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My wife opened a plastic-free shop & it made me feel helpless

Our effort at a plastic-free wedding

Zero waste living was always an unachievable goal of mine. My wife (Trina) and sister-in-law (Charlie) opened a plastic-free shop, Life Before Plastik, with the ethos of making small but significant changes to your daily lives. Yet the phrase ‘small changes’ didn’t sit well with me.

I’m an all or nothing kind of person and, if I’m being honest, it can be a little annoying. So how was I supposed to live by a motto like ‘small changes, big difference’? How could one person transition to a plastic-free lifestyle and make an impact on the world? This seemed impossible to me.

On that note, let me give you an insight into my way of thinking.

When bouldering became a hobby of mine, I got the membership, shoes, chalk, etc. and dedicated myself to 2-3 climbs per week. When I travelled Australia, I visited every state and territory, including Tasmania, and slept in the outback most of the time. When I sweep a few leaves up from the garden, it turns into a full landscape gardening day. I go knee deep without thinking sometimes.

Walking through gorges in Australia
When plastic-free products were introduced into my life, I changed to a bamboo toothbrush, Georganics toothpaste, Zero Waste Path soap, Funk Soap Shop shampoo & conditioner, and anything Life Before Plastik could offer me. But it wasn’t enough at the time.

I once believed that if I couldn’t establish a 100% plastic-free household, then what was the point? If I couldn’t fill my home with zero waste products, why was I even attempting to do it? If every product in my house wasn’t eco-friendly, was I just as bad as someone who doesn’t care about the environment?

Realism and a ‘glass half empty’ attitude overlap. Well, they do in my head anyways.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a realist. It’s in my nature to point out the potential pitfalls of something and avoid them at all costs. I adopt this approach to my job, to household finances and pretty much anything I do. Some people would call it troubleshooting, some would call it problem finding. It’s more to do with control or lack thereof.

If I open my front door and scream “I love my neighbours!” a handful of times, I might only get one person on the street to open their door and say “I love you, too”. Wishful thinking, eh. I might get a few more to open their door and say “shut up”. It’s likely some neighbours would hear my screams and smile at me through the window. Some probably wouldn’t move a muscle. Many might report me to the police for being a nuisance. Either way, they would hear me scream and they would remember it.

Could I handle not getting the answer I was hoping for? Or not getting any answer at all? Accepting the ‘not knowing’ is half the battle.

I think the real issue I’ve found with plastic-free living is that I can’t save the world in one day. My realism is fear. Fear of starting something meaningful and not being able to align people's mentality with my own. If I can’t live a 100% plastic-free life, how am I supposed to get other people to start? If I can’t get my family to buy zero waste products, how am I supposed to get a stranger to?

This way of thinking misses the whole point though.

I watched my wife go through these emotions years ago, but I didn’t take note. Making the transition to a plastic-free home isn’t easy when the members of that household (me) aren’t as invested as yourself (Trina).

Of course I’d recycle as much as possible and put any single-use plastics into an ecobrick, but I wouldn’t always opt for the zero waste option.

Trina would pick up loads of items in the supermarket and berate well-known brands for their lack of effort and non-recyclable packaging. She’d ask waiters why the restaurant or bar was still using plastic straws. She’d read news articles on plastic whirlpools in the middle of the ocean and sit at her desk crying. She observed her celebrity idols and wondered why they weren’t using their platform to help. She started a plastic-free shop and got frustrated that she couldn’t grow her audience quick enough to save the world.

Plastic rubbish on a beach
These emotions cropped up into conversations I had all of the time. And it made me feel helpless. Plastic pollution has reached such a high level that it felt irreversible to me. I didn’t vocalise these fears, I just let it sit there and snowball… until I saw the effect Trina’s actions had on the people around us.

Our nieces made little ecobricks and painted signs saying “Save the world from palm oil”. Friends ditched plastic wrapping-paper and ribbon for brown paper and twine. Family members switched out their most used bathroom products for plastic-free alternatives. And that’s not even a fraction of how much change Trina has made.

Being persistent with small changes every day. That will make a difference. Accepting the world can’t be saved overnight but still trying to save it. That will make a difference. Spreading positive messages to everyone around you, especially children. That will make a difference. Reading the packaging in supermarkets to see if an item can be recycled. That will make a difference.

Why have I told you so much about my life and written so many words? Because sometimes it’s nice to read a stranger’s innermost ramblings and to know that we all have the same fears, even if they’re plastic-free or not.

And yes, my wife did open a plastic-free shop and it did make me feel helpless. But that’s the beauty of feeling uncomfortable isn’t it? If you’re not comfortable where you are, stand up and change your position.

I do as much as I can to make this world plastic free. I try to improve every single day, but I’m far from perfect.

If you’re doing just a little of that, don’t worry. That’s more than enough.

Can I save the world on my own? Nope. But it’s going to be fun trying.

Start or continue your zero waste journey by clicking this link.

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