I’m a Greenie With a Plastics Problem

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I’m one of those “Bloody Greenies”. I am also a mother, wife, writer and photographer. I donate my services to numerous charities and community groups. I have also started teaching photography workshops to teenagers and offer a free ‘Social Media, Self-esteem and Selfie’ talk at the end of each workshop to help young people and their parents place value on having a dignified online presence.

According to data released by the Australian Council of Social Service, my family lives just above the poverty line, so five years ago we moved to the rural edge of Sydney where we hoped to live a life of voluntary simplicity. We rent one of the cheapest houses available, grow our own vegetables and support the local roadside stalls and monthly market.

I do much of the clothes washing in our bath water and rarely use the dryer. After much effort, our last electricity bill showed our four person household only has a one person footprint. I cook most of our meals from scratch; otherwise our electricity usage would be almost non-existent. I take my own mesh bags to weigh fruit and vegetables from the supermarket. We use stainless steel drinking bottles for water when we go out and take our own home-made snacks in re-usable containers.

We are a one car family; I get everyone to school, my husband to work and am careful with our schedule so I can also see my photographic clients. The children do one after school activity which is one round trip a week.

I use mostly natural body and cleaning products and have attended a number of workshops where I have learnt how to make hand-made pasta, chutneys and jams and this week I learned to make soap.

We love our simplistic life yet people I know who earn over $100, 000 per annum are always stressed about not having enough money while we are constantly going on amazing holidays and outings, like staying in a safari tent by Lake Macquarie, swimming with seals at Montague Island and visiting the zoo. This is all possible because we do without a lot of things, such as eating out.

We have gone to great lengths not to own a television; however we do watch the occasional DVD on our personal computer as a weekend treat. We play board games every week and have interesting conversations over our evening meal. People tell me they don’t understand how someone could live in a little old house like ours, yet these same people seem miserable, even though they live in mansions.

One thing has been weighing on me though. Our recycling bin is always full. I keep thinking it mustn’t be environmentally friendly to use that much plastic. Take petrochemicals from the earth, make a bottle, put milk into it for a week and then be left with a plastic artefact. I know it can be recycled, but how much greenhouse emissions are created in the manufacturing and the recycling and honestly, how many plastic garden chairs do we buy (which is one thing they are recycled into)?

So, I decided to do an experiment, for the last two weeks I have kept my used plastics so I can clearly see my usage. I was shocked and now plan to change how much plastic I purchase. I’m in day two of my reduced plastics usage and the shift is interesting. I am not purchasing certain items (like strawberries) and paid six times the amount to not buy my potatoes in plastic and I cleaned my shower with a lemon.

I plan to launch a campaign where I try to get consumers to change their purchases so that corporations will supply products without plastic or reduced plastic. It’s wrong that it’s cheaper to purchase items packaged rather than unpackaged.

“How can I make a real change?” is a question that’s been haunting me. I’m just an average person with no social power or money.

The answer might just be: encourage the average person to look at their fortnightly plastic usage and enjoy the feeling that comes with knowing you are personally putting less strain on our planet.

This article was originally published as part of ABC Open Drum’s callout on living off the grid.

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