Confession: I have a drawer full of plastic packets because I’ve always been too lazy to take my own bags to the shop. I’ve never been one to recycle (again, lazy). And I’ve been known to microwave my leftovers in a plastic bakkie (less washing up. Lazy!).
Me thinking about recycling…
Then, a few weeks ago, adidas invited me to Los Angeles for the global launch of Run For The Oceans – an initiative where they donated US$1 to ocean conservation for every kilometre logged by runners on their Runtatsic app up to a U$1 million. (They reached it, btw.) I was expecting fun running activities (check), fun ocean activities (check) and the chance to find out what the Hollywood set eats (it’s avocado. For. The. Win.). I wasn’t expecting the albatross video. Not since Rose watched Jack’s body slowly sink into the ocean has a room full of strangers sat so quietly, trying to hide their tears. What followed was a carpet-truth-bombing delivered by conservationists who spend their lives on the front lines of ocean pollution. Two frightening statistics in, the laziness had been shook right out of me, in the most millennial use of the term. I needed to use way less plastic. We all do. I returned to Cape Town determined to go cold turkey. Here’s what happened.
This video will break your heart…
Day One: Plastic, Plastic, Everywhere
The first thing that happened was that I failed miserably. It was Monday morning. I’d been awake for all of seven minutes and I was halfway through washing my hair with shampoo out of a plastic bottle when I realised what I’d done. In the minutes that followed, I would also use a plastic disposable razor, a plastic toothbrush and toothpaste out of a plastic tube. Back at my dressing table, I did an audit of my daily routine: Creams, make-up, hair products all in plastic tubes and tubs. I sat on my bed, feeling defeated, thinking about all the other unavoidable plastic I would use that day: My phone, my keyboard and mouse, the inside of my freaking car! Plastic is everywhere. How did I ever think I could avoid it? The albatrosses!
Truth bomb: “We created a substance that would last forever and used it to make products designed to be used once.” — Mike Long, Director of Operations, Parley
What I learnt: There’s a lot that you can’t change, but there’s also a huge amount that you can – if you’re willing to put in the effort. Lush South Africa has a range of “naked products” that include unpackaged bars of shampoo and conditioner and even deodorant. Bamboo toothbrushes are much more widely available than I expected (the cheapest I found was R51 from Faithful To Nature). And I really don’t need to be using disposable razors; it’s just convenient.
Day Two: Making Smarter Choices
The biggest challenge with an experiment like this isn’t actually the major changes you to decide to make – a bamboo toothbrush works just fine, by the way – it’s the little ingrained habits you aren’t even aware of. Case in point: Meal prep. On any given day, I have four or five tubs at my desk, containing my breakfast, lunch and snacks for the day. They’re all plastic, obvs. Fortunately I’m a compulsive hoarder of jars….
Next obstacle: the lid on my takeaway coffee. I actually felt ashamed as I caught myself reaching for a piece of disposable plastic just to get my coffee from the Vida to my desk – in the same building! Later I declined a straw in my Coke Zero. And my husband forked out R5 a pop (!) for sustainable paper bags from Spar instead of plastic. And after all that? I got home and, without even thinking, wrapped my breadboard in Clingwrap to slice raw chicken. Habit is a terrible thing.
Truth bomb: “Some scientists believe that [the year] 2048 will be the collapse of all commercial fishing. Imagine that…an ocean without big fish or any sort of food element. It’s frightening.” — Mike Long
What I learnt : Changing to sustainable living is a mission, but you get used to it. I haven’t had a lid on my coffee in weeks and it’s actually better – no more burning the crap out of my tongue through that tiny sippy-cup hole. Also better: Overnight oats in a jar. So convenient for heating. Not convenient at all: Salad jars. You can’t eat your salad out of them, it has to be decanted. And if you’re working off site, sometimes your only option for decanting it is a tiny paper plate you found in the office next door and while you’re out searching for it, the cleaner comes round and throws away the lid of your salad jar, mistaking it for rubbish, so now the jar is useless (true story).
Trying get my salad into the jar like…
Truth bomb: “Plastic doesn’t decompose. So all the plastic we’ve ever created still exists on our planet today.” — Emily Penn, Parley ambassador, explorer and activist
The Rest Of The Week: New Habits Loading
I was surprised how quickly I adapted my routine – reaching for jars instead of plastic bakkies; passing on the Clingwrap. I also, very quickly, became hyper-aware of my lazy bad habits – and committed to changing them. Recycling is a thing in our house now. We even make eco-bricks (I can’t claim that one – it was the husband’s initiative; he was surprisingly eager to get on board with this whole business). Essentially, you stuff all your soft plastic into a two-litre cooldrink bottle and once it’s full, you donate the “brick” and they build preschools out of them! Amazing, right? You can recycle so much waste this way! We’ve been working on our first one for almost three weeks and it’s still not full. But there’s still a degree of preparedness involved – after an unscheduled stop at the supermarket ended me having to buy a plastic bag, I now have a shopper bag permanently in my boot.
What I learnt: Going green is more mainstream than you might think. Woolies, PnP and Spar have all committed to varying levels of plastic reduction. Joburg has committed to going green. Cape Town has a plastic-free supermarket. And, anywhere in the country, you can find your nearest recycling depot by typing your suburb into a website. Also, people are surprisingly not judgey when you choose the green alternative. Often they’ll surprise you with an anecdote about their own green behaviour – or they’ll follow your lead.
Truth bomb: “There are eight million tonnes of plastic going into the ocean every year. The UV rays of the sun causes it to photo degrade into micro plastic fragments that look almost identical to plankton. And then we start catching fish and find fragments of plastic inside their stomach and it gets into the food chain. I tested my own blood for 35 banned toxic chemicals used in the production of plastic. I found 29 of them in my body.” — Emily Penn
Since The Challenge: A Better Way Of Life
So the million-dollar question: am I sticking with my green habits, post-challenge? Some of them. As I discovered right at the beginning, there are some things you just don’t have control over. There are also some changes that just aren’t feasible – like the fact that I already have so many plastic bakkies, so I may as well use them, right? At the adidas event they gave us a list of 31 sustainability tips and those are now my guide. They’re simple, everyday things we can all do, like having a shopper bag at the ready, carrying a refillable drinking bottle and (ahem) reusable metal razors instead of disposable ones. The main thing is to avoid single-use plastic altogether. Then, wherever possible, try to avoid introducing new plastic into your life that you don’t already own. And finally, recycle.
What I learnt: Doing what you can still makes a difference. I can’t save the world by skipping a coffee lid, but maybe that small action will save an albatross. One can only hope.
Sustainable running shoe alert…