
yoga is not just on the mat, it is awareness of your self, your relation
ships and the most neglected of them all, your environment…environment is where we live. it isn’t a place we see on tv or a place that’s in africa or the ocean thats 20 minutes away. we live in it and we breathe it in every day. let’s look after it and make an effort.
Sarah teaches Flow Yoga in the Bay of Plenty. Try her Flow Yoga class Tuesday 6pm-7pm at Arataki Community Centre, Mt Maunganui, or book a private class.


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